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Avalanche in Austria kills 2 US skiing prospects

N.H., Utah athletes, training in Alps, hoped to earn spots on 2018 Olympics team

Ronnie Berlack (left), 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, were killed in an avalanche in Austria.US Ski and Snowboard Association

Two prospects on the US Ski Team, including a highly regarded racer from New Hampshire, were killed in an avalanche Monday in the Austrian Alps, the team said.

Ronnie Berlack, 20, of Franconia, N.H., and Bryce Astle, 19, of Sandy, Utah, were skiing with four other athletes at a resort in Soelden, Austria, when they were caught in the avalanche, the US Ski Team said in a prepared statement.

The other four skiers escaped, but Berlack and Astle, who were training with the US development team, did not survive.

“Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport, both on the race course and skiing the mountain,” said Tiger Shaw, head of the US Ski and Snowboard Association, which oversees the US Ski Team, in the statement. “Our hearts go out to the Berlack and Astle families, as well as to their extended sport family. Both of them loved what they did and conveyed that to those around them.”

Berlack’s family could not be reached for comment Monday night. He hailed from the same New Hampshire town as another skier, Bode Miller, the celebrated US Olympic gold medalist.

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Astle’s mother, Laura Astle, told the Associated Press that her son was hoping to compete in the next Winter Olympics, and that “he was pretty much on his way.’’

Berlack and Astle were descending from the 10,026-foot Gaislachkogel when they left the prepared slope, the AP reported. Officials in the Tyrolean region said an avalanche alert had been declared for the area after days of heavy snowfall and mild temperatures.

According to the US team, Berlack was named to the US Ski Team Development Team after strong showings at the 2013 US Alpine Championships and a spring tryout camp the same year. He had also attended Burke Mountain Academy, a boarding school for promising skiers in East Burke, Vt.

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Kirk Dwyer, Burke’s headmaster, said the school community was devastated to learn of Berlack’s death.

“Ronnie has been a vital part of BMA since he was a young boy,” Dwyer said in a statement. “From his father Steve’s long involvement at Burke, skiing with us from when he was [at the] J4 [level], attending BMA through his postgraduate year, and remaining part of BMA until this tragic accident. Only last week Ronnie was here at BMA training with us.”

Dwyer added that Berlack was loved and “deeply respected” by Burke students and staff.

“He had a huge spirit,” Dwyer said. “There is no one who better represents our core values than Ronnie. Our hearts go out to his parents, Steve and Cindy, and his sister Carolyn.”

The US team said Berlack had finished 11th in the downhill competition at the 2013 US Alpine Championships at the Squaw Valley resort in Olympic Valley, Calif. He also finished 17th in the Super G competition.

He injured his knee last January but rebounded, competing in the South American Cup races in Chile over the summer, as well as the NorAm and FIS races last month in Canada, the US team said.

Astle grew up racing with the Snowbird Ski Team in Holladay, Utah, according to the US team. He finished 13th in the giant slalom event at the US Alpine Championships in Squaw Valley in March and was invited to train with the US development team this season, the organization said.

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“He posted strong results in South American Cup races in Chile this summer, and was coming off a pair of top-10 slalom and giant slalom NorAm Cup finishes in Canada last month, where he was on the junior podium in all but two events,” the US Ski Team said.

The team said funeral information for both skiers was pending on Monday, as many people posted tributes on the organization’s Facebook page.

“Thinking of family and friends,” one person wrote. “What beautiful men.”


Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.