American freestyle ski champion dies in avalanche in Japan

An American freestyle skier has died in an avalanche in Japan, his family has announced.

Kyle Smaine went to Japan because of the “incredible quality of the snow,” he previously wrote on Instagram.

“It’s what brings me back to Japan every winter,” he said, adding that it was “a really fun course that seems to be getting better. [the] the more you explore”.

Smaine won gold in the halfpipe at the 2015 FIS Freestyle Skiing and Snowboarding World Championships.

The skier was in Nagano Prefecture, in the middle of the island of Honshu, on Sunday when he died, according to his father William Smaine, BNC News reported.

Kyle Smaine watches from the podium after finishing in first place in the final round of the 2018 FIS Freeski World Cup Men Ski Halfpipe at the Toyota US Grand Prix on January 19, 2018 in Mammoth, California

(Getty Images)

Nagano police said up to five men from the United States and Austria were caught in the avalanche that occurred on the eastern side of Mount Hakuba Norikura, reported Reuters.

Injured skiers, behind a blue sheet, enter an ambulance at a ski resort in Otari village, Nagano prefecture, Japan on Sunday, January 29, 2023


Police officers prepare to go to the site of an avalanche, at a ski resort in Otari village, Nagano prefecture, Japan on Sunday January 29, 2023


Authorities previously said the five men were skiing in two groups, with three of them managing to descend the mountain on their own, while two of them (Mr) high in the mountains.

Rescuers ride a gondola at a ski resort as they help search for missing skiers after an avalanche the previous day in Otari village, Nagano prefecture.

(via Reuters)

Police officers attempt to transport victims found at the site of an accident after an avalanche the day before, in the village of Otari in Nagano prefecture, central Japan, January 30, 2023.

(via Reuters)

Both were found without vital signs, Reuters noted.

An avalanche warning has been issued by weather officials after days of heavy snowfall as the country grapples with severe weather disruption including record high temperatures.

Authorities are investigating whether the weather caused several other deaths.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said it was “aware of the incident in Nagano Prefecture and is in contact with relevant authorities to provide all appropriate assistance.”

“For confidentiality reasons, we are unable to comment further,” the embassy spokesperson added, according to NBC News.

Friends, athletes and fans shared tributes at Mr. Smaine instagram.

Canadian Olympic skier Marielle Thompson wrote: “Such a brilliant light has been lost. Sending lots of love to Jenna and the Tahoe family.

Utah freestyle skier Joss Christensen added, “I wish I had more time to ski the last few years. Thank you for always being such a positive energy Kyle. Heavy hearts tonight.

Cinematographer AJ Marino said, “Until we ski again, Kyle. Thank you for everything. You have had a profound impact on my life and I am grateful for the twists and turns we have taken together.

“I’ve always looked up to you, Kyle. You always said hello to me and remembered who I was, even when I was a young big…broken in peace man,” Cole Lyon wrote.

“Being his friend was a real gift,” commented Justeen Ferguson.

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