How Snowboarder Zeppelin Zeerip Became a Public Lands Activist

Zeppelin Zeerip

Teva Explorer Kylie Fly met up with filmmaker and all-around mountain man Zeppelin Zeerip on the outskirts of the Grand Tetons to talk about why public lands need our help now more than ever. Words and photos by Kylie Fly.

Zeppelin Zeerip was originally named after a blimp—the oval airship that sailed through the sky. Growing up with a mother who engrained the family motto, “fly high, go far” into his brain, it is certainly etched into his heart and soul.

I first met Zeppelin Zeerip when he was living in his truck camper in a driveway in Jackson Hole, Wyoming through a group of friends getting together to share a meal. Zep is an eloquent speaker—well versed with his words, making me Google vocabulary to understand what he’s actually saying.

We reconnected to climb and camp just outside Grand Teton National Park, while he was deep into multiple projects: editing a series of interviews with Gwich’in youth for The Wilderness Society, launching his CBD e-commerce store SILVARA, getting ready to lobby with Protect Our Winters in Washington, D.C., pitching new film projects, and talking to new snowboard sponsors.

A goal setter at heart, he is not one to take life lightly and moves through it with intention and purpose. Zeppelin flies high and goes far in life, and shows no sign of slowing down. He inspires others to join in the fight to make the world a better place.

Ember Mid

Zeppelin wears the Ember Mid in Black

It’s not too often I meet someone with a name more badass than my own (Fly is commonly mistaken as not real or some kind of ode to ‘being cool’). Tell us about your name and where it came from.

My dad was a voracious reader and came across the story of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, a wild German aristocrat and military commander who was first inspired to invent the Zeppelin airship after meeting a balloonist in St. Paul, Minnesota. His story of rallying the support of the entire country of Germany behind his idea is pretty wild and I think it must have resonated with my dad as he was constantly trying to invent things.

You are passionate about public lands and protecting them. Why?

After the 2016 election, my mom called me crying. She was feeling like everything we as a family stood for was being attacked, and I felt the same. I decided to choose one issue and put everything I had into standing up for it. Nearly everything I do—be it snowboarding, running, biking, or climbing—takes place on public lands and depends on a healthy environment. They have come under attack like never before by extractive industries and an administration that doesn’t support conservation or preservation of our environment.

Highside '84

The Highside ‘84 in Pecan/Navy.

Highside '84

On Kylie: the Highside ‘84 in Bison.

When did you become involved with political activism and what inspired that? 

In 2017, I began to get more politically involved with Protect Our Winters (POW). Up until then, it felt fairly easy to be complacent and things seemed to be going well for the environmental movement. The US had signed The Paris Agreement, coal plants were closing, and Bears Ears National Monument had been protected.

Things changed quickly after the Trump administration came into power, and that inspired me to stand up for these areas that I love. I saw huge areas being opened to energy development, environmental protections being systematically rolled back, and common sense measures being revoked and I refused to stand idly by. Working with POW has allowed me the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and speak directly with our elected officials about protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and working to combat climate change.

The other big component of my activism is a feature-length documentary that will premiere in 2020. We’ve followed a variety of public lands issues throughout the country and hope to inspire people to get out and vote with the environment in mind.

Ember Mid

Ember Mid

The perfect chill camping shoe: Ember Mid in Black.

You have been snowboarding since you were just a kid in Michigan and competed professionally. How did you transition from being an athlete to an activist? 

I became more involved as an activist after I recognized how selfish of a pursuit snowboarding is; how it truly does not matter in the grand scheme of things. I love snowboarding with all my heart, but at the end of the day it’s still riding down a hill on a piece of wood. It doesn’t contribute to anything greater than itself, and with so much threatening our climate and public lands I felt it was important to stand up and do more. I think anyone with a platform or voice has the responsibility to utilize it for the greater good.

Ember Mid

“I could die in these puffy shoes. They’re all I want to wear camping and every day, for that matter.”

Why do you think it is important to be an activist in the outdoor community?

We, as members of the outdoor community, are often the ones that use these public lands the most, and therefore I believe it’s our responsibility to stand up for them when they are under threat. If we don’t act now we will lose access to our public lands, rivers, and places that we love and depend on.

You have spent a lot of time working on environmental and conservation projects in places like Alaska’s Arctic refuge, logging in Oregon and throughout Utah’s national monuments. You were recently filming in Alaska with the Gwich’in Nation. Can you tell us a bit about your work there?

First I’ll give a bit of background info: in 2017 a provision was included in the tax bill that mandated an oil lease sale be conducted on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Every year nearly 40,000 caribou have their calves in that particular area and the Gwich’in people depend on the caribou for their existence.

This was a borderline illegal move and puts the Gwich’in people’s culture under threat. My team and I have spent time with them in Arctic Village and Fairbanks to showcase their connection to the land and dependence on the caribou in our upcoming film. The Gwich’in’s connection to the land and caribou is beautiful and rare in an era where so many other tribes have been stripped of their food security. It’s crucial that we don’t repeat our mistakes and continue perpetuating the injustices that have been committed against Native people throughout America for the past six centuries. This is an opportunity for us as a country to do the right thing before it’s too late.

Zeppelin Zeerip

Grand Tetons

Bison grazing near the Grand Teton Mountains.

When it comes to becoming involved with issues we are most passionate about, where do you recommend people start? 

Getting involved locally is the most accessible and impactful way to get involved. I would advise anyone interested in getting further involved to choose an issue—it could be climate change, plastic pollution, logging, protecting open land, or whatever matters most to you—and find a local or regional group that is working on that issue.

Every single city and state has its own public land issues and there is almost always a local organization working on the issue. For example, in Salt Lake City there are at least ten different groups I can think of all tackling different issues, from grassroots efforts to protect the Cottonwood canyons (Save Our Canyons) to larger nationwide efforts to reinstate the National Monuments that were reduced (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance).

Patagonia Action Works is another great resource to find local environmental organizations. There are so many ways to get involved and so many events going on, it’s just about finding what feels best for you and where you can have the most impact.

Highside '84

Highside '84

Pictured: Highside ‘84 in Bison.

Top three road snacks and top three road tunes, GO!

Smart Food popcorn, Mexican Coke, and Red Vines. “Jazz” by McJenkins, Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills”, and “This Girl” by Kungs.

We know your dog has traveled with you over the years. Does he have any nicknames and how does he like life on the road?

Mooks, the Prince (because he’s the most handsome man to have ever walked this land), Mr. Steal Yo Girl (for obvious reasons), the River Keeper, Snarles Barkley, and Sweets. Makoa loves life on the road. He came to every shoot during production of the public lands film, and if you’re lucky you’ll see him in the background of some shots.

Grand Tetons at sunset

Ember Mid

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