72 hours behind the scenes of The Jump

Huw Fullerton seeks the secrets of the Channel 4 series – and even picks up an authentic injury

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I’m going too fast.

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I realise this as I whip past my ski instructor and fellow pupils, careering down a narrow icy mountain slope at Austria’s Kuhtai resort as my heart flips over in my chest.

“You’re going too fast darling!” I hear our instructor Lisa (who keeps forgetting my name) suggest, helpfully, as my wobbling skis shriek downwards and my pathetic snowplough fails to arrest my speed. All thoughts of using my “edge”, controlling my weight on the skis or pulling to stop bounce around on top of each other as I struggle to stay upright…

And so I fall instead.

For a few seconds I’m completely airborne, completing a full somersault (I’m later told) before returning to Earth with a wet thud. I skid on my back for a few dozen metres, a cloud of loose snow billowing around me and filling my pockets, mouth and eyes. I lose a ski while the other twists my leg, before I gradually come to stop in the centre of the track. More, shall we say, seasoned skiers zip past, their looks of disdain hidden by their own, more controlled velocities. 

My first thought: Ouch. Argh. Ouch. 

My second thought: I really hope that I don’t have to apologise about Brexit to European hospital workers. 

My third thought: Well, at least I’ve had the authentic “The Jump” experience now.

“Every day I’m afraid of injury of any sort,” former Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas tells me a day before my tumble in a buzzing hotel dining room, where the various Jump contestants have been pulled together to be quizzed by the press. There’s a warm, faintly anarchic air to proceedings, and it’s clear they’re all enjoying the bonhomie of a boozy, grown-up ski trip – albeit with slightly stricter training regimens and far more terrifying activities.

According to Thomas and his companions, Emma Parker-Bowles and the soon-to-depart Josie Gibson, they’ve roughly been grouped around who gets along best with each other. Occasionally, they wince as Made in Chelsea’s Spencer Matthews stands up to bellow a joke from a nearby table, where he sits with a simmering Louis Smith and other Olympians Jade Jones and Kadeena Cox.

“I knew what I was doing in rugby!” Thomas continues, adding that he sometimes wakes up “in cold sweats” over the dangers The Jump presents – dangers which have led many to wonder exactly why anyone puts themselves through it.

I’ve never been a fan of winter sports, except of course when it comes to my love of superior Felicity Jones comedy vehicle Chalet Girl (Rogue One was a big step down for her, IMO). I’ve been skiing once or twice before this but more often than not I seemed to end up flat on my face (or back) with a mouthful of snow, a thudding heart and shaking hands after another turn went wrong.

The Jump contestant Mark Dolan

And a show like The Jump would seem to confirm all my worst fears about the whole thing. Over the years the winter sports competition has seen a huge number of stars claimed by injury, with last year alone seeing seven contestants pull out of the contest due to accidents and gymnast Beth Tweddle sustain such a serious spine injury that she needed surgery on her neck and therapy. 

“It’s like a skiing holiday x10, in terms of risk,” comedian Mark Dolan tells me, who as a bespectacled guy slightly less confident in his skiing abilities than everyone else is the closest thing I have to an avatar on the programme.

“When I signed up to do this show, my main concern was the injuries. I think you’d be an idiot not to worry about it, considering what you’ve heard.”

Still, all are keen to stress that Channel 4 have taken all the necessary safety precautions, and that (as I’ll learn the hard way tomorrow) it’s impossible to rule out any possibility of injury.

“The bottom line is, winter sports are risky,” Dolan says. “The risk isn’t really anything to do with this TV show. It’s to do with being on a pair of skis in a mountain. And we all know someone who’s been on a skiing holiday and come back in plaster.”

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The Jump contestant Sir Bradley Wiggins

Without being too crude, it’s clear why this appeals to viewers – Lydia Bright suggests people “want the grit” and Dolan says “people wouldn’t watch” without the risk, which is a refreshingly honest way of acknowledging that the audience are actively willing you to break your necks – but it’s less clear to some exactly why it would appeal to any contestants. 

