Lake Tahoe men win Red Bull Ultracross and $10,000 first prize at Squaw Valley
If you see a smile on the face of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team’s Chris Hernandez this week, don’t be shocked.
Rather than mope while the U.S. Ski Team decides if he’ll compete this weekend in the Sprint Grand National World Cup at his home mountain, Heavenly Ski Resort, Hernandez is rocking.
The 21-year-old South Shore bumper teamed with X Games dominator Shaun Palmer of Meeks Bay to win the Red Bull Ultracross on Sunday and Monday at Squaw Valley USA. They outmaneuvered 100 other teams comprised of X Games, Gravity Games and former World Cup competitors on a course of turns, rollers, berms and tabletops to split the $10,000 first prize.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal to Palm, because he’s so used to winning,” said Hernandez, who used part of his winnings to take his stereo system into the new millennium. “Five-thousand dollars is nothing to him, but it is to me.”
The two-day event brought skiers and snowboarders together. The boardercross/skiercross-like event required a snowboarder to go down the mountain first. When the boarder crossed the finish line, the gate would lift, cuing the skier to complete the combined run.
In qualifying on Sunday, Palmer was the fastest snowboarder and second-fastest qualifier overall a time of 40.06 seconds. Hernandez was the fourth-fastest overall qualifier at 40.40, giving team South Shore the No. 1 slot going into the three ensuing elimination rounds and finals.
“It’s just like BMX, and both Palm and I ride BMX,” Hernandez said. “It’s all about pumping the rollers and hitting the back sides of the transitions, and him being the No. 1 boardercross guy in the world helps out.”
The 31-year-old Palmer, who was using the event to prepare for this weekend’s Gravity Games, demonstrated his supremacy out of the gate in the finals.
“Palm went out and beat everybody by two to three seconds and I had a two- or three-second head start. I was just smiling in the gate watching him because you could see about two-thirds of the course from above. All I had to do is hang on, so I just got into a tuck and stayed fluid throughout the whole thing.”
Hernandez, No. 2 in the Nor Am freestyle series last year, made the team proposal to Palmer a few weeks before the competition.
“He didn’t even know about it,” Hernandez said. “But he started hearing about it, then he got into it.”
Palmer inquired to see if Hernandez was interested in continuing their team relationship through the X Games next month. But Hernandez would have to qualify today at Squaw Valley and give up on this weekend’s World Cup in his hometown.
“I’m going to train as though as I have a spot. I’ve got to wait it out,” said Hernandez, who will learn Friday who the U.S. Ski Team will send over the bumps on Saturday. “It’s my home mountain. I’d love to compete there.”
If it doesn’t happen Saturday, Hernandez’s former coach at Heavenly says it’s just a matter of time.
“He’s knocking on the door,” said Heavenly bumps coach Jere Crawford. “There are so many good guys on the U.S. team, it’s hard to bust through.
“Chris is as good of an athlete as any of those guys, but he’s a little behind in experience. He didn’t have the advantage of some of these other guys of going to summer camps and traveling around to as many events.”
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