Thirst For More:
Thirst For More: Zoe Kalapos | Winter Ready, Always
Zoe Kalapos needs a beat to really fly. That is, she likes to listen to music — loud music — when she drops in to send it down the halfpipe on a snowboard. Her songs of choice change from season to season, but there’s always a beat.
Kalapos, 25, has been skiing and snowboarding since she was 2-years-old. She grew up in Michigan where her father built a snowboarding park on their acre of land. She and her brother spent countless hours playing on the jumps and rail of “Mt. Kalapos.”
But Kalapos didn’t pick up a snowboard as a tiny child and instantly become a star. In fact, when her father first tried to teach her, he was certain it would never take. “I just kept falling.” But even as a child there was something she liked about the difficulty. A small thirst for more. “My father recently told me that after my first day on a board I came home and said, ‘I want to snowboard for the rest of my life!’”
In high school Kalapos’ father moved her and her brother to Vail, Colorado so that they could attend the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy. Essentially, a high school where kids ski and snowboard half the day, and attend classes the other half. “My mom was a school teacher [in Michigan] and we were living off of her income and her insurance, so she wasn't able to move with us at the time. So just the three of us went out there and my mom flew out every weekend.” It wasn’t exactly a normal situation, but Kalapos is so grateful that her parents sacrificed so much for her to pursue a lifetime of snowboarding. And eventually, Kalapos’ mother was able to join the family full-time in Colorado.
Early on, Kalapos set a goal to compete in the Olympics — it was the ultimate stage. And in February, 2022, she met that goal at the Beijing Olympic Games. She placed 17th overall in the women’s halfpipe, and wants nothing more than a chance to return to the Olympic stage with an even better performance. Making the Olympic teams is especially meaningful for Kalapos because in 2018 she had been kicked off the rookie team because she didn’t meet the criteria for continuing. She took that as an opportunity to get back to her roots — she worked with a private coach and also leaned on her father — the one who had helped her get started. She knew she had something to prove — something to show that little girl with the thirst.
But beyond becoming the best athlete possible, another one of Kalapos’ major goals is to help more girls and women get into snowboarding and stay excited about it. From an early age, she’s been starkly aware of gender inequality in the sport. And she’s not shy about vocalizing that fact. “The men's team has always been much bigger than the women’s team, so it’s harder [for women] to break into sport at a high level.” In many ways competitive snowboarding is still very much dominated by male athletes. “There have been many instances in my career when male athletes have been favored over me, not because they are better athletes or perform better, or are more marketable, they are chosen because they're male. It's exceptionally hard to come to terms with when we all have the same love for the sport.” Kalapos is passionate about the need for equal opportunity. “Things need to change, and it can come in the form of brands sponsoring more women, and paying female athletes equally. These changes can make a huge difference in how young girls coming into the sport view snowboarding and the community.”
Kalapos works with several nonprofit organizations to give underprivileged kids free gear, and get a more diverse group of kids on the mountain to learn how to snowboard in a comfortable environment. “We’re getting young girls to come together and ride together, which is really cool. Growing up I never rode with any other girls. I was always the only girl, riding with all boys. It would have been so cool at that age to have other girls to ride with.”
Snowboarding continues to be a family affair for Kalapos. As much as she loves training and competing, a perfect day on the slopes involves split boarding early, and enjoying some turns down the mountain with her family.
There’s such freedom in snowboarding, and Kalapos wants to share that with as many people as possible. She wants more and more young girls to find their beat, their thirst, and soar.
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