Zeppelin Zeerip sounds like the name of a comic book character or a hero in a Disney movie. However, this young Michigander has been quietly making a name for himself in the snowboard world in the last couple of years. From the summer parks of Windells to the harsh environment of the Alaskan backcountry, Zeppelin truly charges. We sat down with the wildly named young buck to get his take on what it means to grow up riding in Michigan and to see what the future holds.
Hometown Sparta, MI
Home MountainPando Winter Sports Park
Current MountainPark City / Snowbird
What kind of a name is Zeppelin Zeerip and don’t you have a sister whose name starts with “Z” as well? What is your parents strange fascination with the letter “Z”?
THANK YOU for not relating it to Led (Led Zeppelin), I honestly get asked “like Led?” every single day of my life. I didn’t even know who Led Zeppelin was until I was probably 12. My parents just bought me a bunch of books about zeppelins and replica toy zeppelins I was actually named after Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, the guy who invented the zeppelins used in the earlier part of the century (think Hindenburg). My dad somehow managed to convince my mom the idea came from the inventor and not the band, but I’m not buying it. Since then the family motto has been “Fly High Go Far.” Talk about my sister and I will find you… but yea, her name also starts with Z. I guess my parents may have gotten carried away with that one.
Where are you from?
If you’re looking at your hand in regards to the Michigan mitten, I’m from roughly two inches below the base of your pinky finger. I was born in Grand Rapids and raised in Sparta, a small farm town north of there.
When and where did you start snowboarding?
No idea why, but my parents got me a 120 K2 Swinger board when I was six without ever having expressed any interest in snowboarding, so the first season I was just lapping the ten foot tall hill in my backyard and riding right onto the lake ice at the end every time. From there I started buying passes at Pando and going there nearly everyday after school and just night riding. Maybe once a year on a special occasion we’d be able to make it up to the big ‘hills’ of Michigan and ride Boyne or Nubs Nob. But I still return to Pando every winter to lap with our old crew at Christmas. Pando is sick because they used to host the World Snurfing Championships and allowed snowboarders before nearly anyone else in the area and little has changed around there in the last thirty years. Just last season I heard a family in the parking lot actually arguing amongst themselves about whether Pando allowed skiers or not because they didn’t see a single one on the hill.
Pando is a pretty small resort even by Michigan standards. How do you think growing up riding there influenced your snowboarding?
Even though Michigan and Pando in particular share countless similarities to the Minnesota scene, we didn’t grow up lapping rails like the kids at Hyland did. Pando was a bit slower to catch on and pretty much all of the features except the one and only jump were DIY. Until I was almost twelve, the only rails we had were a three stage log rail and one flat bar. What we did have was a halfpipe/snakerun that was dug in the late eighties/early nineties. The ditch would get all these natural hips and takeoffs throughout it, so we spent a lot more time trying to learn hand-plants and how to pump more speed to send the final corner hip than learning hardway spins onto rails. They would also generally build a 40-50 ft. jump for the weekly “Phat Air Fridays” and I was always looking up to the older guys at the time such as Jonny Sischo and Brady Brunette, so I took a lot of influence from that and began jumping as much as possible. Growing up in the Midwest makes you appreciate even the bad weather and shit days when you do make it west because we’re all used to riding almost strictly at night on features we dug ourselves. Snowboarding in Michigan is still a bit more underground than here in Utah, but that’s good in many ways I think.
Eventually you ended up out west. How did that happen?
I wanted to actually compete and because Michigan can only offer so much, my family began looking into snowboard academies. We first checked out Stratton and Okemo, but they didn’t offer enough scholarship opportunities and I wound up at Crested Butte Academy in Colorado because they offered me nearly a full scholarship. That school is out of business now, but it was epic at the time. It was a pretty weird experience moving out at 13 and having your entire life revolve around riding and Crested Butte certainly taught me how to ride a real mountain and get out of the park. I technically graduated as a migrant student which is similar to the Hispanic students that move between southern and northern states each year, because I did the season move every year for five years as well (just east to west instead). From there I bounced around a little bit, did the typical move to Breckenridge, then Park City, went to Florida for a hot second to work, and now I’m back in Salt Lake going to school and boarding.
What do you think of Michigan snowboarding compared to Colorado, and then Colorado compared to Utah?
