Hernandez healed and ready to rip
When an inexperienced United States men’s freestyle left for Europe earlier this month, Chris Hernandez wasn’t on the jet.
He was left behind to further strengthen a torn ACL that was surgically repaired following a training run accident last January in St. Lary, France. Disappointed, yes, but the 24-year-old bump skier from Heavenly Foundation realized the extra time away from competition was for his benefit.
“It feels 100 percent now,” said Hernandez, a five-year U.S. Ski Team veteran. “That extra month rehabilitating my knee, skiing on it and getting back in shape made a big difference from where I was a month and a half ago.”
Since Hernandez has been through ACL rehabilitation before — he tore up his right knee in 1997 — the transition to world-class freestyle skiing should go smoother.
“I knew which steps to take faster and which ones to take slower,” said Hernandez, who has three career World Cup top-10 finishes, including a sixth-place finish last season at Steamboat Springs.
Hernandez will test his rehabilitated knee Friday and Saturday in the Ultimate Bumps and Jumps in Steamboat Springs, Colo. This new-school event, a product of the popular Winter X Games, requires the eight invited participants to compete in big air, halfpipe and two moguls races spiced up with a big tabletop at the end of the course. The invitational only competition also includes 1998 Olympic moguls gold medalist Jonny Moseley, World Cup men’s moguls leader Toby Dawson, C.R. Johnson, Evan Rapps and Tanner Hall.
Obviously, it’s an unusual starting point for someone coming back from a serious knee injury that ended his Salt Lake City Winter Games dreams.
“The team is fine with it,” Hernandez said. “They are just happy that I’m getting back on snow and I’m ready to go.”
Hernandez has a history of performing well away from World Cup events. He teamed with Shaun Palmer several years ago to win a skier/snowboarder cross at Squaw Valley and was third in the 2001 Bumps and Jumps.
“It’s more of a freeride event, so it should be fun,” Hernandez said.
Afterward, Hernandez will return home to make final preparations to rejoin his U.S. teammates for a World Cup at Mount Tremblant, Canada, in early January.
“I’ve got some work to do, for sure,” Hernandez said. “Those guys are killing it, so I just need to get back in the mix.”
Hernandez will compete in two World Cups, trying to accumulate enough points to be eligible for the world championships at the end of January. He isn’t worried whether his knee can take the pounding.
“I wouldn’t be going in there if I wasn’t 100 percent. It’s really useless to compete at the World Cup level and not be 100 percent. You’re only going out there to win and if you’re competing at 95 percent, you’re not going to win.”
When he returns to town, Hernandez plans to focus on freeriding with the “Soldiers” in Heavenly Ski Resort’s new Soldier Park. The Soldiers are a group of local freestyle skiers and snowboarders who make up Heavenly’s new freeriding team.
“We’ve been a little bit behind, but now the mountain is starting to let some of the town get involved, as well as some guys who are involved in the industry, letting us design and build the stuff we need to have to be able to compete in the different freeride and snowboard competitions. It’s pretty cool.”
A busy winter schedule awaits Hernandez and now that his knee is healthy again, he is confident that he can get it all done.
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