The story of the Liberty ski and snowboarding head coach that didn’t snowboard until college
It takes a little creativity, a touch of freestyle and the ability to think on your feet.
The quick-thinking adventure is why Liberty ski and snowboard head coach Isaac Gibson was initially drawn to flying down a snow-covered hill with a board strapped to his feet. Though he had never snowboarded before coming to Liberty, Gibson is not just Liberty’s coach now – he’s the general manager of Snowflex.
“It wasn’t something that happened overnight … and it certainly wasn’t something I ever expected to do coming in,” Gibson said.
Gibson grew up skateboarding in his hometown of Danville, Virginia. A budding creative, Gibson channeled his eye for symmetry into learning tricks and techniques. All he needed was a slab of asphalt and a skateboard. But he dreamed of hitting snow-covered slopes one day.
“Snowboarding was always something I wanted to do, but didn’t have the opportunity to make it happen,” Gibson said.
Gibson finally saw his chance to clip on a snowboard his freshman year at Liberty in 2011. He placed second in Snowflex’s Trails 2 Rails competition and first in Journey 2 Jumps. As he trained for these competitions, he invested more and more time into developing his skills.
“I just remember seeing (former Assistant Coach) Kevin Manguiob do these tailslide 270s and I thought it was the coolest trick,” Gibson said. “And I was like, ‘Man, if I can ever learn that trick I would be satisfied, I’d be happy.’ And then next thing I knew, I learned that trick. And the goal got built on from there and it was just like, ‘Now I want to be on the team.’”
He landed a place on the snowboarding team as a sophomore in 2012. Besides making the team, Gibson reached another milestone that year.
“I still had never snowboarded on actual snow until we had our first contest, which was at Wintergreen with the team,” Gibson said. “(My) first time ever riding snow was in my first time competing with the team.”
As he volunteered part-time at Snowflex during his undergraduate years, Gibson discovered something he came to love as much as playing the sport itself—teaching the sport. During his fifth year of college, Gibson became assistant coach under Head Coach Ryan Leeds in 2015
As his time at college came to a close, Gibson intended to move to California to pursue a career in graphic design.
Gibson took charge of the Next Level Development Youth Program, a program hosted by Snowflex focusing on coaching young skiers and snowboarders in Lynchburg. In 2018, Leeds passed on the head coach position to Gibson.
Gibson was able to use his graphic design skills to create a logo for the Next Development Youth Program. Because his responsibilities combine his love for snowboarding, teaching and design, Gibson did not consider the decision to stay at Liberty a difficult one.
“I love the community here. I love Liberty and being only an hour from family,” Gibson said. “And it all just happened so perfectly. It was just like, ‘God wants me here, not in California.’”
Like Gibson was, senior snowboarder and mechanical engineering major Christopher Yablonski is drawn to snowboarding because he is able to incorporate his creativity and problem-solving skills on the slopes.
“Every course is built differently, and so when you go there, you have to look and say, ‘OK, I know what I can do, I know my tricks, I know my abilities … how can I tie it all together on a new course?’” Yablonski said.
Yablonski describes Gibson’s coaching style as laid-back, encouraging and focused on the needs and learning styles of each individual skier and snowboarder.
“He gives a really fun outlook on everything that we do and always reminds me to have fun because (although) competing can be stressful, at the end of the day he always reminds us that what we’re doing is really goofy … we’re just flying around on frozen water,” Yablonski said.
Gibson continues to combine his passion for creativity and teaching to fill his three different roles at Snowflex.
“Trying to juggle all those things sometimes gets pretty crazy,” Gibson said. “But it’s also another one of those challenges that’s just very rewarding because I think whenever you’re investing your time and energy into people, it’s always going to be very rewarding.”
Crenshaw is the feature editor. Follow her on Twitter.