Whenever I’ve mentioned The Jump to a friend lately they’ve immediately questioned why anyone would put themselves through it given the risk, especially the surprising number of professional athletes who awkwardly rub shoulders alongside Big Brother winners and the like. Is it just for an attempt to rebrand as a reality star?

When I ask this, still-competing athletes like Jones, Cox and Smith are quick to play down the risks – Taekwondo champ Jones notes that she could just as easily get run down by a bus walking down the street – while the retired athletes play up the spirit of competition, and play down the reality show elements. 

“Jason [Robinson] and Robbie [Fowler] aren’t from that [celebrity] world,” retired Olympic cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins, perhaps the most high-profile contestant this year, testily tells me. “This isn’t a celebrity show, this is people from the public eye competing for a winter sports show.

“It’s not like we’re on Big Brother – craving that [publicity], or desperate celebrities trying to enhance our name. We’re taking up the challenge of this and it was like, ‘Fancy doing that TV show The Jump?’, seven weeks in Austria learning how to ski properly.”

The next day, as I lie panting on the snow with a throbbing leg, I wish I’d had some more time to do the same.

Ski Saturday #austria #ski #skiing #winter #alps

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Preparing for my own ski glory

When it comes to the live broadcast of The Jump’s first episode, the mystery of why people would get involved becomes clearer. Limping over the snow and bundled up against the cold in my second-hand ski gear, I soon find myself among a crowd of the contestants’ friends and well-wishers in a makeshift open-air chalet bar that also serves as a base for the celebrities to be interviewed by Davina McCall. 

Accordingly, we’re shunted over to the sides every so often so the cameramen can get better shots, and for some reason we’re encouraged to dance at key moments. With my newly-wobbly leg, this proves a challenge, but the Gluhwein helps take the edge off, and overall it’s a lot of fun. Every so often two celebrities will shoop their way down a parallel slalom course, two pinpricks of colour in the night cheered on by people slightly too far away and tipsy to realise which is which.

Even the dreaded jumps (carried out by the losers of each race) are over quickly enough to allow the celebs to grab a drink at the bar, and as the night eases to a close (with Josie Gibson knocked out after refusing to jump) I think I’m finally getting a handle on the whole thing. The question everyone’s always asking of this show – why, as a celebrity, would you get involved? – has a blindingly obvious answer, despite my own worries about the sport.

THEY GET PAID TO GO ON A SKIING HOLIDAY.

Come on. People pay SO MUCH MONEY to go on trips that are significantly less fun than this.

Of course it’s a bit dangerous, but it’s also a trip where you get the best instructors and equipment more or less on tap, stay in a plush hotel for two months and hang out eating and drinking when you’re not taking part in one of the most exhilarating sports around. 

I’m pretty terrible at skiing and have had frequent bad experiences, but even I leapt at the chance to hit the slopes (albeit more literally than I had planned), so what would stop someone who actually fancied giving it a go? Let alone the athletes who are naturally competitive, constantly at risk of injuring themselves anyway and in a career where their visibility and money-making appeal has a built-in expiration date. Why are people so surprised that they want to have a go at something that appeals to their core instincts and also raises their profile?

Yes, you might get injured, but as Bradley Wiggins told me at the conference, “It’s a skiing programme, it’s not knife throwing.” The danger isn’t absurd – and to athletes, it’s positively everyday.

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The Jump 2017 contestants

It wasn’t so everyday for me. After my fall, I end up staggering my way back into my skis and sliding down the rest of the slopes with all the vigour of a frozen snail, shivering at every hint of speed and nearly gasping with relief when I finally reach civilisation and can unclip my gear. The Jump material, I am not. 

Still, while there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d ever attempt even the most minor of the Channel 4 series’ activities, I completely understand why other people would. A free trip filled with fun, fame and full-throttled excitement? Well, many would jump at the chance.

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The Jump continues on Channel 4 on Sundays at 7.30pm