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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 February 2008, 15:58 GMT
Ski Sunday's Ice Dive

Graham Bell and Ed Leigh

As part of the new revamped Ski Sunday show, presenters Graham Bell and Ed Leigh went ice diving in New Zealand

Watch the film of Ed and Graham's trip during the show on Sunday 10 February from 1915-2000 on BBC Two and the BBC Sport website (UK users only).

By Ed Leigh
Ski Sunday presenter

When we started coming up with ideas for this season's films in late June I ran through all the aspects of snowboarding that I've always wanted to cover, behind the scenes at a kicker session, powder board testing, backcountry trekking v piste riding etc.

It wasn't until mid August in New Zealand that I started to broaden my horizons.

We were filming Travis Rice and Scott McMorris on a huge backcountry jump above The Remarkables resort in New Zealand and our cameraman Chris had found a really good wide angle of the jump from the other side of Lake Alta.

Because the lake sits at an altitude of 1700m it is frozen solid during the winter and the local Police and Fire services were training, for reasons known only to them by diving into the lake.

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As we walked passed them I watched open mouthed as a hulk of a man was pulled from the freezing water shaking uncontrollably and something clicked in me, 'That would make great TV'.

I have a gift for detaching myself from things and until this point, in fact until the day that we woke up and had to go and get in the lake I hadn't connected the shivering mass of Kiwi man with anything I'd be doing.

When the day finally rolled round it was cold and windy and by the time we'd logged all the gear half a kilometre across the frozen lake in a blizzard with a wind chill factor of -5 every ounce of the appeal I had once seen had evaporated.

This was exacerbated the moment I was handed my gear. As a keen surfer from the UK I know what a decent wetsuit looks like and this wasn't it.

For a start the long johns looked like something Magnum might have worn if he had visited the UK in the 1970s except much smaller and my jacket was a woman's.

Probably the biggest obstacle for both Graham and I however was the fact that we are both woefully inexperienced divers.

This I'll be honest wasn't my main concern having seen my wetsuit but I was starting to become more perturbed by Graham's growing enthusiasm for a task that was by all recommendations one of the most dangerous things you can get involved in after Three Day Eventing and potholing.

An ice pool
Six layers of ice had to be broken through to make the pool

It seemed that every time I showed weakness or a lack of commitment it bolstered Graham who by now was ankle deep in the freezing water smashing his way through the fourth layer of ice with a podge.

After a cold and isolated three hours on the ice, the boys finally bludgeoned their way through the sixth layer of ice and through to the waiting abyss.

We were quickly given our crash course in diving and then to my relief Chuck Berry (yes it's his real name), one of New Zealand's most qualified fruit cakes suited up and jumped in seemingly without occasion to begin the process of filming our ordeal.

This gave me hope and after watching Graham go the same way I felt like I should try and bury the voices telling me to get changed and go home and just get in.

I watched Graham disappear, took a deep breath and lowered myself into the water. I can't tell or describe how cold it was in the water because I have never felt anything like it and it just didn't feel like cold, it was something else entirely.

It was just an attack on my senses.

I had an instant headache as blood rushed to protect my brain, my legs went numb shortly after and then I felt this giant weight like a wrestler's foot come crashing down on my chest.

When you can't get any oxygen into your system it's really hard to calm down and take stock of a situation and the thought of putting a regulator in your mouth then heading under ice seemed nothing short of suicide.

In my mind I felt like I battled the cold for about two minutes before I gave up the fight, in reality it was probably twenty to thirty seconds.

I can't lie as disappointed as I was to miss out on going under the ice it was nothing at the relief I felt getting out of that water.

There are somethings that you are not meant to do and as much as I wish I was one of those people who can do that kind of thing, I'm not and I know that now.

I have always had a healthy respect for what Graham is capable of because I have seen first hand what it takes to be a downhill racer and it is very different from anything that us mere mortals are made of.

On this day Graham proved that he has phenomenal mental strength and endurance.

If you ever want to find out what you're made of without going through and SAS induction course then this could be the best test to tell you the answer.

On next week's show Ed will be looking at snowboarding in the Himalayas.

Ski Sunday runs for eight weeks from 20 January to 9 March on BBC TWO and the BBC Sport website.

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Ed Leigh's snowboard journey
23 Jan 08 |  Winter Sports


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