Cabral severs ties with U.S. Ski Team |

Cabral severs ties with U.S. Ski Team

Steve Yingling

The news shouldn’t come as a surprise, but all the same, Monday was a sad day for the Lake Tahoe freestyle skiing community.

Former World Cup champion Travis Cabral of South Lake Tahoe retired from the U.S. Ski Team at the age of 23.

Cabral had been contemplating the decision prior to the 2006 Winter Olympics but delayed his retirement until after finishing ninth in the men’s moguls in Sauze d’Oulx, Italy. For the past few years he has become involved in film making and his retirement was expected.

Yet, the loss of one of the top skiers in the world further impacted the U.S. team, which has also lost Toby Dawson, Jeremy Bloom and Eric Bergoust since June.

“Travis is an extraordinarily talented athlete,” said U.S. Head Coach Jeff Wintersteen. “His personality, his humor – he’s a tough one to replace; he was always in the mix and part of the core of what, for quite a while, was the best men’s moguls team in the world. We’ll miss ’em.”

Cabral didn’t return several phone calls made by the Tribune on Monday.

Cabral had quite a run for someone who was only part of the U.S. team for seven years. Some of his accomplishments were:

— Youngest U.S. moguls champ in team history when he won the 1999 national title at 15.

— Youngest at 19 to win the World Cup moguls championship in 2003.

— Competed in first World Cup at 16.

— A 2000 Junior World Championship silver medalist.

— Four World Cup victories.

— Eight top-3 World Cup finishes

— Made a clean sweep of the national championships in 2004 at Heavenly Mountain Resort.

Cabral’s greatest feat was qualifying for the 2006 Winter Games. Cabral made a stirring run at a gold medal by placing second in the qualifying round. But a bobble on his final run prevented Cabral from earning a medal, and he settled for ninth in the world.

“I’ve been working my whole life for this. It wasn’t the best run I’ve ever had, but I gave it my all,” said Cabral afterward. “I knew to get on the podium I would have needed the perfect run. One little mistake makes a big difference.”

Cabral never allowed his age to hold him back from the outset of his bump skiing career. He held his own against former U.S. Ski Team members Travis Ramos and Chris Hernandez in Far West Division events, even though he was giving up five years experience.

“He was a little kid with a huge helmet; it was as big as his body, and it had a little fluorescent Koosh Ball on it,” Hernandez said earlier this year. “I remember my first dual against him. I actually had a little jitters because this little 11-year-old kid could scream down the mountain. He’s always been right there with us.”

Sierra-at-Tahoe General Manager John Rice fostered Cabral’s skiing career throughout his Olympic run. Fifteen years ago, an 8-year-old Cabral showed up at Sierra in a camper with his dad, Dale, looking for a resort to assist with training and travel costs.

“He told me he wanted to become a world-class skier and some day be in the Olympics,” Rice recalled. “I could see in the kids (Travis Ramos also was part of the meeting) and their parents that they weren’t asking for much.”

Eventually, Cabral became part of the U.S. Ski Team and Sierra-at-Tahoe provided more financial assistance to Cabral.

“It was a headband contract. To keep it legal we put his money into a Bank of America account, which he could only draw from for educational purposes,” Rice said.

In recent years, the resort has cut a check to Cabral at the beginning of the year to help pay for traveling and attending team camps.

“We didn’t ask for anything,” Rice said. “He gave us plenty of support by putting (Sierra) stickers on his skis and helmet and placing a patch on his cap and uniform.

“He was such a healthy, clean kid. We didn’t have to worry that he’d do something stupid and be on the wrong end of a media story like Bode Miller. This was a focused athlete.”

In 2002, Cabral nearly qualified for the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. As a consolation prize, he was allowed to forerun the moguls event. It turned out to be one of his best runs ever.

“His forerun was the run of the day and would have won the gold medal,” Rice said.

Cabral is the second area ski team member to retire in the past year. Jonna Mendes, a longtime member of the Alpine team, retired last spring.

Park City’s Joe Pack, a 2002 men’s aerials silver medalist at the Salt Lake City Games, also announced his retirement on Monday.

“It’s time to do something else,” Pack said. “I’ve had a good, long, fun run and I’ve got no regrets about retiring. It’s been a blast.”

They will be missed for more than their results, according to Wintersteen.

“They’ve been outstanding role models and it’s been an outstanding run but nothing goes on forever, so now we have to rebuild and we are,” Wintersteen said.

– The USSA contributed to this story.

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