Two U.S. ski team prospects die in avalanche, one had Vt. connections

By Polly Lynn

Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19 were two development-level ski racers who were among six people skiing when the avalanche struck. The four others were able to ski out of danger; Berlack and Astle were not.

Their deaths in an avalanche at a resort in the Austrian Alps have left their friends on the U.S. Ski Team in shock.

Astle, who hailed from Sandy, Utah, had been invited to train with the development team after he finished 13th in giant slalom at the U.S. Alpine Championships last March, ending as the top junior.

Berlack, from Franconia, N.H., was named to the U.S. Ski Team’s Development Team after a spring 2013 tryout camp. He finished 11th in downhill and 17th in super G at the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships in Squaw Valley, Cali.

Berlack had attended Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, which released a statement saying that the skier was “loved and deeply respected” and praising his “huge spirit.”

“I haven’t cried like this in a very long time,” Katie Ryan, a member of the Alpine B Team, wrote on her blog, in a post titled “Ski in Peace Boys.”

“The sudden deaths of Ronnie and Bryce will shake the entire Ski Racing community as it has shaken me,” Ryan continued.

“They were funny oddballs, great teammates and fierce competitors. I have no doubt they would have gone on to race  the World Cup and beyond,” she wrote. “My heart breaks for their families, for the teammates who witnessed it all and for their coaches.”

Resort personnel at Soelden, where the two Americans were killed, said the six skiers left the safe slopes and went out into an open area Monday. There had been a lot of wind over the past few days that had moved new snow into the area before the avalanche, experts had reported. The avalanche risk was set at level 3 out of 5, which was enough to elicit warnings on local local media outlets not to go off piste.

A team of around 60 rescuers, including dogs and two helicopters, took 40 to 50 minutes to find Astle and Berlack, resort officials reported. Berlack and Astle weren’t wearing avalanche gear, including a beacon that sends out signals to rescuers of their wearabouts.

The four U.S. men’s skiers who were able to ski out of harm’s way tried to rescue their teammates also, but were unsuccessful in locating them. The searchers eventually found Berlack and Astle about 10 to 13 feet under the snow, according to reports.

Mountain Times Newsletter

Sign up below to receive the weekly newsletter, which also includes top trending stories and what all the locals are talking about!