January 31, 2020 : By Ted Allen - Liberty University News Service
The largest team in the 10-year history of Liberty University’s ski & snowboard program will have several opportunities to showcase its talent on the slopes and shine as a light on the hill this season.
“This is the first time we have ever had complete men’s and women’s snowboard teams and men’s and women’s ski teams,” said third-year Head Coach Isaac Gibson (’15 ). “It has been cool to see the team grow, not just in numbers but in actual skill level. It is a very tight-knit community, and it is definitely getting more competitive. We have so many people coming in with experience, and they are continuing to progress their skills.”
Practicing on the year-round slopes at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre (LMSC) has given Liberty’s teams an edge over the other teams in the United States Ski & Snowboard Association (USCSA) Southeast Conference.
“We’ve been practicing since August, but the others have only been practicing whenever there was snow. So having a couple extra months under our belts definitely helps with our results,” senior skier John Hunt said.
“LMSC has been a huge recruiting tool,” added Gibson, a former Flames snowboard captain. “Being able to ride Snowflex out of season and have the coaching we have here gives the athletes a huge advantage.”
The Flames and Lady Flames, who feature a travel roster of 27 riders and skiers, left Wednesday for Waterville Valley (N.H.) Resort to train on the types of jumps and features they can expect to see at the Feb. 28-29 USCSA Mid-Atlantic Regional Championships at Blue Mountain (Pa.) Resort. That event will serve as a qualifier for the March 8-14 USCSA National Championships at Whiteface Mountain in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games.
The program has already seen success this season. Liberty placed first in three of the four team divisions at this past weekend’s first USCSA Southeast Conference competition at Beech Mountain (N.C.) Resort. Freshman Coleen Leja won the women’s snowboarding slopestyle event.
“The Christian environment is what drew me to Liberty,” said Leja, who is studying business sales and marketingThe Snowflex Centre really interested me, so I thought it would be fun to be a part of the team. The older guys have really taken me under their wing.”
Hunt said he considers traveling with his teammates more like a mission trip than a vacation or retreat.
“Skiing and snowboarding can be a dark sport, and as we meet riders from different backgrounds, we can share God’s love with those who may not have been exposed to it before,” he said. “Being reliant on our faith and staying strong to what we believe in on the hill is impactful. We want to shine as brightly as we can, to anybody and everybody we can.”
The team will have two chances to reflect that light on their home slope when Snowflex hosts its first USCSA events — a Rail Jam on Feb. 15 and a Big Air competition on Feb. 16, the teams’ final tune-ups for regionals and nationals.