When asked what he does, Josh Zerkel, a senior industrial engineering major at West Virginia University, will tell you that he is a full-time student and an amateur snowboarder. But he quickly adds that snowboarding is his life.
That is the mindset the Morgantown, W.Va., native has taken for much of his life, and it has continued during his time here at WVU. Zerkel has been sponsored by Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs Mountain Resort for four years and is featured in many of the promotional videos produced by the resort.
Zerkel’s love for the snow-covered mountains started when he was just a toddler. His parents both worked at Seven Springs, so he grew up at the resort and learned to ski there.
Zerkel’s childhood friends were all a bit older than he was. Growing up, he saw them all snowboarding and he “wanted to be cool like them,” so he taught himself how to do it.
“I’m a huge nerd with this stuff,” he said. “When I was a little kid, I had a couple (snowboarding movies) on VHS and DVD, and I’d just watch them thousands of times. I would watch the pros in the video and go out and try to do what they did.”
One of his friends bought a camera, and the group started filming their runs on the mountain and rails for personal use. Then Zerkel’s friends had the idea to send one of the videos of him to Forum Snowboards.
“They really liked it and they got me in contact with their southeast sales rep,” said Zerkel. “He came and talked to me, and we hit it off. Then they started sending me boards.”
Those same connections in snowboarding also led him to the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at WVU. “I had several friends who came to WVU to study engineering,” Zerkel said. “I chose industrial engineering so I could tailor it to my passion for snowboarding.”
Zerkel had an opportunity to share that passion when he gave an out-of-class experience lecture to freshmen about snowboard design and material science.
“It’s amazing how much you learn when you’re teaching,” Zerkel said of his experience. “I thought I knew a lot about board design, but when I went back and did some research to freshen up, I learned twice as much.”
Zerkel now plans to turn that passion into a career.
“I thought, ‘I have 14 years of useless snowboarding knowledge; it would be stupid not to work in snowboarding,’” he said. One of Zerkel’s current sponsors is Burton Snowboards, for whom he currently does research and testing of their bindings. Zerkel hopes to combine his engineering education with his snowboarding passion in a full-time position with Burton after graduation.
CONTACT: Mary C. Dillon, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
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