44.6943° S, 169.1417° E
‘Aotearoa is a land of plenty and it's unreal.’
Gems in this
Freestyle skier Nico Porteous spends each year chasing winter. From competing in China and Korea to training in France and Canada, the Olympic gold medalist sees the best slopes the world has to offer — yet it’s New Zealand’s alpine village of Wānaka that remains his favorite place to be.
For half of the year — plus a few bonus summer weeks — Nico draws inspiration from the people and the landscapes of Aotearoa. It’s among Wānaka’s supportive creative community that Nico has developed his fearless and fluid style and pursued both surfing and mountain biking as fertile cross-training. And although young in years, Nico is venerable in experience, having won New Zealand's second-ever Winter Olympics gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics for the men's freeski halfpipe, and back-to-back golds in the 2021 and 2022 X Games superpipe. For our Aotearoa Country Special, we spoke with Nico about carving a creative niche on skis, appreciation for the South Island's raw natural beauty, and his Wānaka Travel Playbook.
On what makes Aotearoa special to you
What makes Aotearoa so special for me is the diversity we have, whether it's the culture, the people, or how our landscape can change within 50 kilometers. New Zealand Aotearoa is the land of opportunity. You can do anything. I can go skiing in the morning, ride my bike in the afternoon or put the boat on the back of the trailer and go fishing on the West Coast. There's no other country like that in the world where you have so many options. It's a land of plenty and it's unreal.
On how Wānaka inspires you
Wānaka is the central hub for action sports — especially snow sports. It's so diverse and full of young, creative people doing their own thing. The people I surround myself with are very creative, driven and artistic — that's inspiring for me. At the same time, I’m around fellow skiers, snowboarders and skateboarders. We have really good skate parks here, amazing mountain biking at Cardrona and Bike Glendhu, and of course skiing in the wintertime. Wānaka is an hour away from the West Coast, two hours away from the East Coast, and two-and-a-half hours from the South Coast. It’s like no other place in the world.
On your favorite skiing spots
Whenever I arrive at Cardrona it's like visiting family — I've grown up skiing there. I spend the majority of my time at Cardrona, but I also enjoy the freeride aspect of skiing that Treble Cone offers. It’s a different language and style of creativity for freeskiing — you can do what you want. It takes more brain energy to figure out creative lines, but up at Treble Cone you've got a killer access to natural terrain — it’s the most playful natural terrain I've ever skied. Your mind runs free.
On where you’re from
I was born in Hamilton and then went through the majority of my primary school years in Christchurch. The local ski fields are about an hour away, which kicked off my passion for skiing. I was in the local race program while I was living in Christchurch, and then in 2010, we moved to Perth, in Australia. The mines were booming, and my dad got offered a role at one of them, so they decided to pack up and move over to Perth to start a new life.
On skiing professionally
Skiing is my passion. I love what I do, and every day is different — you may have some bad days. In Christchurch, I got over the strict regimen of the weekend race program, following all the rules. Freestyle first popped up on my radar when I was six. My grandma sent my older brother a DVD of an event that had gone down in Australia, and a 14-year-old had won it. That sparked the interest in my older brother [fellow Olympian Miguel Porteous] — I followed in his footsteps. We used to sit down and watch skate videos, and he’d show me what he thought was cool. When I was seven, my passion grew for myself — I had my own interest in skiing and got over racing when I was 13. I completely stopped racing and started full-time park skiing.
‘Up at Treble Cone you've got a killer access to natural terrain — it’s the most playful natural terrain I've ever skied. Your mind runs free.’
On where skiing has taken you
It's taken me to a lot of places I’d never expected to go. China in 2022, South Korea in 2018 and North America a lot. It has given me the opportunity to travel to Central America and all over Europe. I'm very lucky and thankful for the number of places I've seen in the past 10 years. I’d never expected to sit here and list off all these crazy places that I've skied in. Sometimes I take a step back and think, ‘Damn, this is wild’. One of the coolest things is seeing these amazing places and experiencing all these special cultures.
On living in Europe
Europe has always stood out to me. We spent a lot of time there as a family when I was younger, going around France, and we lived in the UK for six months. Europe has always appealed to me, with the landscape, the massive mountains; they also just eat meat and cheese.
On the power of the Olympic Games
The Olympic Games are such cool events and it puts all eyes on sport. With the tough times the world has had in the past few years, it's cool to see how sport has the ability to bring so many people together. It brings all these different sports, athletes and spectators together in one moment, sharing a passion, whether it’s for skiing or football, and that’s unique.
