On Monday, January 4, two skiers on the U.S. Development Ski Team died in an avalanche while skiing near their European training base in the Austrian Alps. Ronnie Berlack, 20, of New Hampshire, and Bryce Astle, 19, of Utah, were part of a group of six skiers who were descending from the 10,000-foot Gaislachkogel when they apparently set off the avalanche. The other four managed to ski out of the slide and escaped unhurt. The Associated Press reports that an avalanche alert had been in effect for the area, following days of heavy snowfall.
"It's our worst nightmare come true," U.S. men's ski team head coach Sasha Rearick told USA Today. "We've never had a death of one of our athletes from an avalanche. Unfortunately, there were no coaches with them at that time. There was a call, and people tried to dig them out."
Both young men were considered World Cup material. Berlack grew up in Fraconia, in the White Mountains, hometown of World and Olympic champion Bode Miller. He was a graduate of Vermont's Burke Mountain Academy, and earned his spot on the U.S. Development Ski Team at a tryout camp at Mammoth Mountain in spring 2013. Berlack placed 11th in downhill and 17th in super G at the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships in Squaw Valley, California.
Astle grew up racing with the Snowbird Ski Team in Utah. He was invited to train with the U.S. Development Ski Team this season, after taking 13th in giant slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships in Squaw Valley last March, and finishing as the top junior.
"It's a shock for everybody," U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said, according to The Associated Press. "Two great boys, great athletes, good skiers. They were fun to have around. We are all in shock, still. It's very tragic."
Astle's family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Snowbird Sports Education Foundation.