The avalanche that hit a mountain slope in Japan’s Nagano Prefecture on Sunday afternoon reportedly claimed the life of beloved professional skier Kyle Smaine from South Lake Tahoe. Smaine was on a promotional trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism when he was killed. He was 31.
Washington-based pro skier Adam Ü confirmed the news of Smaine’s death in a Sunday morning phone conversation with Mountain Gazette. Ü said an Austrian skier group triggered the avalanche on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura in the ski resort, which killed Smaine.
Smaine and Ü were out on a free ski to celebrate the last day of their trip when the tragedy hit. “It was the last run of the last day of our trip. We had no camera gear with us. We were going out for fun,” Ü told the outlet, and later explained the situation.
Ü said Smaine and him encountered a group of Austrian skiers before their second lap. The Austrian skiers chose a path with different aspects and exposure. Once at the bottom, one Austrian group of three skiers joined Smaine and Ü as they were gearing up for a third lap, but a few moments later they realized that the second group had triggered the slide.
“We saw it coming,” said Ü who was buried for at least 25 minutes before being rescued. “We heard the crack. We realized it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit.” He was able to escape the situation without any injuries, and climbed down the mountain along with two other Austrian survivors.
Rescue teams performed CPR on one of the Austrian skiers but were unsuccessful in their attempt. He was pronounced dead on the scene. A few moments later, Smaine, the second victim, was found without vital signs. The identities of the Austrian skiers have not been revealed.
U.S. Free Ski Team announced the news of Smaine’s passing on their Instagram page, and the ski community flooded the comment section with tributes for the young star.
“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,” the post read.