Kyle Smaine: US professional skier 'killed in Japan after being thrown 50 metres and buried by avalanche'

A US professional skier has been named as one of two people killed in an avalanche in Japan.

Friends say Kyle Smaine, 31, was among five foreign skiers caught up in the huge snow flow while on Hakuba Norikura mountain, near the Tsugaike ski resort, on Sunday.

He was there visiting the country to promote winter tourism in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, according to outdoor magazine, Mountain Gazette.

Another man, said to be from Austria, also died in the avalanche, while three other skiers managed to get down the mountain on their own, police said.

Officers have so far declined to confirm any details about the two men.

However, two friends have since named Smaine, who won the gold medal in the halfpipe event at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in 2015, as one of the men to have died.

One friend, fellow US skier Adam U, was with Smaine when the avalanche happened.

He told Mountain Gazette: "We heard the crack. We realised it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit."

'Worst nightmare scenario'

Another friend, photographer Grant Gunderson, who was with the group shortly before the avalanche, described it as "my absolute worst nightmare scenario".

In an Instagram post, he said: "It was supposed to be the last day of the trip so we were just out for a mellow tour to freeski, as we had one of the best days ever skiing and shooting the day before.

"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."

He said there was then an avalanche which "stepped down into a massive avalanche 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 1.5m deep for 25 minutes and is unscathed. That is a miracle.

"The skier buried next to him died from internal injuries. Kyle was thrown 50m by the air blast and buried and killed."

He added: "Adam and I will be rehashing this for the rest of our lives."

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A Nagano police spokesperson said five skiers were engulfed in Sunday's avalanche, which took place at about 2.30pm on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura in the ski resort.

The two men who died were found "in cardio-respiratory arrest" on Monday, police official Tomohiro Kushibiki told the AFP news agency.

Parts of east Asia have been hit by strong winter storms in recent days.

Last week, at least five people were reported to have died in Japan, with dozens injured due to the record-cold temperatures and heavy snow.