If there’s anything in Leviticus against planting one foot in summer and the other in winter, the pious souls at Liberty University have turned a blind eye.
“We were water skiing in the morning, and now we’re snow skiing in the afternoon,” marveled Jim Gooding, 43, who works in the District as a government contracts administrator. He had just taken his first few runs down the synthetic ski slope at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre.
2 acres of steep hillside above the university is Snowflex, a $150-per-square-foot material that looks like a bristly plastic doormat and mimics the “slip and grip” of snow. Liberty is the only place in this hemisphere to build a ski resort out of the stuff, which was invented in Europe and has caught on more there.
That has made Lynchburg, which at the height of winter averages less than five inches of snow a month, the only place in North America besides Mount Hood where it’s possible to ski in the summer. The town has even become an unlikely stop on one professional skier’s globe-
trotting training itinerary.
“I’ll be honest with you: This is not snow,” said Drew Sherwood, the center’s general manager. It would have been an obvious truth on a hot August afternoon if it weren’t for the skiers rushing past.
“We tell people — we’re honest — it’s never going to be as good as snow,” he said. “And the feeling of snow, when you’re out on a fresh powder day, riding through snow — it’s never going to be like that. But when you’re talking spring, summer and fall, when 99 percent of other ski resorts are closed down, it’s the best feeling you can have.”
That’s true even if it means donning snow pants, boots, gloves and long sleeves during some of the hottest summer days on record. The gear gives athletes the feel of “real” skiing as much as protection from painful rug burn if they fall.
“You do get dehydrated quickly,” said Philip Ruffini, 16, knocking back water in between runs on his snowboard on a humid, 90-
degree day. A competitive snowboarder from Downingtown, Pa., Ruffini discovered the slope while searching online for a snowboarding option cheaper than flying out to Oregon. With his parents and a friend, he had traveled six hours from Pennsylvania to spend two days at the slope.
“I thought it was going to be indoors,” said the friend, Kyle Boileau, 15, of West Chester, Pa. “He said, ‘There’s this place you can go snowboarding, and it’s fake snow.’ ”
Both teens were enjoying themselves, though Boileau was frustrated by the “grippy” surface. A series of in-ground sprinklers mist the Snowflex, but in the heat of the day, the water dries more quickly. Boileau was looking forward to sundown because the surface would be slicker. The heat wasn’t bothering him. He was sufficiently soggy — from falling on the wet surface and sweating — to feel cool.