Hernandez: He’s not money bags, but he’s on a roll
Going into the World Cup moguls season Chris Hernandez was delivering pizzas in order to pay his bills. Now in a little less than a month, some of his friends want the 21-year-old South Lake Tahoe resident to pay theirs.
It’s been a season of highs and lows for the promising young bumper, who faced uncertainty with the U.S. Freestyle Team when the season began. While his team-prescribed bump competitions have been few and far between, Hernandez is taking advantage of an unparalleled boom in pro tenderings as sponsors are again starting to bankroll freestyle skiing events as well as venturing into skiing’s extreme side.
With a freer schedule than the World Cup regulars, Hernandez made two nice paydays last month, teaming with Meeks Bay snowboarder Shaun Palmer to win the Red Bull Ultracross at Squaw Valley and more recently winning his pro moguls debut in the Kelloggs’ Nutri-Grain Bumps & Jumps at Lake Placid, N.Y. He split $10,000 with Palmer in the former and earned $6,500 in the latter.
“Everyone thinks I’m rich now, and they think I can afford to buy them dinner once in a while,” chuckled Hernandez. “They don’t know how expensive it is to travel around to each of these contests. This year is really the first year I’ve really won any money. It was nice to compete in something different for once and get out of moguls for four or five days and race the clock.”
Hernandez’s nose for money will keep him at home this weekend as the finals of the Bumps & Jumps series comes to his home mountain of Heavenly Ski Resort. Tied for third with Finland phenom Janne Lahtela, Hernandez has an outside shot at the series championship and the new Chevy Blazer and potentially $19,000 in cash.
“I’m kind of out of the loop for the car because I didn’t do the first contest,” Hernandez said. “Maybe I’ll finish second or third, we’ll see. It all depends how everyone’s points are.”
Hernandez trails series leader Garth Hager by 17 points and second-place John Smart of Canada by five.
“I’m not surprised at all at what Chris is doing right now,” said Travis Ramos, Hernandez’s U.S. teammate and local friend. “There’s just more events out there, and Chris fits the bill. I’m glad he can do it.”
In order to win the series, Hernandez probably has to win the duals event Saturday and hope that Hager falters miserably. Series runner-up has its upside, as well, since sponsors have added a $10,000 bonus for the winner of a post-event bump-off between the series’ top-two finishers.
“I’ll just go out there and ski the way I know how,” Hernandez said. “There’s not much riding on it, it’s just a bonus. I’m feeling pretty good about my skiing now, and I’m gonna take it all in there this weekend and try and do something good. Hopefully it will carry over for another win … that would be awesome.”
Hager, who finished third to Hernandez at Lake Placid, comes into the event with equally as much momentum as the home boy. He outscored Hernandez, 26.94 to 26.16, to win the Nor Am stop in Quebec last week.
“It just all came together,” Hernandez said, about his second-place performance in Quebec. “I finally skied fast and jumped pretty big, which you have to do in every contest to be in the top three.”
But Hernandez and Hager realize victory won’t come easy Saturday. A break in the World Cup schedule allows most of the regulars, including overall leader Lahtela, who won the first Bumps & Jumps stop at Copper Mountain, to compete.
“It’s gonna be just like a World Cup, so it’s not gonna be any easier than a couple of weeks ago,” said Hernandez, referring to his 21st-place finish in his only World Cup appearance at Heavenly. “Everybody has to ski their hearts out, otherwise they’re not gonna make it.”
Ramos believes in Hernandez.
“Chris is capable of anything,” he said. “He’s an outstanding athlete, and he has a few aspects of natural athletic ability like balance and stuff that I envy. I wouldn’t put it past him to come up with a really good result this weekend.”
Qualifying opens at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the top 16 advancing to the finals at 1 p.m. on Gunbarrel run.
Bumps and Jumps Mogul Grand Prix Standings
Name Nation Points Earnings
1. Garth Hager USA 37 $6,300
2. John Smart Canada 25 $1,550
3. Chris Hernandez USA 20 $6,500
3. Janne Lahtela Finland 20 $6,500
5. Travis Mayer USA 19 $3,600
6. Ryan Johnson Canada 18 $2,700
7. Alex Wilson USA 17 $1,600
7. William McCloy USA 17 $1,600
9. J-L. Brassard Canada 16 $1,100
9. Dom. Gauthier Canada 16 $1,000
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — El Dorado County officials are suspending use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but that will not impact the vaccination clinic being held Sunday and Monday in South Lake Tahoe.