Champion US freestyle skier dies in avalanche in Japan
A US freestyle skier has died in an avalanche in Japan.
Kyle Smaine, 31, was in Nagano Prefecture on Sunday in the middle of Honshu Island when he got caught in the avalanche, according to his father William Smaine.
Nagano police said that as many as five men from the US and Austria were caught up in the avalanche that occurred on the eastern side of Mount Hakuba Norikura, Reuters reported.
The five men had been skiing in two groups, with three of them being able to climb down the mountain on their own, while two of them, Smaine and an unnamed man, were stuck on the 8,100 feet (2468 metres) high mountain. Both of them were found without vital signs, Reuters noted.
Smaine, who won gold in the halfpipe at the 2015 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships, had posted about his Japan trip on Instagram just hours earlier, writing that he was there to experience the “unbelievable snow quality”.
“This is what brings me back to Japan each winter,” he said, adding that it was a “really fun terrain that seems to get better [the] more exploring you do”.
An avalanche warning had been issued by weather officials following days of heavy snowfall as the country battles the severe disruption that the weather, including record-beating low temperatures, has caused.
Officials are investigating if the weather caused a number of other deaths.
The US embassy in Tokyo said that they are “aware of the incident in Nagano Prefecture and has been in touch with the relevant authorities to provide all appropriate assistance”.
“Due to privacy considerations, we are not able to comment further,” the embassy spokesperson added, according to NBC News.
Friends, athletes, and fans shared tributes on Mr Smaine’s Instagram.
Canadian Olympic freestyle skier Marielle Thompson wrote: “Such a bright light lost. Sending so much love to Jenna and the Tahoe family.”
Utah freestyle skier Joss Christensen added: “Wish we had more time to ski these past few years. Thanks for always being such a positive energy Kyle. Heavy hearts tonight.”
Cinematographer AJ Marino said: “Until we ski again Kyle. Thanks for everything. You made a deep impact in my life and I’m thankful for the turns we had together.”
“Always looked up to you Kyle. You always said hi, and remembered who I was, even as a young grom… shred in peace man,” Cole Lyon wrote.
“Being your friend was a true gift,” Justeen Ferguson commented.