Kyle Smaine, a former halfpipe world champion skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, his family have confirmed.
The 31-year-old, who won the halfpipe world title in 2015, had traveled to Japan from his home in Lake Tahoe, California, on a work trip where, according to an Instagram post, he was looking forward to the “unbelievable snow quality”.
On Sunday, he was among a group of Austrian and American skiers caught up in the avalanche on Nagano prefecture’s Mount Hakuba Norikura. Three of the skiers were eventually able to make their way down the mountain but Smaine and another man, who has yet to be identified, were later found dead according to local police. Japanese authorities had issued an avalanche warning for the area after heavy snow.
One of the American skiers, who was buried for 25 minutes before being dug out by rescuers, told Mountain Gazette: “We heard the crack. We realized: ‘It is a big one.’ We started running and then we got hit.”
The US embassy in Tokyo said it was “aware of the incident in Nagano prefecture and has been in touch with the relevant authorities to provide all appropriate assistance.”
Smaine had retired from international competition and his last high-profile event was in February 2018. 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.”
Smaine’s wife, Jenna Dramise, wrote on Instagram that “tonight I hope to ride some pow or bikes with you in my dreams.”