Growing up in Beverly Hills, USA Olympian Zoe Kalapos learned to ski Up North at age two with her parents, Steve and Maria Kalapos, as her instructors. Three years later she tried snowboarding and was hooked. “That night I said, ‘That was the best day ever!’ And I’ve been snowboarding ever since,” Kalapos explains.
Her father, also a snowboarder, fueled his children’s love of snowboarding by building a mini snow park in their Beverly Hills backyard each winter.
By age nine, Kalapos began entering snowboarding competitions in Michigan with great success. This led to the desire to compete nationally, where she experienced continued success. To further elevate her competitive snowboarding skills, the next step would be to train at one of the few Olympic-sized superpipes in the U.S.
In 2010, the family made the difficult decision for 13-year-old Kalapos, her father, and brother, Ian, to move to Colorado, where she could attend Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy and fully pursue her passion for the sport. Her mother stayed in Michigan to continuing working as a teacher to provide income and benefits for the family. She regularly traveled to Colorado until about five years ago, when she was able to retire and join the family permanently in Colorado.
“Not having my mom around was really hard – there were a lot of tears, but we spent a lot of time on FaceTime, and it was so great when we were all together,” Kalapos says. “I’m so grateful for the sacrifice my parents made…It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little girl to go to the Olympics. [Their sacrifice] drove me to believe in myself because I felt if my parents believed in me this much, I knew I could do this.”
Despite years of demanding training, travel and competitions, Kalapos was able to graduate with a marketing degree from Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah – a location that allowed her to continue snowboarding during the school year.
The snowboarder’s drive, determination and talent finally led her to qualify and compete for Team USA’s Women’s Snowboard Halfpipe in the 2022 Olympics held in Beijing, China in February. She ranked in the top three in the U.S. and, ultimately, placed 17th at the Olympics. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, her family was unable to join her in Beijing, but held a watch party with family and friends in Colorado instead.
“Not being able to share the experience with my family and all the people who helped us get here was hard…To see on FaceTime all these people together cheering and supporting me – and the posters – it really hit me in the moment, and I was crying happy tears.”
After returning from Beijing, Kalapos says, “It still feels so surreal. It has been my purpose and dream for so long. It’s still setting in. I’m taking some downtime to refocus, work with my private coach, and learn some new tricks before the first official camp in May.”
Kalapos adds, “I love escaping to the mountain and riding my snowboard. It’s an addicting feeling. Nothing else matters at the time.”
The Olympian now has her eye on competing in the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, where she hopes to have a more typical Olympic experience with her loved ones around her. She’d also like to work part-time in marketing as she continues to train and compete. And, while her home base is now Colorado, she and her family regularly return to Michigan during summer and fall.
Kalapos reflects, “Don’t listen to those who tell you that you can’t have your dream. Follow your heart, work hard, and prove them wrong.”
Story: Tracy Donohue
Photo: Jeff Urbahn