My life in travel: Graham Bell

Graham Bell is a television presenter and former professional skier

First holiday memory?

Skiing in Aviemore when I was five. It was so windy the lifts wouldn't run and we had to ski in the car park. Bizarrely, Konrad Bartelski, who was the best British downhill racer at the time, was also there. He had just finished his season in the Alps and came to Scotland afterwards for an end-of-season party.

Best holiday?

Pila in the Aosta Valley. We went there on a family holiday – the perfect resort because it's not too big and there's only one really challenge black run. We attempted that on the last day with our two kids, with mixed fortunes. My daughter Lotti freaked out and had to be carried down. Luckily, she wasn't too heavy.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

St Ives in the summertime. We rent a flat that looks out onto Porthmeor Beach. I love the rugged, natural beauty of the place and the great surf.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Very rusty German. If you're a Tour de France cyclist, you have to learn French. When skiing professionally, the language is German. Even half the Italian team are German-speakers, because they're from the South Tirol, which used to be in Austria.

Who's your ideal travelling companion?

Ed Leigh, my co-host on Ski Sunday. He's got one of those double-platinum-extra-special cards that gets you into pretty much any airport lounge. We've been on so many adventures together. Everything from spending nights in snow holes to doing the bob skeleton on speed skis.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

Adrenalin junkie. I've been ice climbing in the Chilean part of Patagonia, which was pretty scary, but I think it's always important to keep challenging yourself. Whether that's through endurance tests or giving yourself a slight scare – those are the fun things in life that stay with you.

Greatest travel luxury?

A good book or my iPod. You have to be able to zone out when you're travelling. It can be quite stressful when things get delayed.

Holiday reading?

I'm trying to read more sporting autobiographies. Generally, they can be pretty dull unless there's an amazing story, other than them happening to be good at sport. I've just finished the cyclist David Millar's book, who got banned for taking performance-enhancing drugs. Also, The Flying Scotsman by Graeme Obree is one of the more interesting ones. It starts in a mental hospital after he just tried to commit suicide. A great beginning to a book.

Better to travel or arrive?

Heli-skiing is the perfect combination of both – it's so decadent. You skim up in a helicopter right to the top of a peak and when it disappears, you're the only person there, with the mountain to yourself. One of the most amazing experiences of getting from A to B.

Worst travel experience?

In 1985, I was driving with the team in a clapped out old Ford Transit to Italy. The alternator fell out of the engine, we lost our fan belt, there were no electrics and we had to rely on the battery. It was freezing and as night fell, there were no lights either. We managed to keep going for about three hours until we eventually broke down, dumped the van beside the motorway and walked to the nearest inn for a beer.

Where has seduced you?

Mountains have very much been my life, so I was really taken by Egypt when I went camel trekking there. I'm keen to do an endurance trip to the desert. It holds a real mystery for me. I don't think I'd ever do the Marathon des Sables, after seeing James Cracknell broken by it, but I'd like to do something similar.

Best hotel?

The standard of hotels in Austria are generally pretty good. The Falkensteiner Spa Hotel in Royal Seefeld was a particularly memorable one .

Favourite swim?

Where I live in Henley-on-Thames, you can swim the regatta course. I get up at 6am in summer, meet at the Flower Pot pub, and have a swimming session. If you're in a wetsuit the only thing that gets cold is your cheeks.

Best meal abroad?

The mountain restaurants at ski resorts in Italy are brilliant. They do a lot of antipasti – plates of salami, prosciutto and cheeses. One local delicacy is honey-roasted chestnuts wrapped in a film of pigs lard – almost like Italian pork scratchings. When you've had a day out skiing, you need the calories.

Dream trip?

Hokkaido, Japan. The ski resorts there are meant to be the best for powder skiing and real off-piste.

Favourite city?

Vancouver, Canada. It rains a lot, but still manages to look incredible. You're so close to Whistler for skiing and, in the summer, the sea is right on your doorstep.

Where next?

I start filming with the BBC in December again. There are no World Championships or Olympic Games this year, but the World Cup will be travelling to Sochi, in the far south-west of Russia, for some pre-Olympic 2014 test events.

Sochi is a summer resort on the Black Sea, and pretty much all of the winter sports facilities have been built entirely from scratch. It's the first time I will have skied in Russia, so I'm really looking forward to it.


Graham Bell presents the BBC's Ski Sunday and is an ambassador forthe Aosta Valley.

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