Michigan is comprised of a lot of skateboarders turned snowboarders, so the rail scene is strong and the kids work hard to get after it. I remember filling pickup trucks every weekend with snow to setup a rail in the backyard starting in September. You don’t find that same crazy drive as frequently in CO or UT. Between Utah and Colorado, I think the difference is less noticeable, but people still love to hate on Summit County, CO, even though Park City is in Summit County, UT. There may be more “bro’s” in Colorado, but its scene also has more history behind it as far as how much skiing and snowboarding have influenced the culture so you’ve got to respect the old guard. Chad Otterstrom has stayed there so you know it can’t be too terrible. I don’t give a shit which Summit County you ride as long as you are riding and are having a good time doing it.
You also worked at Windells during the summer. How did you get that gig?
The Windells gig came out of the blue with the head coach Danger Dave hitting me up on Facebook one day asking what my summer plans were. It was only a week before I was moving to Florida to work on yachts and I hadn’t ridden in two years due to a broken femur so I immediately said yes. I’d never been to the summer camps because they were too expensive, so to work at them was quite the opportunity. Danger hired me on as a coach, I think in a sense to give me an opportunity to get back into snowboarding after my multi-year hiatus and I’m pretty grateful for that as it definitely renewed my spark. Living at the Ark is its own interview entirely but needless to say, Windells was a rowdy time.
In the past, the dream for most midwest snowboarders was to move out west. However, now it seems like a lot of riders are making careers out of sticking around especially in places like Minnesota. Do you think that trend will continue into Michigan?
I’ve definitely been noticing that. Jesse Paul is a good example, he almost refuses to leave MN in the winter and sees little reason to come west at all. It may continue in Michigan, but I don’t think our winters are reliable enough to sustain a career snowboarding in the state. There is a ton of room for potential because so much of it is still unexplored as far as urban riding goes, but in Grand Rapids we’re hyped to get 80 inches in a season and there just aren’t large enough cities in the upper peninsula. It’s pretty off the map still. I definitely plan on spending more time there around Christmas this year to hit some spots I’ve been eying for years and to film in Detroit would be wild. But no, I simply don’t think there’s enough snow to keep people around anymore.
Are there any local Michiganders in particular that you think show a lot of potential?
To be honest I haven’t spend enough time there in the winters lately to hype any up. There’s quite a few MI kids here in SLC, but I only go back for about two weeks each winter and almost strictly ride Pando when I do. I grew up skating with Tommy Young and along with Erik Zimmerman, those kids are the only two I’ve really seen awesome stuff from. Their showcasing the city and mixing an arsty sense with their edits. Those two along with some of the under fifteen crowd that is lapping the rope-tows day and night but haven’t made the move to the streets yet are doing good for Michigan.
You’re involved with the Far From Home project. Tell us about that project and how you became involved as well as your roll with the film.
Far From Home has been a wild ride over the last ten months. We’re documenting and retracing my roommate Brolin’s journey from Uganda to Salt Lake City by way of Jackson and Boston. Snowboarding was really a platform for Brolin’s successes so far, in that it helped him establish a community and friendships in a country that was so foreign to him. The crew filmed in Whistler with Camp of Champions this summer as well as going to Argentina and spending a few weeks with SASS. Snowboarding is a massive part of the story but it really boils down to the community that has come together in each of the respected areas to help him out along the way and how it can take an entire village to raise a person up. I barely knew the crew at the beginning, but saw that it had a ton of potential and really reached out to them and expressed my desire to get involved. Initially my main role was with fundraising our Kickstarter campaign, but now it has now transitioned to managing the social media for the project. I have been creating content and keeping the Facebook and Instagram accounts current to keep our audience involved before we release. We’ll have it completed by the 2014 Sundance submission deadline.
That’s awesome! Besides working as a philanthropist last season you also traveled to Mt Baker where you sessioned the infamous road gap. How was that trip?
