Kyle Smane among skiers who died in an avalanche in Japan


Kyle Smane, an American freestyle skier who was the 2015 world championship halfpipe gold medalist, was one of two men killed Sunday in an avalanche while skiing in Japan.

Smaine, 31, of South Lake Tahoe, California, was on a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism, according to the outdoor sports publication Mountain Gazette, and was in Japan for the “amazing quality of the snow,” he wrote on Instagram. Alterra Mountain Company, which owns Ikon Pass, confirmed Smaine’s death in an email to The Washington Post on Monday and said it happened during downtime after his marketing duties had ended.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of athlete and friend Kyle Smaine. He will be greatly missed by the Tahoe community and his fans around the world,” the company wrote. “Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and a wide community of friends.”

Earlier Monday, a State Department spokesman confirmed in an emailed statement that a US citizen had been killed, but would not confirm the identity of that person, citing privacy concerns.

“The US State Department has no higher priority than the safety and security of US citizens abroad,” the statement said. “We know of an avalanche in Nagano, Japan on January 29. We can confirm the death of a US citizen in Nagano on January 30th. Due to privacy reasons, we have no further details at this time.’

A snowboarder was buried by an avalanche. He filmed his 300-foot slide.

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

At least five skiers from the United States and Austria were buried by the avalanche on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura, a police spokesman in Nagano Prefecture said. Reuters. Three managed to escape the avalanche, but two skiers were found dead. Weather forced the search to be called off and their bodies were found on Monday.

An avalanche warning was issued for the area, along with Japan dealing with widespread heavy snow and record cold. Backcountry skiing is popular with advanced skiers and snowboarders, attracted by fresh, deep snow and the lack of crowds. “It” was Smaine written 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 in a naturally occurring avalanche, which starts a race against time – and odds – for rescue teams. Although most victims were buried by an average of only three feet of snow, the prospects for survival become increasingly improbable after about 15 minutes, Dale Atkins, past president of the American Avalanche Association and former forecaster at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said The 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 has not been identified, were transferring their backcountry gear to on the way up when the avalanche occurred.

“This was the last run of the last day of our trip,” Ü told the publication.

As news of the tragedy made its way around the freestyle skiing community, there were several remembrances on social media. Joss Christensen, a Park City, Utah, freestyle skier, responded to Smaine’s latest video: “I wish we had more time to ski the last few years. Thanks for always being such a positive energy, Kyle.”

The US Freestyle Ski Team wrote on Instagram that he 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 is “heartbroken to hear of my friend’s death. … He loved skiing more than anyone I knew, I will miss you.”

Mio Inuma reported from Tokyo.

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