Written by Mike Rogge
It is with great sadness we report beloved South Lake Tahoe Professional Skier Kyle Smaine has died in an avalanche in Japan. Smaine, 31, was skiing on a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism. Mountain Gazette Senior Photographer Grant Gunderson, the photographer on the trip, was also on assignment for Mountain Gazette along with Glacier, Washington-based pro skier Adam Ü.
In a call early Sunday morning with Mountain Gazette, Ü shared the three skiers were on a free ski on Sunday afternoon, local Japan time. "It was the last run of the last day of our trip. We had no camera gear with us. We were going out for fun," Ü said.
After the first run, Gunderson departed back to the resort. Ü and Smaine went for a second lap. On the summit, Ü and Smaine ran into a group of Austrian skiers. Smaine and Ü skied the same run as their previous lap. The Austrian group decided to ski a slightly different aspect with different exposure, according to Ü.
Smaine and Ü, at the bottom, were transitioning their backcountry gear back into uphill mode. The first of the Austrian group joined them. The second Austrian skier triggered the slide. "We saw it coming," said Ü. "We heard the crack. We realized it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit."
Ü was buried 1.5 meters deep for approximately 25 minutes. Ü said he believed it was 4 or 5 minutes. Ü asked how long he was down. The rescuer who assisted in digging him out said approximately 25 minutes. Ü was able to boot pack out of the incident, miraculously unscathed.
The names of the Austrian skiers has not been reported. At least two doctors were part of a nearby guided group. They responded to the scene and participated in the rescue efforts. Ü said the group was performing CPR on the Austrian skier when they pronounced him dead. Shortly after, they said the other victim, Smaine, was unresponsive.
The group of skiers involved in the incident have asked for privacy at this time. A debrief is currently being conducted by the rescuing guide group.
Mountain Gazette sends our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Kyle Smaine.