Club Sports News

Liberty's ski team soars

February 8, 2012  |  Lynchburg, VA 

Liberty's ski team soars test test test test

It's a 60 degree day in February, and Lynchburg has barely seen a dusting of snow all winter.

But the fluke weather has not hindered Liberty University's ski and snowboard team. On the synthetic slopes of Snowflex, the team can practice year-round, giving them a leg up on teams that rely on seasonal ski resorts.

The sky is cloudless, and the Blue Ridge Mountains stand tall in the West. On Snowflex, Liberty's riders launch from the big jump in rapid succession. For several seconds, they fly through the air, executing daredevil tricks they have spent months perfecting.

Since Snowflex opened in 2009, the Liberty ski and snowboard team has morphed into an upstart program capable of producing top-notch athletes.

In back-to-back competitions this weekend, Liberty opened its season with first place finishes at the Snowflex Centre and Wintergreen Resort, beating out teams from Appalachian State University, Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia and West Virginia University, to name a few.

The team, which was formed in 2009 and competes in the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboarding Association (USCSA), has its sights set on the National Championship in March, where it will compete against the country's best collegiate riders.

Head coach Will Scheren, 25, is confident that Liberty will qualify for nationals. He has sized up the competition and believes Liberty has what it takes to be a leader on the East Coast.

"With the talent that we have here. . . We have one of the only sponsored collegiate skiers in the Southeast," Scheren says, referring to freshman Jonathan Steltzer, who recently signed a sponsorship deal with 4FRNT, a ski equipment and apparel company.

Even in big mountain states like Colorado and California, it's rare for a college team to have year-round access to the slopes. At Liberty's Snowflex, riders can practice in 80-degree heat or 20-degree cold, rain, snow or shine.

This unfettered access has allowed the team to experience lightning-fast improvement. Some riders are landing tricks that, just a few years ago, were being executed by the pros at the Winter X Games

"Three years ago, what we thought was impossible, we're doing," Scheren says.

The team held tryouts in August, whittling a field of 30 to a team of eight snowboarders and four skiers.

They practiced from August through January in preparation for a short but intense season, which runs from February to mid-March.

The Flames meet for gym workouts three times a week, but have no need for official practice times.

"I can't keep these guys off the mountain," says Scheren, "I don't really schedule practice because these guys are already out here all the time."

By Saturday's season-opener, the team was hungry to compete.

A contrast to the recent spring-like weather, Saturday's freestyle competition at Snowflex was cold, foggy and wet. A light rain pelted the plastic slope, making the rails and jumps slicker than usual.

Senior Ryan Leeds, a snowboarder from New Jersey, took first place with a strong showing of technical tricks and smooth riding. With a home turf advantage, Liberty swept the podium with second and third place finishes from Ethan Acree and Jesse Spadino.

"It's good to see all the work that you put in through practicing and working out through the pre-season pay off when you actually get to the competition," Leeds says. "Our team did incredible."

Leeds, who grew up as a ski bum, says his skills improved exponentially at Liberty. The padded landing, he says, is softer than real snow, giving him more freedom to try new tricks.

"You can do bigger tricks without a greater level of consequence," says Leeds.

More importantly, his newfound skills have translated to fresh powder.

"I always like to say if you can land it on Snowflex, you can definitely land it on snow," he says.

The softer landings, however, do not negate the sport's inherent risk. Liberty's only female rider, Eden Jones, is bouncing back from breaking her ankle while learning a new trick last semester. Eden does not fault Snowflex, saying the injury could have been worse on snow.

This semester, Jones has rebounded and is perfecting her backside spin. By year's end, she hopes to add back flips to her repertoire of snowboarding jumps.

"In the semester and a half I've been here, I've probably progressed more than in the eight years I've been riding freestyle," says Jones, who is pushing to raise the bar for women in this testosterone-fueled sport.

"I thought it would be a little bit weird being the only girl, but we're all like buds, kind of like a little family."

Today, the team heads to Liberty Mountain Resort in Pennsylvania for another showdown against regional teams like Virginia Tech, University of Maryland and West Virginia University. This weekend, they will compete at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia.

On Feb. 17 and 18, the riders return to Lynchburg for a rail jam and jumps competition at Snowflex. If Liberty's winning streak continues, the team will head to USCSA's 34th annual National Championships in Maine from March 5-10.

"It's been a good start to the season. We definitely feel like we're a pretty elite team on the East Coast right now," says Scheren. "We're really looking forward to being able to compete against teams from Colorado and California."

Ski & Snowboard Links

No events scheduled for this team.

Jan 13
Ski & Snowboard
at Appalachian Mountain
F 1st ; M 2nd

Jan 12
Ski & Snowboard
at Appalachian Mountain
Team Finish 1st

Mar 3
Ski & Snowboard
at USCSA National Championship
SB Rail Jam - 4th

Mar 3
Ski & Snowboard
at USCSA National Championship
SB Slopestyle - 3rd

Mar 3
Ski & Snowboard
at USCSA National Championship
Boardercross - 4th

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