Defending Red Bull Ultra-Cross champs go separate ways |

Defending Red Bull Ultra-Cross champs go separate ways

A last-minute switch of teammates by Shaun Palmer has given other teams renewed hope going into the Red Bull Ultra-Cross on Friday and Saturday at Squaw Valley USA.

Palmer, a three-time X Games snowboardcross champion, reportedly has decided to do the skiing portion of the contest. Consequently, Palmer has parted with U.S. Freestyle Ski Team member Chris Hernandez, who he combined with to win last year’s $10,000 first prize.

“He’s pressed me to go find a snowboarder to compete with,” said Hernandez, who talked his roommate Johnny Pares into doing the event with him.

Palmer was unavailable for comment.

The unique event enables oft-clashing snowboarders and skiers to combine their talents in pursuit of $30,000 in cash prizes. Each team is comprised of one snowboarder and one skier. Heats begin with four boarders on the course, which features steep bank turns, tabletops, big rollers and gap jumps. As soon as the snowboarder crosses the finish line, their skier teammate is released from the gate atop the course.

Obviously, other entrants feel their chances are enhanced with Palmer and Hernandez one separate teams.

“I’m feeling good this season, but we’re still going against the man,” said Sierra snowboard coach Brady Gunsch, analyzing the challenge of facing Palmer. “His ability, his wax (edge) and his know-how on the rollers makes it tough. Last year, he had the fastest time besides Mike Dill. For a snowboarder to beat the ski racers is saying a lot for the sport.”

Gunsch will again be paired with Janez Demsar. The two have combined to win Red Bull two out of the past three years.

“Janez definitely has a lot of experience over a lot of people,” said Gunsch, pointing out his teammate’s stint on the Yugoslavian National Ski Team and background in these types of events.

Gunsch isn’t buying that the course will be the same as last year, when long flat sections required racers to rely on their wax applications for sustained speed.

“There will be a lot more action going on this year with 10-packer rollers and more bumps,” Gunsch said. “They have more snow to work with this year. Last year, a lack of snow left the course a lot flatter. It’s definitely going to be more difficult this year.”

South Shore could also produce the women’s champions for the third time in four years. Michelle Yu and Sarah John have paired up to win in 1998 and 1999, but didn’t have the right wax last year.

“You have to pick a very good snowboarder, and I think I did in Michelle Yu. Then it’s up to you to stay on your feet,” said the 23-year-old John, who finished runner-up to Christy Cromer on the Governing Body of Skiercross circuit last year.

Hernandez is hoping he gets a chance to run against Palmer, who won last year’s skiercross at the X Games.

“Yeah, I definitely want to be in the gate with him, but he does have a good waxer,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said wax can make or break a team on this course.

“You have to have the right wax or you’re going to be slow all way down,” he said. “I don’t have a waxer, so I’ll have to figure it out. But I have a good snowboarder.”

First prize for the men to split is $10,000, while the women are vying for $5,500.

As long as there is room entries will be accepted up until race time. Registration, which is $200 per team, is open from 7-9 a.m. Friday in the Granite Chief Room in Squaw Valley Lodge. Practice is from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Friday, with qualifying commencing at noon. On Saturday, practice starts at 9 a.m. and competition at 10:30 a.m.

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