Steltzer brothers finding their edge as skiers at Snowflex
January 3, 2014 | Lynchburg, Va.
The degree of difficulty in the aerial stunts performed by Liberty University freestyle skiers Tim and Jon Steltzer is awe-inspiring, especially on the relatively short slopes at Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre.
"It's really fun to watch them ride together in a practice or even in a competition," Flames first-year ski and snowboard Head Coach Ryan Leeds said. "Once one of them does one trick, they hype each other up and get the other excited about what they're doing. In that progression, they'll progress to higher level tricks and become even more technical. It's crazy how difficult the tricks are that they will be doing by the end of the night — double flips and double corks (spinning and flipping simultaneously), which is insane to see at Snowflex."
|Jon Steltzer executes a flip off the main jump at Snowflex, soaring over Next Level summer campers on July 23, 2012.|
"We push each other, especially when we compete," added Tim, who is 23, two years older than Jon, 21. "At Snowflex, with a lot of people watching, you try bigger and tougher jumps. In that atmosphere, with all that energy, you want to go try something crazy."
Leeds said only a few skiers in the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) can land the types of stunts the Steltzer brothers stick on a regular basis.
"You don't really see too many people in the Southeast do a spin higher than a 1080(-degree)," he said. "Tim's one of the first not at the professional level to do a double cork (1260). The only time you see something like that is when you're watching the Dew Tour (held Dec. 12-15 in Breckenridge, Colo.) or the Winter X Games (set for Jan. 23-26 in Aspen, Colo.)."
Both Steltzer brothers are featured in a skiing stunt video entitled Project FleX, filmed during this past summer's Next Level overnight ski camps at Snowflex, where Jon served as an instructor. It made the all-time top-10 list of videos on Newschoolers.com, a freestyle skiing website.
|Jon Steltzer took last year off to tour professionally, but returned to Snowflex to compete in the Dew Games, winning $3,000 in prize money after his first-place finish in the Rail Jam and second-place showing in the Big Air.|
At the fourth annual Dew Games held April 27 at Snowflex, Jon finished first in the Rail Jam and second in the Big Air contest, one place higher than Tim in each event.
That competition wasn't as prestigious as the Dew Tour, which served as the first of four selection events for the U.S. freestyle ski team that will compete in the Feb. 7-23 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. But it was spectacular nonetheless, bringing a big-air feel to the slopes overlooking the largest Christian university in the world.
The Steltzer brothers grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine, site of former President George W. Bush's summer retreat home. That's two hours south of Sunday River ski resort, host of the 2012 USCSA National Championships, where Jon placed second in the Big Air exhibition. Tim outdid his younger brother at last year's nationals, winning the Big Air competition at Sun Valley, Idaho.
This will be the first year the two brothers have competed on the same team since 2011. Tim took a semester off in 2012 and Jon was a Liberty Online student last year.
"I'm looking forward to competing against him again," Tim said, anticipating the Jan. 11 USCSA season-opener at Massanutten Resort near Harrisonburg, Va.
"We feed off each other and push each other to ski harder," Jon added. "It's kind of like he's my coach and I'm his coach."
|Jon Steltzer performs a trick over a crowd of Next Level overnight campers at Snowflex on July 17, 2013.|
The Steltzers have maintained a strong brotherly bond at Liberty, which will host a LaHaye Rail Jam on Feb. 4 and a series of Collegiate Freestyle Association events at Snowflex from late March through late April.
"We've been competing for three years, going back and forth," Jon said. "I would say he's better than me, and he would always say I'm better than him."
"We're really good friends," Tim added. "Whenever he wins a competition or I win, we're definitely really excited (for the other brother). It's never, ever been negative."
Jon even served as Tim's best man for his Dec. 17, 2011 wedding to Amelia Kenny, a former Liberty women's snowboarder herself.
Still, there is an element of sibling rivalry.
"Sometimes, it's really annoying because I'll learn something new that I've been trying to do for a long time and I'm like, ‘Yes!'" Tim said. "And the next week, he'll learn it, too, so it's like, ‘Oh, man!' We're always trying to one-up each other."
