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How the West was one

Michael Traum

People from the West have a historical reputation as being tough guys. Tales of relentless pursuits to be the best through hard work and perseverance conjure images of seasoned, passion-driven people.

In the world of freestyle skiing, there’s a new group of gunslingers on the rise in the West. And they don’t plan on taking any prisoners.

On Saturday, the freestyle team for the United States Skiing Association’s Far West division showed the country how tough they’ve become. Out of nearly 50 competitors on each side, the Lake Tahoe contingent placed a stunning four men and two women among the top ten during the U.S. Freestyle Championships mogul competition in Sugarloaf, Maine.

Chris Hernandez (third), Jonny Moseley (fourth), Travis Ramos (fifth) and Tony Basile (10th) displayed an arsenal of tight turns, big air and savvy experience to mow down the men’s competition.

On the women’s side, Cristie Tibbetts (sixth) and Shannon Bahrke (10th) left their calling cards with the country’s top women.

“I’m psyched. The Far West has just got a happening program,” said Moseley, a World Cup veteran who won the combined and is the only athlete in the group over age 20. “Now we have to put them through the process, nurture them to become the best they can be.”

The “process” is, simply, the road to the Olympic games. All of the young hotshots took significant steps toward that goal during the championships.

Hernandez, who posted an unexpected-but-not-surprising result, was awarded a spot on the national team, as was Tibbetts. Both racers said the years of sacrifice was worth it.

“My runs were a little conservative, but they were clean,” said Tibbetts, the top nonteam finisher. “I came here to make the team. I’m pretty excited.”

Added Hernandez, “I had the best contest of my life and all I wanted to do was qualify for the finals (top 16). Everyone was screaming and my heart was going. I could barely sleep (Saturday) night.

“I’ve been working real hard and it finally paid off. (The coaches) told me they have plans for me in the future.”

Ramos, already a member of the “C” or development squad, was promoted to the to the national “B” team, meaning not only more World Cup starts next year but another mark on his checklist to success.

“This was a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I’ve taken the next step and only got three things left to get me to the Olympics,” Ramos said. “First, I’ve got to get stronger to take any of the apprehension out of my runs. Then I have to do well next year in World Cup. And I want to (eventually) be the World Cup overall leader. (So far) it’s going exactly the way it should.”

Wayne Hilterbrand, the head coach for the U.S. freestyle team, said both Ramos and Hernandez were impressive.

“It’s more of a surprise for Chris. But it definitely wasn’t luck. He’s a prodigy with a lot of natural talent,” he said. “And I expect to see it from Travis. As far as I’m concerned, he’s on the right track.”

Basile, who expected a higher finish, said he was nonetheless satisfied to be among the country’s best while skiing for the Far West.

“I wanted to be in the top three, but I have no reason to complain. I think skier talent-wise, this is the strongest division in the country. It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Basile, noting that while divisions such as the East have more than 400 registered men’s mogul skiers, the Far West boasts barely 40.


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