Over 3,000 people gathered in Lynchburg VA on Saturday, August 29, for the grand opening of Liberty University’s Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre. After listening to a speech by Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, the crowd was wowed by a two-hour show, which commenced as ski-clad skydiver Jim McCormick jumped from a plane onto the facility’s synthetic surface and proceeded to ski down the main slope. The action continued as twenty-three pro snowboarders and skiers—including JJ Johnson, Katie Summerhayes, Jesse Ohman, and others from both the US and the UK —showcased their skills by performing everything from double flips and frontside rodeos to backside 180s and 720s. After the aerial exhibition, the crowd was invited to test their skiing, snowboarding and snow-tubing skills on the only synthetic ski slope this side of the Atlantic. State Senator Steve Newman, Lynchburg VA’s mayor, the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. were in attendance, as were representatives of brands including Best Buy, Burton, Pepsi, Chik-fil-a, and many others. As reported by one of the managers of Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, Drew Sherwood, the event was a success. “Talking with the pro riders, they have never had so much fun, and besides the X games you never see that many people at an action sports event,” Sherwood effused.
According to Lee Beaumont, Director of Auxiliary Services at Liberty University, the idea to build the slope was inspired by a trip Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. took one summer. “[He] came back from a trip to Utah where he saw all the skiing and summer activities at those resorts and wanted to find a way to ski on the mountain we own,” said Beaumont. Since the humid climate of Lynchburg VA rendered making synthetic snow virtually impossible all but twenty days a year, the university had to get creative. “We looked at twenty to twenty-five different [surfaces] over a two-year period and finally settled on Snowflex,” Beaumont explained. “[Snowflex] was the only surface we found that offered the gripping for turning, flipping and jumping, [was] cushioned for falling, and was fast enough to get speed to jump.”
Open since August 2, the state-of-the-art facility has met with nothing but praise from winter sports enthusiasts who are ecstatic over the fact that they can now enjoy their favorite pastimes every day of the year. People have been coming from all over the United States to experience this groundbreaking facility. In fact, Beaumont spoke to a group of men who had driven down from Pennsylvania on Saturday just so they could try out the new facility after the grand opening, and many others have reportedly taken road trips to Lynchburg to try their skills on Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre’s synthetic slopes. Snowflex, the technology that makes this all possible, was invented by Brian Thomas of Briton Engineering Developments in 1993. It consists of a several different components, all of which work together to achieve ideal skiing and snowboarding conditions. A layer of carpet-like material topped with a 3-inch layer of padding, which form the surface, create enough resistance to provide the perfect amount of control, while a network of small, built-in misting devices lubricates the surface to simulate the slipperiness of snow and allow for greater speed.
Beaumont and Sherwood seem to agree that the main difference between natural snow and Snowflex is the edging. “The surface is different than snow, but very close. You have to get the carving down for Snowflex and that is the largest difference from what I can tell,” he said. Another big difference is that Snowflex has a cushioned surface, unlike real snow, which can be hard and painful to fall on. Perhaps the only downside to Snowflex is that the surface is slightly stiff, which increases the potential for burns. For this reason, riders are expected to keep their skin covered at all times, and long pants, long-sleeved shirts and gloves are required. Beaumont also alluded to the psychological effects of skiing in the middle of the summer: “It is also a little different wearing the gear and skiing in hot weather. Our […] brain tells us you ski when it is cold, not hot—so that is a little strange.” Yet another factor that sets Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre apart from other experiences is that observers are welcome on site, turning what would ordinarily be the solitary endeavors of skiing and snowboarding into spectator sports. Otherwise, Snowflex is strikingly similar to snow. Regular skis, poles, and snowboards can be utilized on the Snowflex slopes; however, it is important to keep them waxed to avoid damage.
Both seasoned riders and beginners can benefit from a run on Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre’s synthetic slopes. “We see people from five years of age to eighty years of age, from new to professional,” said Sherwood. Those with experience will enjoy the always-ideal slip and grip, as well as the consistency of the jumps and landing areas, which hold their shapes no matter how many times they’re used, helping riders of al skill levels to learn the proper techniques. They’ll also appreciate the fact that they’ll be able to get in more runs in a shorter period of time since getting yourself back up to the top of the slope takes less time than it would at a conventional resort. This, combined with the fact that the facility is open year round, allows riders of all levels to hone their skills much more quickly than they could on traditional slopes. Finally, both veterans and beginners will appreciate the protective cushioning provided by Snowflex’s innovative design, which greatly reduces the probability of sustaining joint injuries and makes falls more bearable. This factor gives both newcomers and experienced skiers and boarders the confidence to attempt bigger tricks and higher jumps. There will also be instructors on site to assist newcomers to the sports.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre is expected to be so successful in raising the level of interest in winter sports that several area ski resorts, including Wintergreen and Snowshoe, have collaborated with the facility in hopes that those who use the Snowflex Centre will also utilize their establishments. Liberty University’s future plans include expanding the ski center by adding another 30,000 square feet, which will include another, longer run that will allow riders to gain even more speed. They also plan to add two long tubing runs, which will make the facility even more family friendly. Those interested can catch the Discovery Channel’s documentary on the construction of Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre on Daily Planet, which should air later this year.
In addition to being the first facility of its kind in the U.S., Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre boasts some of the most amazing views the city has to offer, and is sure to provide both spectators and riders with an unforgettable experience. “It was a very unique project, the first in the U.S. and that was appealing as well,” said Beaumont of Liberty University’s endeavor. “We are a Christian school and look for clean fun things for our kids to do in-lieu of beer bashes. Also, college is more than sitting in a classroom. There is a physical, intellectual, and spiritual component to life and we attend to all of them here at L.U.” Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, which also includes a lodge, is open to the pubic seven days a week, though students will receive top priority. The facility is complete with a full rental shop for those who do not have their own gear, and groups are welcomed.