Ask Leeds which of the brothers is more gifted in the air and he'll offer a mixed response.
|Tim Steltzer demonstrates his technical skills on the rails at a USCSA slopestyle event held Feb. 2, 2013, at Snowflex.|
"It's difficult to say because they both have a really deep bag of tricks," he said. "They really go back and forth between who is better. Tim is very, very technical with his tricks. Jon just goes huge, bigger than anybody I've ever seen at Snowflex, as far as distance and height. Tim's a close second."
The brothers' strengths as freestyle skiers parallel not only their personalities, but also their paths of study at Liberty. Tim is an electrical engineer pursuing a double minor in math and computer science, which could explain the precise execution of his maneuvers in the air and textbook landings. Jon, meanwhile, is majoring in marketing.
"I always try to match his level of style, but that's one of the things he focuses on," Tim said, noting Jon started skiing at the age of 3 and competing in freestyle at 15. "I have more of a technical mindset. I took physics and stuff, and that applies to skiing as well, understanding angles and trajectory. With Jon, it's about looking the right way."
Jon enjoys the spontaneity of the sport, and the freedom to express himself through his tricks.
"The cool thing is in freestyle, you can do whatever you want, and use your creativity," he said. "There are no rules. You can go as hard as you can without hurting yourself."
Remarkably, by the grace of God, both of the Steltzer brothers have remained virtually injury-free in the sport, despite its inherent risks.
|Jon Steltzer soars into the night sky on a switch jump at Snowflex during his sophomore season.|
"Me and my brother are two of a very small crowd of people who have never gotten seriously hurt at the level we're competing at," Jon said. "I've always said it's because my parents always prayed for us. I think we've got angels on our shoulders."
Johanne and Gordan Steltzer have supported their two sons since they started freestyle skiing 10 years ago.
"Mom was worried, but my parents have always wanted us to pursue our dreams," Tim said. "If we love something, they've always encouraged us to try our best and put all the effort we have into it. They've always prayed for us and come out to support us in our competitions. They've been great."
Since it started competing in the USCSA's Southeast Conference in 2010, Liberty has gone undefeated in men's freestyle skiing and men's and women's freestyle snowboarding.
"As good as Tim and Jon are, they not only push each other, but they're really big, positive supporters of the team," Leeds said. "When they land a big jump, everybody gets really excited and it starts to motivate the team and the team in general performs better."
Both Steltzer brothers expect to qualify for the 36th annual USCSA Nationals, set for March 11-15 at Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. There, they potentially could challenge for individual national titles while the Flames' 10 men's snowboarders seek to improve on their fourth-place team finish from last year.
Leeds said the Steltzers have increased exposure to Liberty's program, raising the bar for future team members.
"Because of the skill level of Tim and Jon, they in and of themselves have kind of marketed Liberty," he said. "They ride for our team and show how much they have progressed through the Snowflex facility."
|Jon Steltzer is captured in a multiple-exposure sequence while executing a trick off a rail at Snowflex.|
Jon took last year off to test out the slopes on the professional circuit.
"He did very well for himself last year, building up his sponsor base," Leeds said, noting he signed an endorsement deal with 4FRNT, a ski equipment and apparel company, as a freshman. "It's a blessing to have somebody sponsored by somebody so big, who's skied professionally, competing on the team."
While it helps having Tim, who is sponsored by Majesty Skis, as her coach, Amelia — who grew up in a tropical climate as the daughter of missionaries to Southeast Asia — can testify to the dramatic improvement she has made as a snowboarder at Snowflex.
"Amelia, she is really incredible," Tim said. "She was on the team the first year it was in existence. She learned to snowboard on Snowflex and within a year or two, she was winning most of the competitions."
As much as Snowflex is the perfect place for him to develop as a skier, Jon says Liberty is an ideal location for him to grow in his spiritual walk.
"One thing you don't get too much in the ski community is a good Christian faith, so that's a really big draw to Liberty for me," he said. "I love to encourage younger skiers or freshmen to come to Liberty and join the team and progress. It's definitely a good environment and a great place to figure out skiing."