March 24, 2014 : By Ted Allen
Having the only on-campus, year-round ski slope facility in the country has helped Liberty University's ski and snowboard team rise steadily through the ranks of the United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association over the past five seasons.
Earlier this month, the Flames’ men’s snowboarders finished runner-up in the Rail Jam at the 36th annual USCSA National Championships at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
The Rail Jam was a new event added to the national competition this year and the Flames made the most of the opportunity to implement the skills they've perfected on rail features at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre in Lynchburg, Va.
|A snowboarder switches up on one of LMSC's rail features.|
Liberty, led by juniors Kevin Hoff and Isaac Gibson, finished second out of 10 teams overall with 21 points, behind only Westminster College (15 points) and ahead of Sierra Nevada College (25), Western Colorado State University (30), and the University of Virginia (46), a Southeastern Conference rival.
“There’s a lot of good schools here, good riders from out west,” first-year Head Coach Ryan Leeds said. “The team was showcasing the kind of maneuvers they've been doing all year (at LMSC). We had a blast and we definitely made a name for ourselves. A lot of people were asking about Liberty and about Snowflex, so it was a great recruiting tool and great publicity. A lot of the western schools were pumped on Liberty.”
Flames senior Tim Steltzer, who won the Big Air Exhibition at last year’s USCSA Nationals at Sun Valley, Idaho, was the seventh individual place-winner out of 33 competitors in the men's freestyle skiing Rail Jam, pacing Liberty to a seventh-place showing out of 14 teams with 75 points. In the women's snowboard Rail Jam competition, the Lady Flames also placed seventh with 50 points.
Hoff, Gibson, and junior Brandy Fronte also qualified for the USCSA slopestyle snowboard finals, leading Liberty's men and the Lady Flames to fourth-place team finishes.
LMSC is the first slope of its kind in North America and it has proven itself as an ideal training location. Leeds said his riders have an edge over other teams in the Southeast Conference because Snowflex gives them a more reliable place to train, and to try extreme stunts without as great a risk of injury.
|Snowboarders slide down the stairs feature side by side.|
“The surface doesn’t hurt as much when you fall so it allows us to really push the level of progression more than you would probably be allowed to on snow,” Leeds said. “Because Snowflex lets you build in so much repetition, once you get past the mental block of the fear of falling, the fundamentals of every trick you do just fall into place and it usually is a really easy transition (to snow). Everything starts to click because you’ve already developed that muscle memory on Snowflex.”
Ski and snowboard jumpers can practice their aerial stunts with even softer landings on an Aerial Awareness Trampoline, located beside Snowflex’s beginner slope in front of the Barrick-Falwell Lodge.
On April 25-26, LMSC will host the Snowflex Games, formerly called the Dew Games, with amateur and professional riders competing for $15,000 in prize money in a variety of skiing and snowboarding Big Air and Rail Jam events.