American Pro Skier Kyle Smaine, 31, Killed In Horrific Avalanche In Central Japan
American pro skier Kyle Smaine was killed in an avalanche over the weekend in central Japan.
The professional downhill competitor was reportedly caught in an avalanche that was triggered by another skier at a resort on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura in Nagano Prefecture. He was just 31 years old.
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According to Fox News, police in the prefecture reported two men were found “without vital signs” when rescuers reached them hours after the weekend’s avalanche. The police did not immediately identify the men who died. Local Japanese media later reported one man was American, and the other one was Austrian.
Now, per multiple media reports, it is clear Smaine was the American killed in the avalanche. Outdoor sports magazine Mountain Gazette was the first to report the skier’s death. According to the outlet, Smaine had been on a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism at the time of the avalanche. At the time, he was with fellow pro skier Adam Ü. The two had been going down the slopes for the final run of the day on the last day of their trip when the avalanche occurred.
According to the mag, Ü survived being buried for more than 25 minutes after the avalanche swept through. Sadly, Smaine succumbed to injuries sustained in the event. Ü recounted what happened as the group was on its final run:
“We saw it coming. We heard the crack. We realized it was a big one. We started running and then we got hit.”
Another party of skiers rushed over to help the group. Including Ü, three of the five affected skiers survived. Sadly, Smaine and another skier did not. Per TMZ, the names of the Austrian skiers involved have not yet been released by authorities.
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Skier and photographer Grant Gunderson confirmed later on Instagram that he was on scene when the avalanche occurred. Recounting the horrific events that led to Smaine’s death, Gunderson wrote about how he had gone back to the ski lodge just prior to the avalanche:
“Yesterday was my absolute worst nightmare scenario. It was supposed to be the last day of the trip so we were just out for a mellow tour to Freeski. As we had one of the best days ever skiing / shooting the day before. We had dug a pit and then skied a line in the backcountry. I was exhausted from the last 10 days so after that run I skied down to the base lodge. Kyle and Adam chose to go back up and ski it again.”
The longtime back-country skier continued:
“They were at the bottom with a member from another group a long way away from the base of the slope transitioning to ski out. In fact a Japanese party was doing beacon practices at that transition area the previous lap. Every one felt safe in the transition area. A second skier from the other group triggered an avalanche that stepped down into a massive avalanche (2m deep crown) on an adjacent slope. The slope that they had now done two runs on didn’t slide.”
Gunderson confirmed what Ü earlier told reporters about the avalanche sweeping down as skiers tried to run:
“Adam, Kyle and the other skier tried to run. Adam was buried 1.5 meters deep for 25 minutes and is unscathed. That is a miracle. The skier buried next to him died from internal injuries. Kyle was thrown 50 meters by the air blast and buried and killed. Another group in the area consisting of two Canadian mountain guides and 4 or 5 emergency doctors / nurses etc as clients performed the rescue. The doctors did everything they could for Kyle and the other skier.”
The shocked photographer summed it all up:
“Adam and I will be rehashing this for the rest of our lives.”
Here is Gunderson’s full post (below):
Elsewhere, the U.S. Freeski Team also took to Instagram to confirm Smaine’s passing.
Late on Sunday night, they wrote:
“Today we lost an incredible person, friend, skier and teammate to the mountains. Kyle Smaine was a World Champion freeskier, loved exploring the mountains, was a fierce competitor but an even better person and friend. We, along with so many others, send our love and comfort to his family, friends and community.”
Such a terrible and tragic situation.
Smaine had been one of America’s best freestyle skiers after first winning gold at the 2015 Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships. According to TMZ, a spokesperson for the American Embassy in Tokyo confirmed they are “aware of the incident” in Nagano Prefecture and are “working with local authorities.”
What an awful thing. We send our condolences to Smaine’s family, friends, and loved ones during this heartbreaking time.
[Image via Snowbird/YouTube/Kyle Smaine/Instagram]