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US Skier Kyle Smaine Killed in Avalanche in Japan

Former halfpipe world champion skier, Kyle Smaine, died in an avalanche in Japan. Another man also aided during the avalanche, but he has not been identified yet. The 31-year-old pro skier had traveled to Japan for work, and as he said in an Instagram post, he was excited about the “unbelievable snow quality.” 

Smain, who had won the world title in 2015, was skiing in Japan for a marketing trip. Although Japanese authorities had issued an avalanche warning for the area after heavy snow last Sunday, Smain was along the group of American and Austrian skiers who got caught up in the avalanche on Nagano prefecture’s Mount Hakuba Norikura. Three of the skiers were eventually able to make it down the mountain, but Smaine and another man were later found dead according. 

Smaine was accompanied by another professional skier from Washington, D.C., and Grant Gunderson, a photographer who was on assignment for the Mountain Gazette, an outdoor cultural magazine. 

According to a post that Mr. Gunderson uploaded on Instagram, the group was on the last day of their trip when a skier from another group triggered an avalanche on Sunday. Mr. Smaine was thrown 50 meters by the impact of the avalanche, got buried under the snow, and died before the rescuers could dig him out.  

“Yesterday was my absolute worst nightmare scenario,” Mr. Gunderson said. 

One of the American skiers, who was buried for 25 minutes before getting rescued, said in an interview: “We heard the crack. We realized: ‘It is a big one.’ We started running, and then we got hit.”

Smaine had retired from international competition, and his last professional event was in February 2018. Born in Apple Valley, California, Smain often said that he had learned to ski when he was 2. He was an accomplished skier who won a gold medal at the 2015 International Ski and Snowboard Federation’s world championships at the age of 23. 

Fellow athletes paid tribute to him on Sunday. “We all did this for Kyle tonight,” two-time Olympic halfpipe skiing champion David Wise said on Sunday after his X Games victory. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Joss Christensen, another Olympic gold medalist, said he wished he had skied more with Smaine in the past few years. “Thanks for always being such a positive energy Kyle. Heavy hearts tonight,” Christensen said.

Smaine’s wife, Jenna Dramise, wrote on Instagram that “tonight I hope to ride some pow or bikes with you in my dreams.”


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