It is only when Jamie Nicholls is creeping up towards the top of a slope, in a rickety lift that sways through the mountain air, that the fear really takes hold. It is when the wind howls and the voices of other snowboarders and coaches seep into his mind that the worries start to bubble up.
“As you get older, all kinds of stuff runs through your head,” he says. “The thing I find really difficult is when you are at the top of the course and you hear some negative guy saying it’s a bit windy or a bit slow. You start getting that negativity into your head.”
When you are just moments away from flipping and twisting through the air, such negativity must be urgently avoided. So Nicholls plugs into his headphones and pulls out his phone.
“Before any competition I try to listen to some music or play games,” he says. “I also watch myself, as that always helps. What my psychologist said to me was to download my Olympic run and put it on my phone. Whenever I get nervous I look back to that and see it was a good run. It gets me ready to go.”
The run in question was at Sochi, during the Winter Olympics in 2014. Nicholls was just 20 when he finished sixth in the snowboard slopestyle event, in which athletes navigate a course of rails, boxes and walls with a series of leaping tricks.
Four years on, he is one of Great Britain’s leading hopes for a medal in the Pyeongchang Games which start in South Korea next month. It will feel a fitting setting for a prodigiously talented snowboarder who specialises in sliding down rails and was performing front flips at the Halifax Ski and Snowboard centre by the age of nine.
“I have been snowboarding since I was seven years old,” he says. “It has been my life. From the age of seven until 16, I was on the dry slope at Halifax every single night with my friends.”
He has been competing around the world since 2009, and won his first ever World Cup event in the Czech Republic in 2016. A bad knee injury aside — “I felt it go ’twang’” — his has been a story of steady progress in the build-up to Pyeongchang. He knows he is more organised, more prepared and more mature than he was ahead of Sochi, and that hardly went badly.
“I can remember the feeling of landing a trick I had never even done before,” he says. “This is how underprepared I was. I landed it, fortunately, and made it straight to the finals. Sixth is quite a high place to get. Anything better than that and you are almost getting on the podium.”
It feels at times that having a relaxed character is one of the primary job requirements for elite snowboarders. Nicholls is quick to laugh, describing his life on his website as “travelling the world on a stand-up sledge”, and is happy to discuss his passion for jewellery.
He is, he says, a creative personality, and his ambitions stretch beyond mere competitions and medals. He has found fame on social media through his films documenting his snowboarding ability, and particularly the ‘Hemel Run’, in which he created a terrifying obstacle course around the indoor snow centre in Hemel Hempstead. It was so popular that he has since made a sequel.
“It was just part of a little documentary I was doing after the Olympics,” Nicholls says. “I never thought it would go viral. It was mental.”
This is not to say that Pyeonchang is not serious business or that, when the time comes, the fear won’t claw its way back into his mind. There is genuine optimism of a medal for Great Britain’s ski and snowboard team, which is looking to build on the bronze picked up by snowboarder Jenny Jones in Sochi, and with that comes pressure.
“I would love to go to the Olympics, do the best run I can and feel way stronger than last time,” Nicholls says. “I’d love to go there, get to the final, and just go for it.”