The U.S. Ski Team is mourning after two prospects, Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle, were killed Monday, Jan. 5, in an avalanche in Soelden, Austria.
The athletes were among a group of six who were free skiing at the resort when the tragic accident took place. The four others were able to ski out of the slide.
"It's our worst nightmare come true," U.S. men's ski team head coach Sasha Rearick told USA Today. "We've never had a death of one of our athletes from an avalanche. Unfortunately, there were no coaches with them at that time. There was a call, and people tried to dig them out."
Berlack, 20, was a Franconia, New Hampshire native, who had been training at the famed Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. He was named to the U.S. Ski Team's Development Team in 2013. "I'm not bitter," his father Steve Berlack told USA Today on Monday. "We're dealing with it. I'm still sort of numb. I'm sure it will sink in for real later."
Astle, 19, hailed from Sandy, Utah, and had raced at Snowbird. He was invited to train with the team this season. "Bryce was a fun-loving guy," Rearick told the paper. "A guy who loved being on the mountain, loved being outside. I remember calling him up and inviting him to a training camp, and four hours later he was there, ready to go."
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President Tiger Shaw released a statement to Us Weekly following the tragedy on Monday. "Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport – both on the race course and skiing the mountain," Shaw said in the release. "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."
Friends and fans mourned the loss of the athletes on the U.S. Ski Team's Facebook page, sharing memories of the late skiers. "Bryce buddy I'm gonna miss you…" one pal wrote of Astle. "Thanks for pushing me to tackle all my fears both on and off the course but always on the mountain. This is too shocking for my own mind."
Another Facebook user left a memory of Berlack. "We met Ronnie at Beaver Creek this year as he was the forerunner of the Birds of Prey DH," the wall post read. "He was super nice to our young racers and took time to talk and take pics with us. We are devastated. – Sundown Ski Team."
Astle's surviving family members have asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Snowbird Sports Education Foundation.
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