Hometown bumpers the focus at Heavenly | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Hometown bumpers the focus at Heavenly

While bumpers, acro skiers and aerialists will come from all over the world for the FIS Freestyle World Cup, most of the eyes at Heavenly will be on three local mogulists.

With two hometown heroes – Brooke Ballachey and Travis Ramos – making their comebacks after injury, and one of the most exciting young skiers – 16-year-old Travis Cabral – in the field, little South Lake Tahoe provides all the excitement the Freestyle World Cup needs. The three promise to be a huge draw for Tahoe ski fans who flock to Heavenly’s Gunbarrel run for Saturday’s moguls competition.

“I think it’s going to be a great competition,” said Cabral, who shocked skiing by winning the 1999 Chevy Truck U.S. Freestyle Championships at 15, then made his World Cup debut a week ago at Deer Valley, Utah. “It’s definitely going to be a tough one, as all the World Cups are, but Saturday, it’s in my hometown, and I’m definitely going to have fun with it, and hopefully, they’ll have a big crowd for it.”

With one skier in his first year on the World Cup circuit and the other two just beginning their comeback from injuries, none of the three are feeling the pressure. Ballachey and Ramos are the veterans, each with four years on the team, but both are coming back from knee injuries. Ballachey underwent a patellar tendon realignment last spring, and had a more complex recovery after injuring her other knee in a fall in Desolation Wilderness this summer. With no World Championships this year, and few plans to visit World Cup races after Heavenly, Ballachey sees 2000 as a year to recover.

“After this World Cup, I’m not going to do too many events,” said Ballachey, whose recovery from a cut and a slight tear of her other patellar tendon in the fall was a little more difficult than she first thought. “This is probably the last big event I have until nationals (March 24-26).”

While Ballachey’s emphasis lies more on getting healthy than posting impressive results, her lighter schedule – and the chance to ski at home – makes Heavenly more important. Still, she’s measuring her success in different ways.

“I don’t think it’s really a result as much as it is performance,” Ballachey said. “Every week, I gain more of what I had before. I get more (time) on my skis, and I feel I get better every week.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “Last year was a lot of fun. There were so many people everybody I looked out at was a fan, too.”

Ballachey thanked the community for its support of the race. Whether people were pitching in as volunteers or watching as fans, they impressed Ballachey.

“That’s basically what Tahoe’s about,” she said. “There’s just so many people in the area who are willing to help.”

Ramos seems to be the one of the three pressing the most for good results. He is taking a week-to-week view of his schedule, and not looking farther down the line.

“At this point, I don’t want to think more than a week ahead,” he said. “If I continue to do this, my other goals will be met.”

While a strong performance at Heavenly could help Ramos gain a spot on a team trip to Japan, it doesn’t add any pressure.

“The only pressure I face is to put down a good performance for the hometown and for myself,” Ramos said.

Ramos had surgery in September, 1998 after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament during preseason training. It hasn’t slowed him, at Deer Valley, or at Tremblant, where he missed qualifying for the final round by just three hundredths of a second.

“The knee is holding up wonderfully,” Ramos said. “I definitely give a thumbs-up to (Dr.) Randy Watson for fixing it up nice. It doesn’t hinder my performance in any way. The only thing is I’m taking better care of my knee at night than I have before.”

Like Ballachey, Cabral is taking the season easy, too. It’s his first on the World Cup – he’s the youngest skier on the team, with only 17-year-old Jeremy Bloom close, and the youngest on the tour as well. But the opportunity to impress the hometown fans strikes Cabral well.

“There’re advantages in some ways, and there’re disadvantages,” Cabral said. “I guess you can say we have a pretty good advantage being able to ski in our own town and on our own World Cup course.”

Familiarity with the course is one advantage. The comforts of home are another.

“That’s a big part of it, being able to eat our own food and sleep in our own beds,” said Cabral, who gets to stay at home for his second World Cup event, unlike his Deer Valley debut.

Cabral named Finnish skier Janne Lahtela – who won the won Saturday’s World Cup event at Mount Tremblant, Quebec – as one of the favorites, along with Americans Evan Dybvig (Tunbridge, Vt.), Toby Dawson (Vail, Colo.), and Luke Westerlund (Scarsdale, N.Y.). He also said longtime friend and training partner Ramos has been skiing well.

“I’d like to win, like everyone else,” Cabral said. “But I just want to go out and do the best I can. The difficulty level is going to be the same (as Deer Valley). Everyone’s going to be skiing the same course and skiing at the same ability level.”

The mogul skiers will train Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and open competition on Saturday. The qualifying rounds start at 11 a.m. Saturday, leading up to the 2:15 p.m. final round.

– Tribune sports editor Steve Yingling contributed to this story

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