This past weekend caught me in Lynchburg, Virginia on a glorious Fall day. The weather was a picture perfect crisp day with the autumn leaves in full glory. Naturally my thoughts turned to skiing. I was in luck as the trail race I was attending was being held at the Liberty University Snowflex Centre (not affiliated with Pennsylvania’s Liberty Mountain Resort). This facility offers the country’s only public Snowflex ski slope -; a ski slope not needing actual snow.
The Snowflex Centre was opened in 2009 as part of an initiative by the University to open its mountain property to more public use. The facility looms over the campus and offers year-round skiing, snowboarding and tubing. It is composed of beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes and a two-story lodge. The first years of operations have been successful. But my question was: “how well does it ski”?
Snowflex is a synthetic material designed to simulate the slip and grip effects of snow. Think a thick white astro turf with longer “grass” blades. The system remains slick by a misting system that gently sprays water on to the slope. The misting system is spread across the slope with small sprinklers every ten feet or so. The water keeps the “grass” slick enough to ski or board on.
A big fan of skiing the small hills, I figured this place would be right up my alley. The slope operates like a bunny hill with a button tow up the side and tubing lift on the other. The slope has several big jumps, kickers and hits permanently installed. In front of the lodge on the downhill side is the beginner and learning area with a magic carpet.
After the trail race, and for a mere $20, I was able to rent gear and an hour of slope time. The ride up was simple enough and made me feel like I knew what I was doing. Then I reached the top. Pushing off the lift and onto the Snowflex, I was struck by the stickiness of the surface. I made it down but it was not pretty. It skied like ice but was less forgiving. I could clearly tell where the misting system was working well and where it was not. It was very hard to turn, especially in the tails. I quickly realized the 160’s I was skiing were way too long and traded them in for a pair of 140’s. I was able to ski those a bit better, but the unforgiving slow surface was still an issue. Oddly, on the flat at the bottom, I could not skate to the lift. Seeing boarders slide by on edge right up to the lift better than I could was oddly annoying. The Centre notes that there is a learning curve to sliding on the surface.
However, it is really the snowboarder the hill is designed for and targeting. The kickers and jumps are huge. The surface seems to work better on a board up on edge than skis. The speakers mounted on the hill pumped out hardcore Christian themed rock. This is Liberty University after all.
I have spent hours skiing on small hills in all weather but wearing the required long sleeves, long pants, helmet and gloves on a bright white surface in the hot sun for an hour about did me in. Or maybe it was the five mile trail run I had done just before (Seventh Overall and First Master)! I found skiing the plastic interesting but not as much fun as I had hoped. If I lived local I might grow to enjoy it, and I would encourage you to seek this slope out if you find yourself in Lynchburg. However, I don’t see skiing on plastic becoming the next big thing.
Skiing plastic is fun I just would not want to do it every day. This is a unique experience. Sliding down a white Snowflex field is “skiing-like” but not skiing.
Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.
Does anyone recall Ski Gatlinburg having summer skiing on a simlar system back in the 1980's?