Bellingham is kind of my third home after living there and any trip to Baker is out of control. We finally caught it good last season with 12-16 inches of snow every night and we got to stay in the Debari’s house with my old roommate Andy. But the road gap, hot damn. The road gap is perhaps the most iconic jump in snowboarding and we had the right crew to pull it off on the trip. On the last day of riding we stepped up to it. I’d never hit a back country jump that big or intimidating before and ended up getting too excited and catching a knee to the chin pretty hard trying to seven it first hit. I ended up getting a back seven and backflip over it so it turned out pretty solid. Baker in many senses is like Michigan if you’re really looking for comparisons, in that it’s a small core group of riders that go fast and truly know the mountain well. There’s so much to be explored there if you’ve got the right equipment, so I’ll definitely be going back this season.
OK, lets be honest. Baker is nothing like Michigan. It’s every snowboarder’s wet dream to hit it on the perfect pow day. Speaking of snowboarding fantasies you also headed to AK for Tailgate Alaska. How does a kid from Michigan end up riding some of the gnarliest terrain in the world?
I’d argue it (Baker) is still. The weathers always shit, just like MI. After breaking my femur and then subsequently tearing my ACL, I just needed a motivator to work hard through physical therapy and Alaska was my light at the end of that dark endless tunnel. I couldn’t afford a sled or heli drops, much less a warm place to sleep, so myself along with Ryan Hudson were tent camping next to each other in 0 degree mummy bags and four season tents eating Ramen and peanut butter for meals. Split-boarding 4,000 vertical everyday up to the peaks while the sleds ripped by us was pretty rough, but worth it. That really gave me a new found respect for AK video parts and convinced me to buy a sled. I just picked up an older Polaris last week and combined with my splitboard, I’ll be spending the majority of my winter out of bounds which I’m really excited about. Tailgate is really a solid choice for the first AK experience as there are a few hundred people around with a hell of a lot more experience than you willing to help you out and give advice, plus endless people to ride and explore with.
Michigan has slowly been gaining notoriety in the rest of the snowboard world as an urban destination and recently Cannonsburg was named one of the top 3 parks in the midwest. Now that you have lived outside of the Mitten for a while, how do you think the rest of the snowboard world perceives Michigan and its riders?
That’s true. There have been more crews making the trek to cities such as Marquette and Grand Rapids in search of new and un-hit features and that’s brought a huge increase in visibility and traffic to the state. Five years ago no one knew where Marquette was while today, crews are getting featured on the news when they roll through town. I think to continue the growth of and respect for Michigan riders we need to continue to remember where we came from and be proud of it as opposed to blending into our current environments. Mike Hornbeck has done a good job of it in skiing, as well as Ian Thorley on our end. It’s easy to get spoiled when we move to places such as Tahoe, CO, or Utah, but we’ve got to remain the same as we were at home. We need to continue to be the kids that would do school or work all day and then go ride for six hours at night. The midwest work ethic is a pretty defining aspect of our riding. It’s great to see Cannonsburg getting recognition. They’ve been fortunate to get a lot of money behind their parks in the last few years and have some people that are really on point leading the program in the right direction.
What advice would you give to kids growing up in Michigan that want to make it in the snowboard industry?
I’d say not to focus on learning a triple cork. When I was sixteen that was how I defined the best rider. Now I look to Gigi, Nicolas, Travis, and Blauvelt as the best riders because those guys are embodying true snowboarding and making their own paths. Moving out west may be the best option of some, while for others the best bet may be staying in Michigan and hitting every rail in the state. Get a job at a local shop and keep pushing content, ride more and stop giving a shit about what’s cool in snowboarding each year.
Last winter you went back to MI and started Occupy Pando. What is the story with that and will there be another one this year?
I started Occupy Pando last year to give back to the industry and resort that has essentially defined my life’s major choices and to bring snowboarding back to it’s core. Cannonsburg has seen huge success over the last few years, while Pando has always remained an underdog to them, and riders remain dedicated to one or the other. Pando needed something to show that it could still compete and that the “punk rock” or “core” side of snowboarding wasn’t dead. With a huge amount of help from Pando’s park crew, I turned Pando’s halfpipe/snakerun into a combination of a slopestyle course and a under-vert pipe by placing jibs, gongs, and stalls on the walls in addition to building up the main hips. We switched it up and hosted it at night to make it a bit rowdier and we’ll certainly be doing it again this year on December 28th. Save the date.
Sounds like a plan. Is there anyone you want to thank?
I’d like to thank my family, Christian Robertson, John Chorlton, Barrett Christy, Pando, and Jason Pogoloff, in addition to Homeschool, YES and Drink Blood.