Kyle Smaine believed to be among skiers killed in Japan avalanche


Kyle Smaine, an American freestyle skier who won gold in the halfpipe at the 2015 world championships, was one of two men killed in an avalanche on Sunday while off-piste skiing in Japan.

Smaine, a 31-year-old from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., was on a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism, according to outdoor sports publication Mountain Gazette, and was in Japan for the “incredible snow quality”. , he had written on Instagram. William Smaine, the skier’s father, confirmed his son was one of the victims to NBC News.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed in an emailed statement that a US citizen had been killed, but did not confirm the identity of that person, citing privacy concerns.

“The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens abroad,” the statement said. “We are aware of an avalanche in Nagano, Japan on January 29. We can confirm the death of a US citizen in Nagano on January 30. For privacy reasons, we do not have additional details for the moment.”

A snowboarder was caught in an avalanche. He filmed his 300 foot slide.

A spokesperson for the US Embassy in Tokyo said it was “aware of the incident in Nagano Prefecture and has been in contact with relevant authorities to provide all appropriate assistance”.

At least five skiers from the United States and Austria were caught in the avalanche on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura, a Nagano prefectural police spokesman told Reuters. Three were able to escape the avalanche, but two skiers were found dead. The weather forced the search to be suspended and their bodies were found on Monday.

An avalanche warning had been issued for the region as Japan faced widespread heavy snowfall and record cold. Off-piste skiing is popular among advanced skiers and snowboarders, attracted by the fresh, deep snow and the lack of crowds. “This,” Smaine wrote on Instagram along with a video of him skiing, “is what brings me back to Japan every winter.”

But even an experienced skier or snowboarder can trigger or be caught by a natural avalanche, setting off a race against time – and odds – for rescue teams. Although most victims are buried by an average of just three feet of snow, survival prospects become increasingly unlikely after about 15 minutes, said Dale Atkins, former president of the American Avalanche Association and former forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. The Washington Post in 2021. When the avalanche stops, the snow compacts around the victims, becoming almost like concrete.

Grant Gunderson, a Mountain Gazette photographer, and Adam Ü, a professional skier from Glacier, Wash., were also on the trip, and Ü told the Mountain Gazette that Smaine and the other deceased skier, who was not identified, were transitioning from their backcountry gear to climb mode when the avalanche occurred.

“It was the last race of the last day of our trip,” Ü told the publication.

As news of the tragedy swept through the freestyle skiing community, there were several memories on social media. Joss Christensen, a freestyle skier from Park City, Utah, responded to Smaine’s most recent video, “I wish I had more time to ski in the last few years. Thanks for always being such a positive energy, Kyle.

The USA Free Ski Team wrote on Instagram that they had lost “an amazing person, friend, skier and teammate in the mountains”, describing Smaine as “a fierce competitor but an even better person and friend”. .

Travis Ganong, Olympian and freestyle skier, wrote that he was “sorry to learn of the death of my friend. … He loved skiing more than anyone I knew. We will miss you.”

Mio Inuma reported from Tokyo.

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