Two US Ski Team Members Killed in Avalanche in Austria Today

SnowBrains | | AvalancheAvalanche
Bryce left, Ronnie right
Bryce left, Ronnie right

Horrible horrible news coming out of Soelden, Austria today.

20-year-old Ronnie Berlack from Vermont and 19-year-old Bryce Astle from Utah were freeskiing off-piste between races on 3,056-meter Gaislachkogel peak with 4 others when an avalanche struck and buried them.  The other four skiers were able to ski out of the avalanche unhurt.  Ronnie and Bryce weren’t extracted from the snow for over 45-minutes.  Ronnie and Bryce did not survive.  It’s unclear if any of the six were wearing avalanche beacons or not.

Officials are reporting that this region of Austria, Tyrol, had received an avalanche alert after the zone had received days of heavy snowfall and mild temperatures.

Gaislachkogel zone at Soelden, Austria.
Gaislachkogel zone at Soelden, Austria.

“Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport – both on the race course and skiing the mountain.  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.” – U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw

Both Ronnie and Bryce were on the US Ski Team’s Development Team and were both very promising racers.

“They all have the potential (to be on the World Cup),” Riml said. “These two boys were among the other eight boys who are our future. We believed in these guys, that’s why we selected them.”

Map of Soelden Austria.
Map of Soelden Austria.

“He was hoping … to be in the next Olympics, that was his goal and he was pretty much on his way.” – Bryce’s mother Laura Astle


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7 thoughts on “Two US Ski Team Members Killed in Avalanche in Austria Today

  1. Grant,

    I was skiing in the area that day. As a North American transplant I’m familiar with trail markings on both sides of the puddle. The area where the avy occurred can be reached from lifts (ie. no massive hike needed) and as such would be “side country” but there is no way you could mistake it for a maintained area. It is reachable but steep and accessed (in a few places) through chutes that basically scream “this is not piste”. Locals and those of us that ski there on a regular basis do so with beepers (as a minimum) . On the day in question the avy sacale was at 3 (3+). After the incident people were surprised that the victims were not carrying beepers or bags. While no measures are 100 percent it is sad that nobody in the party was tooled up to respond. It was a sad day.


  2. Krusty these boys don’t strike me as the types who would have traveled into the backcountry without proper gear. They seemed like responsible, focused individuals who made good decisions, which is why I raise these questions. There may be an underlying linguistic and cultural lesson to take away that could save lives in the future. Most Europeans refer to “Off-piste” as any part of the mountain that has not been groomed, they don’t always use it to refer to an area where there has not been avalanche control work. That is why I’m wondering if this was an innocent mistake where the boys didn’t realize they were in an area where there was no previous avalanche control work. If that is the case, then the US ski team should add some culturally specific backcountry education for team members on their first trip to Europe. I’m interested in learning more details about the accident to see if this is the case.

  3. Out the Gate…. This Sucks.
    I feel for the familys and friends of these great kids who where following
    there dreams of ripping gates and pow. I have lost friends to the white dragon.
    But as the ignorance of people like ^ Grant and the hordes of people buying
    the latest “backcounty” gear and heading out for some untracked Pow with out the education
    and skills to understand the risks and the skills for self rescue,
    tragic events like this will become more common. Come on . Off Piste in Europe is the Backcounty.
    It means not controlled, ski at your own risk, and have the gear & education for self rescue.
    This means a group of six should all have beacons/shovel/probes as a minimum. A solid first aid kit in the pack, a short length of rope, down coats, emergency blankets, radios, cell phones, the list goes on….and most of all a plan for the day when it goes good and when it goes bad. The fact that four in this party of six skied away without the ability and skills and equipment to help these two young men is as sad as the tragic outcome of this accident.

  4. Any links to that story Casey? This is a sad and puzzling story. In Europe the term “off piste” doesn’t always mean the same thing as “backcountry”, so I wonder if they were really in backcountry terrain or not. And if they were in backcountry terrain did they even know it because of the way ski areas are structured in Europe? That would really make this all the more tragic.

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