USCSA nationals schedule cut significantly short by record snowfall
For the first time in the 10 years Liberty University men’s and women’s ski & snowboard Head Coach Isaac Gibson has been affiliated with the program — other than 2021, when COVID-19 canceled them ouright — extreme weather has wiped out most of the events at this week’s USCSA National Championships in Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, and most of that region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, for that matter, is on track to receive a record amount of snowfall this season, with close to 50 feet having already fallen — including two feet last weekend and two more over the past few days.
“It has definitely been a strange experience going from Virginia, where it has been quite warm, to complete opposite conditions out here in California,” Gibson said. “At Mammoth itself, and throughout the entire region, whether it’s been snow or rain, it has definitely been a crazy weather season.”
After Liberty’s men’s snowboarders placed third in Wednesday’s Boardercross and second in Thursday’s Slopestyle competition, Gibson felt badly for his men’s and women’s team members that Friday’s Rail Jams were scratched. Those are the Flames’ and Lady Flames’ strongest events, with most of their training done at the on-campus Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre.
“It is especially disappointing for our female athletes, who were only able to do part of their boardercross and skiercross events (on Thursday),” Gibson added, noting that even those had to be cut short by an ongoing storm. “It is what it is. We’re at the mercy of the weather, which has never, historically, been this fierce at nationals. You can’t control the weather.”
Friday’s Rail Jams were canceled due to high winds creating poor visibility, with gusts creating whiteout conditions where skiers and riders can’t tell the difference between the ground and the sky.
“The team was able to hold its own and do well in the Slopestyle event, though they do not have the riding time or experience on the size of jumps out here and that held us back a little bit,” he said.
After losing sophomore Coby Liebelt to an injury at the Southeast Region Championships at Seven Springs, Pa., the men’s ski team suffered another setback when freshman standout Loken Siebert caught the edges of his skis on the hard-packed snow and twisted his legs awkwardly while landing a big jump during Tuesday’s Slopestyle practice session.
Fellow freshman Justin Maier was the Flames’ only men’s skier to land on the podium after Thursday’s Slopestyle competition, placing seventh. Complete results are available online.
Despite the conditions, Gibson and his remaining team of more than 20 skiers and riders have made the best of the situation.
“Where we are at — although we haven’t been able to do as much competing on it as we had hoped — is still a world-class mountain with a pretty world-class (South Park) terrain park with fantastic features and jumps,” Gibson said, noting that only the high-altitude lifts and slopes were closed on Friday and recreational skiing and riding was still an option. “I would say this Slopestyle course, specifically, is by far the best we’ve been able to ride as a team at a national event.”
He is hopeful the snow will stop or at least lighten to the point where the roads and highways around the resort remain open long enough for the team to travel back to Reno, Nev., on Sunday to make it to the airport in time to catch their 6 a.m. flight on Monday.
“All in all, we are very thankful to be out here experiencing Mammoth,” Gibson said, noting it has been especially bittersweet for seniors Emory Orlando, Jesse Mast, and Max Ozanne as well as Owen Gratto, who is enrolled in the School of Aeronautics’ one-year aviation maintenance technician program (AMTP). “It’s been a great trip, an incredible time on the mountain, whether we’re competing or riding the mountain itself. Though we haven’t had as many contests, this trip is going to be one for the books. These athletes are going to remember it for the rest of their lives and it’s going to be super special for them.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer