United States prospective ski team members Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, were tragically killed in an avalanche in the Austrian mountains on Monday.
According to a statement on the U.S. Ski Team website, the two skiers were part of a group of six who were freeskiing and found themselves caught in the avalanche in the Austrian resort of Soelden located in the Alps, the European base for Team USA. Four others were able to escape.
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw issued a statement following the incident.
“Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport – both on the race course and skiing the mountain. Our hearts go out to the Berlack and Astle families, as well as to their extended sport family. Both of them loved what they did and conveyed that to those around them.”
The skiers killed were descending from the 3,056-meter Gaislachkogel, when they left the prepared slope and apparently set off the avalanche. Officials in the Tyrolean region said an avalanche alert had been declared for the area after days of heavy snowfall and mild temperatures, according to Fox News.
— US Olympic Team (@USOlympic) January 5, 2015
Both Berlack and Aster were promising American prospects for Team USA, and had been skiing since a young age. Berlack was skiing almost before he was walking and his mother, Cindy Berlack said nothing could keep him off the slopes, despite just having recovered from a knee injury.
“He absolutely loved skiing. It brought him alive. He worked so hard to get where he was. He started skiing when he was 2, and I just loved those days skiing with a tiny boy.”
The same could be said of Astle, who was fast becoming one of the top U.S. prospects and had two top 10 results at NorAm Cup races last month in Canada. The 19-year-old recently wrote about his young career on a ski website.
“Maturing rapidly both mentally and physically, I am at a stage where I have the potential to make tremendous changes and achieve the lofty goals I’ve set. Exposure to the next level will force me to adjust and build character as a skier and individual. These travels and experiences are key stepping stones to achieving greatness.
“I have an engraved passion in skiing that will last the rest of my life.”
Alpine director Patrick Riml told the Associated Press that the avalanche which killed both skiers has left their tight knit community in shock, “Two great boys, great athletes, good skiers. They were fun to have around. We are all in shock, still. It’s very tragic.”
[Image via Twitter]