Alex 'Chumpy' Pullin is obsessed with ants. Lately he's been watching a David Attenborough documentary about warring colonies, where one tribe of ants callously wipes out a rival family to save themselves – the ant-eat-ant mentality blows the snowboarder's mind. Nature can be brutal sometimes.
The same sort of natural selection exists in the 30-year-old's chosen sport: snowboard cross, where the world champion thunders down a hairpin circuit with five other boarders, taking blind turns and drops and other hair-raising challenges, with the last boarder standing claiming victory.
"I love these courses that are so fast and fun and different," explains the ultra laid-back Pullin. "And you're not just racing a course, you're racing each other, head to head, and every heat unfolds differently to the next. I was pretty handy at it from the first try and developed a huge passion for this sport that's basically taken over my whole life."
Pinnacle of the season
Pullin is a contender for a medal at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, after dominating the recent World Cup events in Argentina and looking fit as he smashes sessions in altitude gyms on the Gold Coast before heading to the glaciers in Austria this month.
"The Olympics is certainly the pinnacle of the season, but in saying that, every race I compete [in] on the world tour is the same guys, so I'm going head to head with them every single week," he explains, unfazed by the prospect of winning gold. "The best rider of the year is the one who finishes the tour ranked number one. That gives us a lot of opportunity to have all the battles between the riders on different variables. The most consistent racer of the season will come out on top with the Crystal Globe."
Fingers crossed it's peace and love and snowboarding all the way.
The Olympics is still an opportunity to impress on a global stage, and Pullin is one of the returning stars of the small but mighty Australian team, after he carried the flag into the stadium at the 2014 Games in Sochi. "We're not Austria or Canada or France: those countries have programs in every school, it's like our footy over there … but Australia has put forward some really great results in recent years. There's a really good generation of snowboarders and skiers coming through, the moguls team and boardercross team are stronger than ever."
Born on the board
Pullin has been boarding since he could walk, growing up in the ski town of Mansfield at the base of Mt Buller where his parents owned a ski shop. "That was my entry into the whole world," he says. "Boardercross has been part of snowboarding for a long time as well as the halfpipe ... but it was the racing side of things that I've always loved the most. Clean cut, good competition."
The origin of his 'Chumpy' moniker doesn't come with much of a story – it's a childhood nickname from a friend that somehow stuck – but it adds to his larrikin, all-Australian appeal. His success on the board has resulted in several sponsorship deals from the likes of Red Bull and Mazda, which recently saw Pullen driving on ice in Queenstown testing the latest Mazda CX-5. He's also the face of emerging tailor Bellington Estate.
"I'm a snowboarder who doesn't necessarily travel with a suit on hand … I'm not your average body type to be able to walk into a store and fit into a suit, so it's cool to do some custom fits with them, and choose different fabrics so people still know I'm a snowboarder."
While it won't be his first time competing in South Korea, Pullen admits it can be a culture shock. Much of the terrain is man-made snow, despite minus 20 temperatures most days, plus there's the minor issue of tensions in neighbouring North Korea threatening to boil over, but it would take a lot to dent Chumpy's chilled-out attitude.
"In South Korea the people tend not to care [about North Korea], they seem almost light-hearted about it. Which can be bizarre when you look at the rest of the world's reporting of late ... hopefully it all stays under control, and personally I think it's a great opportunity for the whole world to come together and compete together on an even playing field and celebrate. Fingers crossed it's peace and love and snowboarding all the way."
The 2018 Winter Olympics begin on February 9.
Australia punches above its weight in winter sports, as these hopefuls get set to medal.
Age: 23. Sport: Snowboarding halfpiper. Form: The two time Olympian and two time world champ is a superstar in the USA and is set to smash it next year.
Age: 23. Sport: Mogul skier. Form: Cox was one of the youngest competitors in Vancouver in 2010 and is back from a knee injury looking stronger than ever.
Age: 20. Sport: Pair skater. Form: The 2017 World Junior champion is Australia's first indigenous athlete to compete at a Winter Olympics.
Age: 27. Sport: Aerial skier. Form: A former gymnast took up skiing at 16 and recently inked a deal to be the face of apparel giant Under Armour.