Interview by Paul Bourdon
Zeppelin Zeerip is a name you can’t really forget. It’s not only his unique moniker that sets him apart however. This lanky kid from Sparta, Michigan has been through it all: the ups and down of pursuing a pro career in snowboarding, major injuries, losing his father and watching his childhood home burn to the ground. Zeppelin has now written his own book and has partnered with WZRD media to tell the tale. The coolest thing about Zeppelin is he is not shy about talking about his hard times and what it took to rise above it all. He hopes that his story will help others to realize their own power of choice and personal responsibility. — Paul Bourdon
Paul Bourdon: Let’s start with the basics: Where are you from? Where’d you do your riding growing up? Zeppelin Zeerip: I’m from Sparta, Michigan. It’s a pretty small farming town where the biggest event of the year are the fall football games and homecoming. I grew up riding Pando Winter Sports Park (RIP).
It seems as though Michigan (and the rest of the lakes region) produces a lot of strong, well rounded riders. Why do you think that is? For me it was entirely because of the tow ropes. Not only do you get to take dozens upon dozens of laps everyday, you also get to watch your friends, because you’re riding uphill right beside them. I started riding at Pando when I was six and spent four or five nights a week riding under the lights during the winters growing up. When I first started in the 80s we only had a halfpipe that was dug into the dirt and two log rails. Gradually we started bringing our own rails to the resort and pushing the management to build bigger jumps.
What was the best part about growing up in Michigan? The best part was Pando, hands down. That, the water, and the people. Having the opportunity to swim, fish, or boat everyday is nearly enough to make me want to move back sometimes. People at home don’t give a fuck about keeping up with trends or the latest thing, which is really refreshing after living in a place like Salt Lake that, which at least in the snowboard industry, is often setting the trend. It’s simple at home.
Who were some of the riders you looked up to growing up? Both in Michigan and beyond. Growing up everyone at Pando went under the moniker ‘Pando Commandos’; we stole the name from the “Pando Commandos,” a demonstration group on skis that was part of the 10th Mountain Division for the Rocky Mountain Area, and that was definitely who I looked up to most. I wasn’t too concerned with following pro snowboarders when I was that young because guys like Jonny Sischo and Brady Brunnete were putting down 9’s and 10’s at Pando everyday. Once I moved out of Michigan and started paying closer attention to magazines and videos I began following the Forum 8 and the un.Inc crew more closely. Nowadays I’m most stoked on Cam Fitzpatrick, Hans and Nils Mindnich, Bode, Travis Rice, and of course Muller.
Zeppelin does Argentina. Photo by Ben Girardi.
You had a solid edit drop on this site a few years back that definitely had some flak thrown your way in the comments. What’s up with that? I’m pretty sure about 80% of those were my friends just giving me shit. As for the remaining 20%, I have no idea.
Where does your name come from? My dad read books like a fiend. Every time he’d sit down he had a book in his hand, and eventually he came across the story of Ferdinand Graf Zeppelin, the inventor of the Zeppelin airships that were around during the turn of the century. He proposed the idea of naming me Zeppelin to my mom and she just rolled with it. I kept her last name and took my dad’s middle name.
A young Zeppelin and his dad.
You appear to be a lanky summabitch. How tall are you? Do you think your height gives you any advantages in snowboarding? [Laughs] I’m 6’3”. It definitely doesn’t have any advantages; my center of gravity is higher, it’s easier to break bones, and I’ve got to be that much stronger to keep my arms and shit from flailing. It’s always rad to see other tall guys like Bode, Ted, and E-tree rip though.
You’ve faced some real hardships and challenges in your life. Let’s talk a little about that. A lot of that will is addressed in the film we’ve put together with the help of Ski Utah, Solitude, and Goal Zero. You can check it out on the site above. In the span of four years my father passed away, our family home burned down, and I broke my femur. Those were some rough days for my family, but my mom and sister and I are incredibly resilient, and I think we’ve come out stronger having gone through it all.
Zeppelin’s family home, post fire.
You had mentioned that for you at one point that snowboarding became a sort of competition and kind of lost it’s fun in some ways. How do you combat getting burnt out? How do you keep riding fun and fresh? When I was 13 I was incredibly fortunate to get a scholarship to go to the Crested Butte Academy and get coached by guys like Christian Robertson, John Chorlton, Jason Pogoloff, and even Bud Keene during the last year. I felt like I had been gifted this massive opportunity to prove myself and that if I didn’t give everything I had to trying to ride professionally I’d let a lot of people down. I certainly pushed myself hard as well, it was my only focus from the time I was ten years old. I got hurt a lot, but breaking my femur and tearing my ACL was the final straw. It was such a significant injury that I recognized I couldn’t keep putting my body on the line for snowboarding, and that trying to ride professionally resulted in me sitting on the couch healing more than actually riding.
After moving to Utah I quit riding park. I’ll still cruise through Brighton’s park on a sunny day, but primarily I spend my time in the sidecountry or backcountry, hiking and touring. I lost the motivation I had to learn tricks in the park and refocused it on taking those tricks to the backcountry.
