The British skating champion Christopher Dean reflects on his new sub-zero adventure, “If someone had said this five years ago, we wouldn’t have done it, but it’s the right timing – and you don’t always do it yourself,”
As part of the new show Dancing On Thin Ice, along with his dance partner Jayne Torvill, the pair swapped the limits of the Dancing On Thin Ice rink for the vast Alaskan lakes.
“It just felt like something new and fresh – something we hadn’t experienced before,” he says.
But at the same time, it was our passion to perform in a natural setting outside.
“As a kid, when I saw the skaters on the ice, there was this freedom and it’s like you’re flying, but when you’re on a lake and you can’t see the end of the lake, that was real freedom.”
The duo travel to North America to fulfill their lifelong dream of skating on a natural ice rink surrounded by nature in the one-off special, which will air on ITV during the New Year.
Some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes, including glaciers, natural ponds and snow-covered forests, are featured in the breathtaking footage and are just a snapshot of what the US state has to offer.
“The glaciers have been around for thousands of years,” says Dean, 62.
There was a place on the glacier where we were skating, and that ice was probably six or seven thousand years old.
“It’s disappearing, that ice is not regenerating. The permafrost starts to melt, and so you can lose it. The ice is so much a part of our ecosystem, it’s so necessary.”
For Dean, at a young age, the dream of skating in the great outdoors was created, a memory that can be traced back to his very first experience with skating.
“The first time I stepped onto a rink was in Nottingham,” Dean remembers.
“If you look over your shoulder, you’ll see a massive mural of two skaters, like a poster of Davos, Switzerland, from the 1950s, with mountains and snow and their sweaters from the 1950s.
“Subconsciously, I think my brain was saying, ‘you found the place, this is what you’re going to do,'” he said.
“[It] was a moment in time – and as a 10-year-old I looked at it and I had never experienced anything like it, it just looked magical to me.”
What made you decide that you should take up the challenge?
It was a new opportunity, a new experience, an uplifting thing. It didn’t sound like ‘yeah, we’re doing this project and it’s another project for skating.’ It was more than that. It was something more intimate than anything else.
In Alaska and at a rink, what was the main difference between skating?
“You skate in circles at the rink, and there’s a barrier, so it was a mind-blowing idea for me to go to Alaska, to a lake that’s miles long, and you could keep going in one direction. It really was about being free.
In the film, climate change also plays an important role, doesn’t it?
It was a really personal thing I could do, but it became a kind of ‘sense of climate change at the same time.’ Also, the underlying story – where is the ice? It’s too hot right now and it’s not available here, so here we have to go.
“If you talk to the locals and listen to what they’ve experienced over the last five years – it’s gotten warmer and warmer. They can clearly see it and feel it, so it’s almost like we’re chasing the ice and finding it. Not knowing if we’re going to be able to fulfill our dream, that personal experience.”
Have any unforgettable moments been there?
I think it was quite an experience sitting on the train going to Fairbanks and seeing all the characters, and the conductor there, of course. He said,’ Yes, we should stop the train, we’re going to see if there’s any ice there,’ and I said,’ Excuse me, what do you mean to stop the train?’
“We were looking at all the other people on the train, thinking, “They’re not going to be pleased with us! ” But they all got off and looked at us and gave us a little round of applause, so for a moment, I suppose, we were the entertainment. And being on the glacier, then.
Was the challenge an emotional one?
By the end of the day, I think it was a moment, a genuinely emotional moment, a moment with a lump in your throat. When you ski and look out at the mountains and you feel like what we just did; it felt like you were going up the mountain and looking down, that’s the moment.
Has Covid-19 affected your shooting or your ability to practice?
“A week before Lockdown, we began shooting.