The freestyle skiing phenom became New Zealand’s youngest Olympic Games medallist when he won bronze in the halfpipe at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Nico Porteous is still getting used to being public property.
“It’s strange to be recognised when you’re walking down the street,” says the Wanaka teenager. “I still see myself as a normal teenager and my family and friends all treat me the same as they did before the Olympics.”
Before the 2018 Olympics, Nico was an outstanding young freeskiing talent who was tipped for great things.
“He could go to the top of the sport and he’s already well on the way,” said his coach Tommy Pyatt after Nico became the youngest person in the world to land a triple cork 1440 at the age of 14. “He’s got a long term plan that has him winning X-Games and Olympic medals.”
That long term plan was aimed at helping Nico win a medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Making the New Zealand team for Pyeongchang was a bonus.
“I guess I’m four years ahead of schedule,” says Nico. “To finish in the top 12 and make the final would have been a good Olympics for me. When I got there and had a few good practice runs on the half-pipe I started dreaming about finishing in the top five. Winning a medal was a complete bonus. Obviously it was in the very back of my mind like it is for every Olympic athlete but I didn’t wake up on the morning of finals day expecting to win a medal.”
Two hours after Zoi Sadowski-Synnott won a bronze medal in the women’s big air final, Nico scored a personal best of 82.5 in the first of his three runs in the men’s halfpipe. He followed that up with the run of his life, landing five double cork variations for a score of 94.8 and the lead in the Olympic final.
“Landing that run and skiing out is a memory that will stay with me forever,” he says. “I had that run in mind for 18 months before the Olympics but I couldn’t really believe I landed every trick so perfectly. The first run went well so I felt I had nothing to lose. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I thought to myself.”
Nico had nothing left in the tank for his third run and he was forced to wait at the bottom of the half-pipe to find out if he’d done enough to win a medal.
“That was such a special feeling because not only had I skied my best but I’d watched all the other competitors ski their best. I was witness to this amazing halfpipe event and I was in with a chance of a medal. When I realised I’d won bronze, everything went out of me. I felt empty but I also felt that all the hard work I’ve put in over the years had paid off.”
“I started freaking out and my coach Tommy appeared out of nowhere. I saw him running towards me across the bottom of the pipe. He gave me a huge hug and then I shared a moment with my brother Miguel before I was surrounded by the rest of the New Zealand team.”
Since he could strap on a pair of skis, Nico has been chasing the winter with Miguel, competing in halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events in the US and New Zealand. “I started skiing pretty late compared to my brother,” says Nico. “I got on a pair of skis when I was four. He started when he was two. I was always learning from him and we encouraged each other to try new tricks.”
Nico was 11 or 12 when he made the switch from ski racing to freeskiing and started chalking up some good results in national competitions. By the age of 13 he and Miguel were training and competing year round in Breckenridge in the US and Cardrona in New Zealand. The following year he confirmed his potential when he became the youngest person in the world to land a triple cork 1440.
He’s a perfectionist,” says his coach Tommy Pyatt, who first started working with him as a 6-year-old. “He always wants more. His best is never good enough. Even if he’s scared he’ll keep doing something until it’s perfect.”
Finding time to rediscover the pure joy of skiing is something Nico is looking forward to after his Olympic experience.
“The past four years have been focused on building up to this one event so I’m looking forward to getting back to doing the things I did when I first started skiing. I love the mountains. I love skiing powder and I love exploring. I haven’t had a chance to do much of that over the last four years.”
“I want to be the best skier I can be. X-Games is a big target for me. I’d be just as happy to win an X-Games medal as I was to win an Olympic medal. I still really can’t believe it happened to me. When I look at the medal I have to pinch myself to remind myself that it’s not someone else’s. It’s mine and it’s something I’ll have forever.