Picture a mountain with the perfect powder, and snowboarders flying through the air.

With flips and twists several feet above the groundand athletes nicknamed theFlying Tomato(Olympic gold medalist Shaun White), the sport is just plain cool, say snowboarding enthusiasts like Ross Schweitzer, vice president of West Virginia Universitys Snowboard Team.

The civil engineering major from Pen Argyl, Pa., is one of eight WVU studentssix men and two womencompeting in this weeks U.S. Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association (USCSA) National Championships in Winter Park, Colo.

The other riders are Brandon McMahon, a chemistry major from Smithfield, Pa.;

Cody Beach, a journalism major from Lovettsville, Va.; Jennie Railing, a communication studies major from Wheeling; Sarah Bittinger, a psychology major from Oakland, Md.; Addison Salzmann, an industrial engineering major from Morgantown; Patrick Mitchell, a business major from Nokesville, Va.; and Joe Mosesso, an industrial engineering major from Marlinton.

I guess its a little (adrenaline) rush,said the 21-year-old Schweitzer of the popular thrill sport,and its a good feeling in the air doing tricks.

This is the first time the WVU team has competed for the USCSA national championship. Riders will compete individually this week in slopestyle, halfpipe and mens and womens giant slalom with the top three snowboarders scored as a team.

For those unfamiliar with the sport, slopestyle is a freestyle event where the participant is judged on tricks performed while riding over a series of jumps and rails, Schweitzer explained.

A halfpipe is a vertical U-shaped structure built out of snow used in freestyle snowboardinglike a skateboarding halfpipe in which riders use the opposing walls to get air and perform tricks as they travel down thewall,he said.

And giant slalom is a competition in which two racers go around gates in side-by-side courses.

At the end of March, Thurston Willis, a visual art major from Slatyfork, will compete in boardercrosswhere riders race downhill around gates and over jumpsat the U.S.A. Snowboard Association (USASA) nationals at Tahoe, Calif.

Last year, three WVU riders qualified for the USASA nationals at Tahoe: Matt Lucas, a marketing major from Oakland, Md.; Mosesso; and Railing. Mosesso finished 21st and Railing 15th in boardercross. Lucas qualified for the halfpipe, but was unable to participate in the competition.

The WVU Snowboard Team/Club is one of about 20 club sports offered at WVU .

During fall 2003, seven students started the group, which is advised by Mark Tinsley, a research assistant professor in WVU s Department of Chemistry.

Since then, the student organization has grown to 78 club members, including 14 team riders who compete almost every weekend during the spring semester, and shown off its skills at local and national tournaments.

Schweitzer, a WVU senior, joined the club his freshman year.

Ive been snowboarding since my sophomore year in high school,he said.Im from the Poconos in Pennsylvania, and we had season passes to Blue Mountain. My friends and I went every day after school. Its a lot of fun.

The WVU team holds tryouts every January. A couple of the riders can do720s,or two full rotations, while others can successfully complete arodeo 540a spinning flipand back flips.

I dont ski or skateboard, but some of the guys on our team do skateboard, and I think that does help,Schweitzer said.

While the team is advanced, he said the club is a mix of skill levels, and he encourages students to get involved.

Its a good time,he said.Some people say they have a hard time with it, but if you go a lot, youll pick it up.

Good balanceand patiencealso help, he added.

For snowboarding, you just need the will to learn and be willing to get back upIts a lot more fun when youre not falling,Schweitzer said.Try it three times in a row, and youll get it on the fourth time. You might be a little shaky, but youll get it.

The WVU Snowboard Teams home mountain is Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., where riders practice from 4 until about close up to three times a week. Other sponsors include Kicker, Outdoors Ltd., Mountain Valley Paintball and Pathfinder.

During the off season, the club holds fund-raisers and Urban Rail Jam snowboarding demonstrations in October at Richs Fright Farm.

The team includes: Beach; Julian Bergstein, an Extended Learning student from

Morgantown; Bittinger; Zach Lancaster, an Extended Learning student from Morgantown; Lucas; McMahon; Mitchell; Mosesso; Colin ONeill, a liberal arts and sciences student from Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; Railing; Salzmann; Schweitzer; Corey Snyder, an aerospace engineering major from Morgantown; and Willis.

For more information, visit the WVU Snowboard Team Web site athttp://www.wvu.edu/~snowboardteam/.