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Heavenly’s sense of community is lacking

Steve Yingling

Promising South Shore skiers are taught very early by Heavenly Ski Resort that representing Lake Tahoe isn’t as important as which resort logo appears on their headbands.

Heavenly takes a big-business approach to skiing in this small town and won’t hesitate to trample on the feelings of a special home-grown 19-year-old, as was the case during the Sprint Bumps and Jumps March 20-21. The burgeoning moguls and aerials showcase gave locals a unique chance to watch gold medalists Jonny Moseley and Eric Bergoust, not to mention a glimpse of some of the area’s up-and-coming freestyle skiers. Everything a local freestyle fan would want, right? Not exactly.

While Heavenly was busy sending everyone down Gunbarrel run who has ever paid foundation dues – save Olympian Jonna Mendes – one of South Lake Tahoe’s greatest mogul skiers to date, Travis Ramos, was relegated to spectator status.

The U.S. Ski Team member was hoping to forerun the event, like he has several times in the past. As he was loosening up atop Gunbarrel, preparing to give his supporters a much-anticipated show, Bumps and Jumps race director Bob Howard pulled him aside and told him that Heavenly didn’t want him forerunning.

“I was bummed out because a lot of people came out to see me do an exhibition run. I was there to put on a show and I was hoping they’d let me, but I guess they didn’t think I was capable or something,” Ramos facetiously said. “I like the spotlight, that’s what gets almost every freestyler started, getting the hoots and hollers from the chair. But it’s Heavenly’s ski area and their rules, so they can do what they want.”

Depriving one of only three South Shore freestyle skiers on the U.S. Team a chance to make a 25-second pass down the mountain was shocking but yet very predictable. You see, Ramos isn’t part of the Heavenly Ski Foundation. He’s treated as an outcast because he is sponsored by Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Brooke Ballachey, a Heavenly Foundation member, was rightfully given a forerun during the Bumps and Jumps and the only other local freestyle skier on the U.S. team, Chris Hernandez, would have also performed had he not suffered a season-ending knee injury only a few weeks prior to the event.

Heavenly doesn’t regret denying a forerun to Ramos, whose only endorsement that day was a U.S. Team jacket.

“Travis is sponsored by Sierra and wears Sierra’s logo. I don’t see why we should be criticized for not profiling a competitor down the street for an event that literally costs us thousands of dollars,” said Malcolm Tibbetts, Heavenly’s vice president of mountain operations.

One act of sensitivity and compassion by Tibbetts certainly wasn’t going to cost Heavenly any money that weekend. After all, Heavenly had it all going on: ideal weather, thousands of spectators, Moseley and Bergoust on the hill, past and present U.S. team members forerunning and competing and FOX disseminating the goods across America.

“Maybe he just assumed he was going to be a part of it. It’s not like Travis ever came to me and asked if he could do a forerun,” said Tibbetts, who graciously allowed Ramos to train on Gunbarrel in the weeks leading up to nationals.

Howard wanted to include his friend, Ramos, among the list of forerunners but was told otherwise.

“Nobody ever came to me and said, ‘Can we make room for Travis?’ but I’m not sure I would have changed my mind if he’d asked me,” Tibbetts said.

Ironically, one of Heavenly’s biggest competitors was represented that Saturday. Moseley, who was groomed for Olympic stardom at Squaw Valley USA, made three solo exhibition runs.

“If Jonny Moseley would have come up here after winning the Olympic medal with a Squaw Valley headband on, do you think we’d be profiling him? Moseley was something special that had been prearranged by the TV production people,” Tibbetts said.

The day wasn’t a total bust for Ramos as Fox included him in a skit with Moseley and former major-leaguer Steve Lyons. Lyons, a FOX commentator, bet Moseley his gold medal he could execute his trademark “UFO” jump and slyly used Ramos as his double to pull off the dupe.

As one of South Lake Tahoe’s freestyle skiing ambassadors Ramos has never deprived a young skier his skiing wisdom based on their resort ties. That would be like STHS and Kansas basketball alum Jerod Haase only holding basketball camps for STHS students and Kansas natives. Ramos has worked with Heavenly skiers at Far West events. Like Haase, Ramos takes pride in helping kids improve their skills to reach their dreams.

Heavenly should have allowed Ramos to forerun for no other reason than they’re proud that he’s from South Lake Tahoe. But they’re all business.

“It may be unfortunate that it’s a business, but it is what it is,” Tibbetts said.

The whole experience has left Ramos with a clearer perspective of his role in future Bumps and Jumps events.

“I’ve learned through the years not to dwell on any sort of circumstances. You can complain that you didn’t get a fair chance or whatever, or you can just work harder and make it so they don’t have a choice. I guess I’ll have to go out and win a gold medal to become part of it,” he chided.

Hopefully, Heavenly can forget about business one day out of the year and treat Ramos as one of their own.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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