2 U.S. ski team prospects die in avalanche in Austria

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SOELDEN, Austria – Shock and sadness in the ski community after two American skiers were killed in an avalanche in Austria. Both men were considered “up and coming” in the sport.

Ronnie Berlack, 20, of Franconia, N.H., and Bryce Astle, 19, of Sandy, Utah, were with four others who were freeskiing at the Austrian resort of Soelden when the avalanche hit near Rettenbach glacier.

The group was descending from the Gaislachkogel when they left the prepared slope and apparently triggered the avalanche. The other four were not injured.

Berlack was on the U.S. “D” team and was a forerunner at the men’s World Cup races in Beaver Creek last month.

Astle had been invited to train with the development team this season.

"They're part of our family. It deeply touches all of us,” said Tom Kelly, the vice president of Communication for the U.S. Ski Team.

Berlack and Astil were with the development team in Austria, which serves as the European Base for America’s Alpine Ski Team. "These skiers went up the lift and came down the mountain and triggered the avalanche," Kelly said. "It's important to note, these are really big mountains, there was a lot of snow involved in this slide."

After days of snow in the Austrian Alps, then mild temperatures, an avalanche alert was issued at a level three.  "A level three out of five means that natural avalanches, or spontaneous avalanches are possible and that human-triggered avalanches are likely, so it's actually a fairly dangerous time to be out in the mountain,” said Ethan Greene. Greene is the Director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

Greene said most avalanches happen during or right after a storm, but it’s right after, like this particular avalanche, that can be misleading. "When you talk about that level three danger, that's when it often doesn't appear to be as dangerous."

The U.S. Ski Team is now mourning the loss of these two talented prospects. "Not only were they great ski racers, but they were great people, they were great young men," said Kelly.

In Colorado, Greene said the avalanche risk is about a two. But, it’s a good reminder to always have the current information on the risk level, get a little training, and if you are going to be in the back country, make sure you have the proper rescue equipment.

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