When Maxence Parrot was a boy, growing up east of Montreal in the town of Bromont, Que., nestled up on a small ski hill, his friend received a snowboard for Christmas.
Maxence, a skier like his dad, wanted one, too. His parents thought it was too dangerous. The next summer, Maxence mowed all of the lawns in his neighbourhood and earned enough to buy his own board, a Lamar. He was 9.
Maxence was good, fast. His dad had been an accomplished provincial-level ski racer, and in summers a trickster on water skis. Maxence's life goal was to be sponsored by the local board shop. Impressed by their son, and to encourage him, the Parrots lent Max $2,000 to buy the trampoline he wanted for trick training. He later paid them back.
So it was no surprise last year, when Parrot – now 19 – said thanks-but-no-thanks to Canada Snowboard, choosing to organize – and finance through his contest winnings – his own training instead of joining the likes of Mark McMorris on the national team. It wasn't hard feelings, as Parrot had previously been on the national team, but coming toward the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, he felt his path was one he would carve himself, his own training schedule, his own gym regime.
It's worked all his life – and today he is among the best, anywhere, a Sochi medal contender. Last winter, at 18, Parrot scored a surprise silver in men's snowboard slopestyle at the acme of his sport, X Games in Aspen, Colo., behind only McMorris.
Last month, Parrot was third at a major Dew Tour event (McMorris winning that one, too).
But because Parrot has ascended so quickly, he has not yet officially punched his ticket to Sochi. That's on the line starting Thursday, on home turf near Quebec City, at a World Cup slopestyle contest at Stoneham Mountain, with Parrot the favourite among those competing to fill out the team Canada will send to Sochi.
"I wasn't stoked on everything," Parrot said this week of Canada Snowboard. "I wanted to do my own thing. Everything went super good last year, and I didn't want to change my program. It's not that their program is not good, I just like to do my own things. I'm a guy with a lot of determination and motivation."
His casual countenance, his easy smile, belie his sharp thinking, a business man in the body of a 19-year-old snowboarder. There's no arrogance, or undue ego. He believes in himself, and his direction.
Parrot is a relative unknown, unlike McMorris of Regina, who is 20 and whose success – back-to-back golds in slopestyle at X Games Aspen – has vaulted him to some fame, or to a lesser degree Montreal native Sebastien Toutant, 21, who won gold in slopestyle at the 2011 X Games in Aspen, and last year at X Games Europe.
Slopestyle, an event where riders pull off tricks on a series of rails and large jumps, is not unlike alpine skiing events such as downhill, where the best might win a number of events – but there is no guarantee come race day. That said, Canada could make an immediate mark in men's snowboard slopestyle.
A big mark – the opposite of how the 2010 Vancouver Games opened for Canada.
The men's slopestyle final is on the first real day of the Games (Feb. 8) and will be headline of the day, appropriate since slopestyle is making its Olympic debut and is superseding halfpipe as the sport's marquee showcase.
At the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., last December, with all the best riders around, Canada had McMorris and Parrot on the podium, and Toutant was fourth. All three young men, for general reference, are well ahead of American Shaun White, one-time slopestyle king (five golds at X Games in the past decade) and, at 27, below the top-tier.
All three Canadians are similar, self-motivated, and emerging largely on their own ambition and talent, rather than the product of an established development system, such as in hockey.
In Bromont, as Parrot became a teenager, he achieved his dream – the local board shop sponsorship. He pushed harder. At 15, he sought out Max Henault, who was coaching Toutant, and previously had tutored McMorris. Henault hesitated initially, but Parrot persisted and his talent, and passion, became clear.
Henault's specialty of trampoline training helped bounce Parrot to the snowboarder's current heights.
"Max pretty much told me he wanted what he needed to be the best snowboarder in the world," Henault recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, really?'"
Parrot's next big bet on himself was leaving high school to measure his worth in the contest scene, borrowing $20,000 from his parents for travel and entry fees. He delivered, it paid, and he paid them back.
McMorris and Toutant, with their relative veteran status, joined with Canada Snowboard with less obligations to fulfill than Parrot. McMorris, too, comes from a family of public service, his father, Don, is a cabinet minister in Saskatchewan and his mother, Cindy, an operating-room nurse.
"He felt like he was at school," Toutant said of his friend, Parrot. "He's been working like he should. Having the federation or no, they're going to send the best riders to the Olympics. I'm sure he's going to be part of the team."
Last July, a chairlift crested a ridge near the peak of B.C.'s Blackcomb Mountain. The expanse of the Horstman Glacier opened up, dotted as it is every summer with jumps, pipes, and the other tools of the freestyle skiing and snowboarding. Parrot was still with Canada Snowboard at the time, there for a training camp, and surveyed the scene: "That looks fun."
He went unnoticed, even if he had already proved himself among the top contest snowboarders.
There was one thing – no surprise – missing: a board sponsor. Long past the days of the backing of the local board shop, Parrot was riding Burton Snowboards for free, but had no official sponsor, quite unusual. But not for Parrot. His bet, on himself, was to wait until he could show the world what he could do in Sochi.
Sitting beside a series of jumps on the glacier, he outlined his thinking, from the moving of laws as a boy to today, the verge of the Olympics and a medal.
"I'm not going to go for a bad contract," Parrot said in an interview that day. "I know I'm going to blow up."