Kyle Smaine reportedly among skiers killed in avalanche in Japan

Kyle Smaine reportedly among skiers killed in avalanche in Japan


Kyle Smaine, an American freestyle skier who was a gold medalist in the halfpipe at the 2015 World Championships, was reportedly one of two men killed in an avalanche while backcountry skiing in Japan on Sunday.

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

A State Department spokesman confirmed in an emailed statement that a US citizen was killed but would not confirm the identity of that individual, citing privacy concerns.

“The U.S. Department of State has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” the statement said. “We are aware that on January 29th an avalanche occurred in Nagano, Japan. We can confirm the death of a US citizen in Nagano on January 30th. Due to privacy concerns, we don’t have any further details at this time.”

A snowboarder was caught in 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 been in contact with the relevant authorities to provide all appropriate assistance.”

At least five skiers from the United States and Austria were caught in the avalanche on the east slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura, a Nagano Prefectural Police spokesman told Reuters. Three managed to escape the avalanche, but two skiers were found dead. Weather forced a search to be halted, and their bodies were recovered Monday.

An avalanche warning had been issued for the area, with Japan grappling with widespread heavy snowfall and record cold temperatures. Backcountry skiing is popular with intermediate skiers and snowboarders who are lured by the fresh, deep snow and the absence 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 in a naturally occurring avalanche, sparking a race against time — and odds — for rescue teams. Although most victims are buried with an average of just three feet of snow, after about 15 minutes, the odds of survival become increasingly unlikely, Dale Atkins, former president of the American Avalanche Association and former Colorado Avalanche Information Center meteorologist, told The Washington Post in 2021. When the When the avalanche stops, the snow around the victims thickens and becomes 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, documented their trip Backcountry gear into uphill mode when the avalanche hit.

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

As news of the tragedy rippled through the freestyle skiing community, there were multiple reminders on social media. Joss Christensen, a freestyle skier from Park City, Utah, responded to Smaine’s latest video: “I wish we’d had more time to ski over the past few years. Thanks for always being such a positive energy Kyle.”

The US Free Ski Team wrote on Instagram that they had lost “an incredible person, friend, skier and teammate to the mountains” and described Smaine as “a fierce competitor but an even better person and friend”.

Travis Ganong, Olympic gold medalist and freestyle skier, wrote that he was “heartbroken to hear of my friend’s death. … He loved skiing more than anyone I knew. We will miss you.”

Mio Inuma reported from Tokyo.

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