The winter sports world is in mourning.
On Sunday, American freestyle skier Kyle Smaine, who won the gold 2015 halfpipe world championship, has died at age 31.
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Smaine was one of several skiers caught in an avalanche on eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura in Japan on Sunday. Three managed to escape the avalanche, but two died.
On Instagram, photographer, Grant Gunderson, who was at the slopes with Smaine and their friend Adam Ü, a professional skier, when the avalanche occurred, shared his account of what transpired.
Describing the massive avalanche, he wrote, “Adam, Kyle and the other skier tried to run. Adam was buried 1.5 meters deep for 25 minutes and is unscathed. That is a miracle. The skier buried next to him died from internal injuries. Kyle was thrown 50 meters by the air blast and buried and killed.”
“Another group in the area consisting of two Canadian mountain guides and 4 or 5 emergency doctors / nurses etc as clients performed the rescue,” Gunderson continued. “The doctors did everything they could for Kyle and the other skier.”
He added, “Adam and I will be rehashing this for the rest of our lives.”
Smaine was skiing the slopes as part of a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism.
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In a statement to The Washington Post, Alterra Mountain Company, which owns Ikon Pass, said, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of athlete and friend Kyle Smaine. He will be very missed among the Tahoe community and by his fans around the world. Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and extensive community of friends.”
An avalanche warning had been issued for the area, as Japan has been facing heavy snowfalls and record cold snaps.
On Instagram, the U.S. Free Ski Team shared a post in memory of Smaine, calling him “a fierce competitor but an even better person and friend.”