From claiming a new world speed skiing record to sailing a leg of the Round The World Clipper race, the former downhill racer has been living life to the full. Here, Graham reveals some of the highlights and lowlights of his extraordinary year and reveals what he has lined up for next winter.
You’ve become the Guinness World Record holder for becoming the fastest person to be towed behind a car on skis, reaching 117mph. How did that come about?
I had this crazy idea when I watched videos of a Jetman [the nickname of Swiss inventor Yves Rossy who’s developed jet packs using carbon fibre wings]. I thought, let’s break the world record for jet-powered speed skiing. I talked to Jaguar about building a jet pack and we did look into it, but decided it would be easier to start off by going for the towed speed ski record – it’s easier to break an existing world record than set one up from scratch.
What preparations did you make?
We went up to Jaguar’s test facility in Sweden. The only modification we did was putting a bar out from the side of the car. I couldn’t ski behind the car because there was too much snow smoke and I wouldn’t be able to see.
What was the scariest moment?
I was most nervous about seeing the state of the track and whether it would be good enough to make the record attempt. Then I had to get my head around going that fast. Once you ski faster than 100mph, it is a bit of a leap. You have to look ahead more and your brain functions much faster. Once I’d got my head around it I just wanted to go as fast as I possibly could while making sure I didn’t catch an edge because that’s what will take you down.
What equipment did you use?
I used speed skis, Atomic 240s. The radius is 98m. To put that in perspective, the turning radius of a slalom ski is 12m, and downhill ones 40m. With a turning radius of 98m it means they don’t actually turn. They’re just designed to be very stable at high speeds. You can actually buy skis that are this long – for the record to be valid you have to use skis and boots that are commercially available.
What would you need if you wanted to go even faster?
We'd need a longer track. I would like to reach 160mph, which is faster than the current world speed ski record. Every little bit faster you travel, though, means a whole lot more drag. I don’t think I would be physically able to hold on to a waterski tow rope out of the slipstream of the car. I would need there to be a fairing just in front of the handle, which would take the weight of the air. I would also wear full motorcycle leathers and helmet.
When will you attempt it?
I’m in talks with Jaguar but it won’t be this season – I’m very busy this winter.
Which is scarier, skiing in the Olympics or being towed on skis by a car?
Probably skiing in the Olympics. Downhill racing is the ultimate rush, particularly when skiing the most challenging courses such as the Streif in Kitzbühel, the one in Calgary and also the Face de Bellevarde in Val d’Isère.
How did you get involved in the Clipper Round The World Yacht race?
I thought it would be an amazing experience to sail across an ocean. The yacht race is open to everyone, no experience required [12 boats take part in total]. All the sailing is done by rank amateurs like myself apart from the skippers who are professionals. I did the first leg, from Liverpool in the UK to Punta del Este in Uruguay. It took two days shy of five weeks.
Tell me a little about how the crew operated.
There were a total of 20 people including a skipper on a 70ft long boat. Everyone was on a watch system, and during the day you would do six hours on deck, six hours off. At night it was four hours on, four hours off. It rotates all the way through a 24-hour period.
What were the facilities like on the boat?
There were 10 bunks and the only person with his own bed was the skipper. There were two toilets – the 'heads', as they are known. They are quite difficult to use when the boat is on a 35-degree angle. You’ve got to get your aim right. There were some toilet disasters. Us guys were luckier because we were happy to hang off the back of the boat while being leashed on to it, to do number ones.
What were the highs?
The highs were the sailing when the wind was up with big rolling waves. It was magical sailing under spinnaker at night and steering by the light of the stars. I was mostly at the front of the boat, making adjustments to the sails as waves crashed on top of me. I loved that sense of working with nature.
And the lows?
I least liked ‘mother duty’ – not my choice of expression. This was where you had to cook and clean for the entire day. Cooking for 20 people while the boat is crashing around is very challenging. My speciality was a spicy bean dish with chilli and rice.
Was it difficult to adapt from the self-focused skills you need as a ski racer to working in a close-knit team on a boat?
I’m really driven and focused but I don’t necessarily bring people along with me. It was really good for me to work and bond with a team.
What initiation did you do crossing the equator?
You are supposed to cover your fellow crew members in slops but we didn’t do that. I don’t know why but I was made to put on a dress. No one else did. Also I had to tell a bad joke.
Were you relieved to get back on dry land?
Yes, but equally relieved to have done well, coming third. It is a race after all.
What plans are there for this season’s Ski Sunday?
The great thing is that Ski Sunday is starting earlier than normal, before Christmas. We’ll be in Val d’Isère for the Premier Neige World Cup ski races. Then Adelboden, another technical race for Dave Ryding, before covering the classic downills of Wengen and Kitzbühel. We’ll obviously show the slalom races as well. After that we’ll be off to Schladming for the night slalom races which is a really well attended event with 40,000 Austrian fans lining the course. We’ll then be off to to Stockholm for the inner city parallel slalom races - an event which is also really well supported. This will pretty much lead us straight to flying out to South Korea for the Winter Olympics.
Will you still be forerunning the downhill courses?
I will keep doing this until I physically can’t. All it takes is one big crash. It’s very challenging to do – skiing, holding the camera steady and talking to camera. The talking is by far the hardest part.
Which GB snowsports athletes do you think are most likely to win a medal at the Winter Olympics next year?
Number one is Katie Ormerod, for snowboard slopestyle and big air. She’s one of the very best in the world right now and a ground breaker in her field. She’s doing tricks before anyone else.
We’ve got a lot of athletes who could medal but it’s not a given. We’ve got to be realistic and I know how tough it is.
Number two is Dave Ryding. He’s trained well over the summer and he’s very focused. It will be difficult for him having had his big breakthrough last year but the fact that one of the world’s best racers, Marcel Hirscher, has broken his ankle could nudge him into the top seven in the first race in Levi, Finland, in November. The first couple of races are really key for Dave to get off on a roll. He needs to race every race as it comes. If he remains in the top for the Olympics then he has a real chance of winning a medal.
Third is James Woods in ski slopestyle if he can replicate his recent winning form. He’s also got unfinished business with the Olympics because he placed just outside the medals in Sochi. And that was with an injury.
If we only come back with one medal I won’t be disappointed. We’ve got a lot of athletes who could medal but it’s not a given. We’ve got to be realistic and I know how tough it is.
How do you rate the Olympic courses?
The men’s downhill is a bit short – it’s the least challenging course since Sarajevo in 1984. The mountains in South Korea are not particularly high and there’s not much natural snow. However there’s lots of snowmaking and it’s very, very cold. This will guarantee a great playing surface for the alpine and freestyle events and make for a good half pipe.
What’s the difference between a really good athlete and one that wins?
Self-belief, dedication and drive. It’s all those things that make the difference. It’s the mental approach.
What are your other plans for next season?
What do you particularly like about St Anton?
If the snow’s good, the off piste is amazing. It’s also a great fun town with an excellent apres ski scene. It was the birthplace of dancing on tables in your ski boots. I will also get away at Easter for a holiday with my family. Though to be honest what I do during the season is not really work.
And in the immediate future?
At The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Show I’ll be giving talks and interviewing some of the British team athletes. I love the show as it’s a great way of whetting your appetite before the season starts.
Graham will be attending The Telegraph Ski & Snowboard Show from October 26 – 29 in Battersea Park, where he'll be interviewing the British Ski and Snowboard athletes on the Neilson Mountain Experts Theatre each day. Find out more at skiandsnowboard.co.uk and book tickets.