South Lake Tahoe, CA, Pro Skier Kyle Smaine Killed in Avalanche in Japan

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Kyle smaine, avalanche, Japan
Kyle Smaine. Credit: Instagram

A professional skier from South Lake Tahoe, CA, and another from Austria were killed in an avalanche in Japan yesterday, reports Mike Rogge with the Mountain Gazette.

Kyle Smaine, 31, and Adam Ü from Glacier, WA, were on a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism, along with Grant Gunderson, a senior photographer with Mountain Gazette.


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Gunderson had gone home while Adam and Kyle stayed out. The men teamed up with three Austrian skiers. The skiers were on their last run of the day at Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort and the final run of the trip, just for fun without any filming gear.

While at the bottom transitioning into uphill gear, one of the Austrians came down the slope above and triggered the slide, writes Rogge

“We saw it coming. We heard the crack. We realized it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit.”

– Adam Ü told Mike Rogge, Mountain Gazette

Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort

Ü was buried under five feet of snow for about 25 minutes. Miraculously he was dug out and walked away from the scene uninjured.

The Austrian skier who triggered the slide and Smaine were both located and extricated, but unfortunately, CPR efforts were unsuccessful, and both were pronounced dead at the scene.

Yesterday was my absolute worst nightmare scenario

It was supposed to be the last day of the trip so we where just out for a mellow tour to Freeski. As we had one of the best days ever skiing / shooting the day before.

We had dug a pit and then skied a line in the backcountry. I was exhausted from the last 10 days so after that run I skied down to the base lodge. Kyle and Adam chose to go back up and ski it again.

They were at the bottom with a member from another group a long way away from the base of the slope transitioning to skin out. In fact a Japanese party was doing beacon practices at that transition area the previous lap. Every one felt safe in the transition area A second skier from the other group triggered an avalanche that stepped down into a massive avalanche (2m deep crown) on an adjacent slope. The slope that they had now done two runs on didn’t slide.

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. The doctors did everything they could for Kyle and the other skier.

Adam and I will be rehashing this for the rest of our lives.

Grant Gunderson

Smaine was a 2009 graduate of South Tahoe High and was honored in South Lake Tahoe’s Champion Plaza in 2017 for his skiing on the national and international stage, reports South Tahoe Now.

Smaine won gold at the 2015 World Championships and was the first alternate for Team USA in the 2018 Olympics. He was a legend at his home resort of Sierra-at-Tahoe.

Tsugaike Kogen Ski Resort trail map.

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