On sports shaping your creativity
Outside skiing, some of my biggest hobbies are surfing, skateboarding, and mountain biking. They have a massive influence on how I creatively look at a mountain. For me, skis are like an artist’s paintbrush — they're an extension of yourself. But our canvas is the mountain and the snow. When influenced by surfing, skateboarding or mountain biking, I look at a mountain differently. Surfing, for example, influences how I view these crazy formations as a frozen wave and thinking that I can do a big slash there. Then the slash comes out, and I'm in mountain bike mode and I want to go as fast as possible and get the flow going. I'll flip to skateboarding then, and aim to get over a rail. It's such creative freedom when you're on the mountain, because you can ski anything. It keeps your mind active and is more creative than people think. I've learned this process by experimenting new tricks in the past two years. When there's no example, you have to think for yourself — creatively, outside the box. Sometimes it'll work, and sometimes it won't. It's a big learning process — it's a hugely creative process.
‘The Olympics brings all these different sports, athletes and spectators together in one moment, sharing a passion, whether it’s for skiing or football, and that’s unique.’
On the X Games
The X Games 2022 was the craziest event that I've ever done. I'd crashed pretty much all three runs and had one run to go — the last run of the whole game. I landed this dream run that I'd been working on, and ended up winning. It was the craziest moment of my skiing career in terms of personal ability, creativity and surprising myself.
On traveling from winter to winter
I'd like to fit in as much summertime as possible, but I did pick a winter sport, so we're constantly traveling from winter to winter. We normally stay away from November until April or June — the season finishes at the end of October. However, I get three weeks of summer, sometimes longer, with some warm weather before I head overseas. It’s nice to soak it up and make the most of it. We have long days in New Zealand in the summer; the sun doesn't go down until 9.30 or 10pm.
On what ‘manaakitanga’ means to you
Manaakitanga to me is giving back to the next generation of freeskiers in New Zealand, whether it be taking a lap with them, signing their helmet or offering words of encouragement and advice. To keep the passion for freeskiing alive and well in New Zealand, it is really important for me to encourage the younger generations.
On local craft breweries
For a town of about 8,000 people, we have amazing restaurants in Wānaka, and three craft breweries. A bunch of people in their 20s will go to the craft brewery in Wānaka and have a beer in the sun. It’s a really special place; I’ll always run into someone and sit and have a drink and a feed with them. Each one of the breweries has a favorite drink. Rhyme X Reason has become well-known in New Zealand recently and they’ve got a really good beer called ‘Joy Rider’. Ground Up is where I'll go if I want a nice hazy IPA that's called ‘Industry of Cool’, and the b.effect makes an alcoholic ginger beer. It depends on where I want to go, what I’m feeling — some places have food and others don't, so I mix and match.
‘Go to the craft brewery in Wānaka and have a beer in the sun. It’s a really special place.’
On best spots for dinner
If I’m going out for dinner, I’d go to either Kika or Muttonbird — two crazy restaurants for such a small town. The food is comforting and homely and they use local produce from local suppliers. Supporting locals is really important to me.
On where to grab some breakfast
There are some good smoothie vans and bakeries that you may stop at and get a bite to eat on your way out for a bike ride, but my actual go-to breakfast spot in Wānaka is The Mezz, up at Cardrona. The restaurant does amazing food. I'll come in from skiing in the morning, get my favorite eggs benny in the whole world, then go back out skiing again.
On two seasons in one day
In the spring, after a big day of skiing, a group of people will meet up at a brewery for a beer, or will sit down by the lake and have a beer or a picnic and soak in the sun. One of the cool and special things about New Zealand is how you drive up to the snow line every day — you don't live in the snow line, as you do overseas. It’s like having two seasons at a time — winter up in the mountains and spring down in Wānaka. We normally also take a group of boys on the boat, out on the lake, go to an island or a beach 20 kilometers out, have a barbecue and chill out there away from society. But to see great scenery in Wānaka, all you really have to do is drive over the hill [coming from Cardrona, into town] and there is this view with an amazing pristine lake and massive towering mountains — it’s one of the most insane views in the world. I've been very lucky to see a lot of cool views, but Wānaka is still top of the list.
‘The amazing pristine lake with massive towering mountains — it’s one of the most insane views in the world. I've been very lucky to see a lot of cool views, but Wānaka is still top of the list.’
On favorite surf break
We’re a big water family, so we like to head out on the ocean over on the West Coast. For surfing, try Dunedin, which is a cold-water Bali with amazing waves. I try to get down there as much as I can.
On a window or an aisle seat
Aisle, hands down, because then I don't feel locked in. I hate the feeling of being locked in a window. I know some people like it for a view or to lean up against, but I can't stand window seats.
On a song that best represents Wānaka for you
‘Slice of Heaven’ by Dave Dobbyn, because it’s a slice of heaven really. It's one of the coolest places on earth.
On Wānaka in one word
There's so much you can do — so many sports — and it has lots of really creative people. It's a refreshing place, the center hub of opportunity. There are so many places all full of amazing people.