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    August 18, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    Fresh off their most successful USCSA National Championship showings in program history, Liberty University’s men’s and women’s ski and snowboard teams will have a number of promising recruits and walk-ons to add to an already deep base of 20 returning student-athletes for the 2022-23 season.

    The Flames and Lady Flames, who captured four team gold medals (women’s ski and women’s snowboard Rail Jam and Slopestyle) and two team silver medals (men’s snowboard Rail Jam and Slopestyle) at nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., graduated some key competitors from the past few seasons, including two-time gold medalist snowboarder Coleen Leja.

    Tate Gardner is a snowboarder from western Michigan who competed at the same high school as rising sophomore Liz Tinney.

    But recruits such as incoming men’s snowboarder Tate Gardner, who grew up competing with Leja at USASA events in Michigan, and Loken Siebert, a talented men’s skier from Wisconsin, give Liberty Head Coach Isaac Gibson hope that the program will continue to reach new heights in the near future.

    “I am really excited about the men’s snowboard and men’s ski team this year,” Gibson said. “Loken Siebert came to one of our Summer Camps last year for the first time and had a lot of fun and really loved Snowflex, then returned to work at this year’s camps and learned some new tricks. We’ve already seen him grow so much in the past two summers, and with the skills he’s coming in with now, I can’t wait to see his progression over the next four years. He is going to be extraordinary.”

    Siebert has been skiing since the age of 2 or 3 and has a background in downhill racing.

    “I started skiing freestyle in early high school and I’ve really come to love it,” he said. “I’ve raced for all of high school and did freestyle (recreationally) in my free time, and I am looking forward to competing in freestyle this year. I landed my first double backflip this past summer as well as a variety of new rail tricks.”

    He most enjoyed seeing the campers progress and accomplish their own firsts on the slopes.

    “I had a ton of fun at the camps because I got to help kids learn to have fun while skiing and hype them up on new tricks,” Siebert said.

    Transitioning from snow to Snowflex was an adjustment at first for Siebert, but he has become a natural on it through repetition.

    Siebert performs a stunt on the Snowflex quarterpipe.

    “There’s nothing quite like Snowflex,” said Siebert, who grew up skiing on garbage mountains, landfills covered in snow. “I love those hills, and they definitely made me a good park skier because all I can do is really hit rails. They helped me become a better skier. (Snowflex) is definitely a different experience, and it took a couple runs to get used to, but you can do pretty much all the tricks you do on snow.”

    Though he has yet to compete in skier-cross, which is one of the Flames’ least experienced freestyle events at nationals, Siebert could help them score more points in those races over the next few years.

    “I think I’ll do pretty well with that because I have a history of racing, and it’s combining the two parts of skiing that I have skills in and like a lot,” Siebert said.

    Siebert will not only grab plenty of air at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre while performing stunts off its slopes’ jumps and rails, but will get plenty of flight time as he prepares to launch his career in commercial aviation upon graduating from Liberty’s School of Aeronautics.

    “I’ve been working toward getting my private pilot license this past summer,” Siebert said, noting the academic load at Liberty will be a demanding one. “It definitely could be hard to balance, but (studying aviation while competing in snow sports) gives me two things I really enjoy.”

    He is looking forward to the culture and camaraderie offered through Liberty’s ski & snowboard teams.

    “The team has a good social side to it,” Siebert said “It is a very tight-knit community and I am excited to be a part of that.”

    Gardner soars upside down off a park feature on his home slope.

    Like Leja and Siebert, Gardner is a product of the Midwest, growing up competing at Cannonsburg in Belmont, Mich.

    “He definitely has a really solid skillset coming in,” Gibson said. “You get a lot of repetition on mountains with rope tows, where progression rates are much faster.”

    A sophomore transfer from Northern Michigan University, which didn’t have a snowboard team, Gardner will be living on East Campus, not far from Snowflex.

    “I am going to be working at Snowflex, too, so I’m going to live work and play over here,” said Gardner, 19, who is entering his 15th season of snowboarding and competed on the same high school team as Lady Flames sophomore Bella Tinney. “I was introduced to it really young and I competed until I was about 16, and then one more season my senior year just for fun. I grew up right next to my ski hill, and I worked there and spent my free time there. I’ve basically tried to stay as close to the snow as I can get.”

    He is drawn to the light on the hill, where he wants to shine brightly both on and off the slopes.

    “Everyone is super friendly, and there is a lot of community here,” said Gardner as he hung out with a few of his Resident Assistants on East Campus. I told Isaac (Gibson) I am really looking forward to the community of the team and to attending Convocation. I want to be more in tune with fellow believers, and am really excited to grow with people through my faith.”

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer

    Video courtesy of @loken.siebert