You have a genuine love for the outdoors and a wandering spirit. What tips can you give to those out there who don’t necessarily want to follow the “normal” path of going to school, getting a job, etc. What are some of the biggest challenges you face living the lifestyle you have chosen? My friends and network of people that I met while in school at Westminster College have been the biggest factor in enabling me to create my own path outside of a standard 9-5. For me the biggest challenges relate back to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a list of five stages that is divided into basic and psychological needs (physiological, safety, love, and esteem) and growth needs (self-actualization). Having been through so much stuff growing up, it was and continues to be really difficult for me to look beyond the basic needs and step to the growth stages, but that’s what it takes if you want to make something for yourself. Looking beyond the basic securities and taking a risk to recognize your potential is scary as hell when you don’t have any savings left and your student loans are about to start, but it has all seemed to work out so far. As for advice? I’d say meet and network with everyone and anyone possible even if there isn’t an immediate need and to surround yourself daily with people that motivate you to be a better person in some aspect of your life. Damn, I sound like Tony Robbins.
What do you see yourself doing after snowboarding is done? Snowboarding has never supported me financially, so I wouldn’t say it hasn’t actually been my ‘A’ plan since I was 18. I’ve done a huge variety of jobs in the last few years; I’ve worked on private yachts in Miami, helped DMOS Collective get off the ground, worked to produce the Far From Home documentary and now I’ve joined WZRD Media as a partner alongside Phil Hessler and Galen Knowles. We’ve done film work for Vice, REI, and Redbull already and have some much bigger stuff in the works for this upcoming year. That’s my full time thing right now. I’m doing a lot of writing, traveling, carpentry, and have always been interested in urban farming as well, so all those things will continue to be involved in my future.
You’re working on a book and film that is due out soon that chronicles your travels and experiences. What was the inspiration for this book? The inspiration for the book came from a road trip I took after breaking my femur in 2011. At that point I was still trying to ride professionally, and when I broke my leg I really didn’t have a plan B. My house had burned down that fall, so I didn’t have a great place to go home to, and I decided it would be best to take a road trip and clear my mind. I ended up taking five weeks to drive from Colorado to Washington by way of Utah, Nevada, and Oregon. The book is strongly influenced by Ed Abbey, Jon Krakauer, and Jack Kerouac, so hopefully it won’t suck. You can check it out on the crowdfunding page here.
Do no break your femur. There are rods involved. No fun.
What is the hardest part about being a freerider in snowboarding today? The best part? The best part is getting to travel to new and old places. This last year I took trips to Argentina, Switzerland, Baker, Wyoming, and Mammoth to chase pow and rip with friends. I wasn’t under sponsor obligations to post Instagrams twice a day or send in content, I just got to make turns all day. I wake up every morning in the winter and get to ride some of the best mountains in the world right in my backyard before work. The hardest part is getting out of bed when my dog has fallen asleep on my legs. It’s a rough life.
Some people are worried about the future of snowboarding. That is to say, people are worried about how sustainable this industry can be. What are your thoughts on the future of snowboarding? Are the only people worried the ones who stand to lose money? Or are you concerned for climate change and the viability of the sport from that perspective moving forward? What do you think snowboarding needs or doesn’t need moving forward? I think snowboarding and snowboarders need to put their money where their mouth is. Everyone wants to be green, but we’re the biggest hypocrites out there. One second athletes are posting on social media about Protect Our Winters, and the next they are getting heli dropped in AK or ripping sleds into the backcountry. Would I jump in a heli without a second thought? Of course, but I’m not simultaneously standing on a soapbox preaching. I’ve got a ton of respect for companies like Mervin and Patagonia that really seem to be making strides towards more sustainable business practices, but the remainder of the industry needs to follow suit and consumers need to demand it. It starts at a local level, and it takes more than social media posts to get local legislators to take action. No matter your personal motive for preventing climate change, whether it’s financial or to maintain a quality of life, it’s not fair to sit idly by on the sidelines and hope someone else fights for the environment. I want to keep riding pow!
Do you still have the occupy Pando event going annually? There is nothing I want more than to continue the Occupy Pando tradition, but unfortunately Michigan snowboarding has seen quite the shakeup these last few years and it’s no longer possible. In the fall of 2015 I learned that Pando been sold to Cannonsburg, just a week before it went public on Facebook. Cannonsburg and Pando have historically had an intense rivalry, as Cannonsburg was bigger and better funded, but Pando had the better riders and more of a family attitude. I’m not sure what the current plan for Pando is, last year Cannonsburg didn’t open the resort, but I had the chance to speak with the owner and he hinted that he hoped to reopen Pando in some capacity. I owe Pando a lot, so fingers crossed the ropes start turning again soon.
What do you have planned for the upcoming season? I’ll be in Utah once again riding the backcountry as much as possible and Brighton and Solitude when it’s unsafe to venture out. Doing all of the three star lines in the Chuting Gallery has always been a goal of mine and hopefully I can check that on off this winter. Each line is a big day on its own, ranging from pinner chutes to 5,000 ft. couloirs. This winter WZRD will be busy with one, potentially two documentaries, so that will be my primary focus from a work perspective.
Last chance for thank yous and acknowledgements. I’m most thankful for the five people I’ve been able to surround myself with these last few years and the influence they’ve had on different aspects of my life. Phil Hessler, Galen Knowles, Jake Kopec, Gabi, and my sister Zoe are the best people I know and I’m grateful to call them my friends and family. Also Nitro, Homeschool, DMOS, Goal Zero, Ski Utah, Solitude, Zeal, my grandparents, and my mom for their support and love.