The Limelight: Ripping Keystone side hits with zshreds, aka 7-year-old Zabel Parrott
January 26, 2017
Zabel Parrott is the prince of side hits.
Earlier this season, on one of more than a dozen January powder days, I met up with the 7-year-old snowboarder with impossibly long, blonde hair for a few morning laps at Keystone Resort.
It's his favorite place to ride, and with good reason: He and his family live less than five minutes from the base of River Run Gondola on the north side of U.S. Highway 36. Keystone is the side-hit mecca of Summit County — the whoops and ramps and rollers tucked behind snow-gun towers on Bachelor and Spring Dipper — and the prince wanted to show me his favorites stashes. Maybe.
"Are you a snowboarder?" Zabel asked me when I sat down with him and his dad, Todd Parrott, at Spoons Café near the base of the gondola. I answered yes, and he smiled a big, wide, almost devious grin, like he was glad to know I ride around on one plank instead of two. I passed the test.
"It's funny: We're not all about the competitions," Todd said when I asked if he was nervous watching Zabel at his first contest, a USASA slopestyle event at Copper Mountain Resort in early January. "We've just been trying to raise him to enjoy the whole experience. He loves the powder, he loves the park — all of it."
Birth of zshreds
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That day was also Todd's birthday, and as usual, he wanted nothing more than to spend it riding with his youngest son. The two are an institution at Keystone — the servers at Spoons know them by name, treating Zabel like a little brother — and spend upwards of 80 days per season shredding the slopes together.
About four years ago, Keystone hosted a social media contest with a GoPro as the grand prize. Zabel didn't win, but one thing led to the other, and for two seasons Todd and his son posted regularly to a blog on the resort website.
"They said, 'He's so cute and everything. Do you want to do a blog?'" Todd says. "That really hooked us up with social media."
When the blog gig ended, Todd launched @zshreds_summit, an Instagram account made to showcase a "Dad n grom in Summit, CO," according to the landing page. Since January 2015, the father-son duo has loaded more than 700 photos and videos to IG and now has nearly 8,100 followers, with dozens more added every week. A recent clip of Zabel night-riding with his 25-year-old brother, Kyser, is up to 70,000 views.
"It's going ballistic right now," Todd told me as we suited up and headed into the thickening snowstorm. "I can hardly keep up with it."
On the slopes
Zabel started snowboarding at 18 months old, soon after his dad, mom and three older siblings moved from Fort Collins to Summit County in 2010. The family recently welcomed two foster children, and this season, the Parrott household is jam-packed with up-and-coming snowboarders.
"I don't remember the first time (snowboarding), but I have seen pictures and videos of my dad pushing me up the base at Peak 8 (at Breckenridge) and letting me go, and my mom catching me most of the time," Zabel says. "All my family snowboards, and I love jumping."
Like true mountain-town locals, Kyser and friends built a pump track in the Parrott family backyard, where they session kickers and rollers with Zabel. A video of Z's dog, "Koi the Toy," towing him into a gap jump a few weeks back is up to 46,180 views.
But backyard sessions are only a taste test of the real thing. We walked to the gondola for a few snowy laps — Zabel, Kyser, Todd and I — and again, everywhere we went people knew the Parrotts. Todd chatted with the lifties while Kyser made plans with friends. He'll meet up with them later, he said, but first he was taking a run or two with his brother for his dad's birthday. This whole snowboarding thing is a family affair, just like one of the @zshreds_summit posts reads: "Family shred is the best shred."
On the gondola ride, Todd and his sons talked about their favorite days of the season so far. The powder has been out of this world, they agreed, and there was even one day in The Outback when the snow was almost too tall for Zabel's 4-foot frame.
"He faceplanted coming out of the trees and — what was the word you used?" Todd said and looked to Zabel.
"Suffocated!" Zabel yelled with another wide grin. Dad replied with one of his own.
"He was face down in the powder, saying, "Dad, you almost killed me! I was suffocating,'" Todd said, and all three laugh.
Soon enough we started talking about Zabel's first contest. He had a blast, but he still likes ripping around with his brother as much as throwing down for judges. He's working on switch 180s and backside boardslides in the park before the boardercross contest at Copper this weekend, and before long he wants to learn a cork backflip. With any luck he'll make it to the X Games in a decade or so, and if that doesn't happen, he'll be just as happy to grow up and "be like Travis Rice," his favorite rider.
These days, a viral Instagram account is half the battle, and Zabel already boasts more followers than some bona fide pros. It might help him reach that X Games goal some day, Todd says, but for dad, the end goal of all this IG insanity and possible Internet fame is different.
"It just goes by so fast when they're kids," Todd said. "I'm constantly taking photos of Zabel because I appreciate it so much more now and I don't want to miss it, and I did with his older brothers. Like I said, it just goes by so fast."
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