Professional skier Kyle Smaine, 31, died in an avalanche Sunday afternoon in Japan on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura, according to multiple sources.
Halfpipe gold medal winner Smaine had spent 10 days in Japan on a promotional photo shoot for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism, the Mountain Gazette reported. Smaine and another pro skier, Glacier, Washington-based Adam Ü, went for another run down the slopes after they were done working for the day, and that’s where they came in contact with the avalanche.
“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. “We heard the crack. We realized it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit.”
Grant Gunderson, the photographer for the trip, recounted what happened on his Instagram page:
Adam, Kyle and the other skier tried to run. Adam was buried 1.5 meters deep for 25 minutes and is unscathed. That is a miracle. The skier buried next to him died from internal injuries. Kyle was thrown 50 meters by the air blast and buried and killed.
Beloved South Lake Tahoe Skier Kyle Smaine Killed in Avalanche in Japan– Mountain Gazette
I’m sorry to report our friend, pro skier Kyle Smaine, was killed in an avalanche. https://t.co/ud0Co2yj8J
— Mike Rogge 🏔️📖 (@skiingrogge) January 29, 2023
At least five skiers were caught in the avalanche, but Smaine and another skier from Austria were reported as the only deaths.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of athlete and friend Kyle Smaine. He will be very missed among the Tahoe community and by his fans around the world,” Alterra Mountain Company, which owns Ikon Pass, wrote. “Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and extensive community of friends.”
Sierra at Tahoe said of Smaine, “South Lake Tahoe’s Kyle Smaine turned heads in 2015 when he won the halfpipe FIS World Ski Championships in Austria. This former ski racer graduated from Sierra Nevada College in May of 2014 with a 3.95 GPA. He finished 9th in SuperPipe as a rookie at XG Aspen 2016.”
In a touching post to his Instagram page on Saturday, Smaine wrote of skiing in Japan, “This is what brings me back to Japan each winter. Unbelievable snow quality, non-stop storms, and really fun terrain that seems to get better then more exploring you do.”