American professional skier Kyle Smaine killed in Japanese avalanche

Professional skier Kyle Smaine, 31, died in an avalanche Sunday afternoon in Japan on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura, according to multiple sources.

Halfpipe gold medalist Smaine had spent 10 days in Japan for a promotional photoshoot for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism, the Mountain Gazette reported. Smaine and fellow professional skier Adam Ü, based in Glacier, Wash., went for another run on the slopes after finishing work for the day, and that’s when they came into contact with the avalanche.

“It was the last race of the last day of our trip. We had no camera gear with us. We were going out to have fun,” Ü said. “We heard the crack. We realized this is a big one. We started running and then we got hit.

Grant Gunderson, the photographer for the trip, shared what happened on his Instagram page:

Adam, Kyle and the other skier tried to run. Adam was buried 1.5 meters deep for 25 minutes and is unharmed. It’s a miracle. The skier buried next to him died from internal injuries. Kyle was thrown 50 yards by the air blast and buried and killed.

At least five skiers were caught in the avalanche, but Smaine and another Austrian skier were reported as the only fatalities.

“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,” wrote Alterra Mountain Company, owner of Ikon Pass. “Our thoughts and our condolences go out to his family and his vast community of friends.”

Sierra in Tahoe said of Smaine, “South Lake Tahoe’s Kyle Smaine turned heads in 2015 when he won the FIS World Ski Championships in the halfpipe in Austria. This former ski racer graduated from Sierra Nevada College in May 2014 with a GPA of 3.95. He finished 9th in SuperPipe as a rookie at XG Aspen 2016.”

In a touching post on her Instagram page on Saturday, Smaine wrote of skiing in Japan, “It’s what brings me back to Japan every winter. Incredible snow quality, relentless storms, and really fun terrain that seems to get better the more you explore.

Kyle Smaine, 31 years old. (Instagram/Kyle Smaine)


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