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N.H. skier among two dead in Austria avalanche

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

FRANCONIA, N.H. (AP) — A rising U.S. Ski Team prospect who grew up in Franconia, New Hampshire, and trained in Vermont was among two skiers killed Monday in an avalanche in Austria, the team said.

Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, of Utah, were killed as they trained near Soelden for the opening of the World Cup. They were descending a glacier with six skiers when, ski team officials said, they left the prepared slope and apparently set off the avalanche. The other four escaped unhurt. Officials in the Tyrolean region say an avalanche alert had been declared for the area after days of heavy snowfall and mild temperatures.

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Berlack was a member of the Franconia Ski Club who recently trained at Vermont’s Burke Mountain Academy. He had earned a spot on the U.S. Ski Team’s Development Team in 2013 and finished 11th in downhill and 17th in super-G at the U.S. Alpine Championships that year in Squaw Valley.

Berlack grew up in Franconia, the small town in the White Mountains that also produced U.S., world and Olympic champion Bode Miller. Rich Smith, program director at the Franconia Ski Club, said he had known Berlack since he was 7 and traveling the eastern region with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

‘‘There’s not enough words to say what a great guy Ronnie Berlack was and always will be,’’ Smith said, his voice faltering.

In a statement, Burke Mountain Academy, said it was devastated by Berlack’s death. His father, Steve Berlack, is a coach at the academy. His mother, Cindy, is also a ski coach.

‘‘Only last week Ronnie was here at BMA training with us,’’ the school said. ‘‘Ronnie was someone we all loved and deeply respected. He had a huge spirit. 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.’’

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The tragedy has left the US Ski Team ‘‘in shock,’’ Alpine director Patrick Riml told The Associated Press in Croatia, Zagreb, where the American slalom team was preparing for a World Cup race on Tuesday.

Head coach Sascha Rearick left Zagreb shortly after being informed and traveled back to Austria to be with the so-called development team Berlack and Astle were part of.

Riml said the athletes were free to decide whether they still wanted to compete in Tuesday’s night race, adding the team planned to wear mourning bands.

‘‘We are all very close,’’ said Riml, an Austrian who was born and grew up in Soelden. ‘‘We train a lot in Park City. We'll see how they handle the whole thing and how they react.’’

Riml added ‘‘it’s a shock for everybody. Two great boys, great athletes, good skiers. They were fun to have around. We are all in shock, still. It’s very tragic.’’

Berlack and Astle were part of a group of 10 skiers on the development team who gained experience in the Europa Cup and were preparing to race on the top-level World Cup.

‘‘They all have the potential (to be on the World Cup),’’ Riml said. ‘‘These two boys were among the other eight boys who are our future. We believed in these guys, that’s why we selected them.’’

In a statement posted to its website, the president and CEO of the US Ski and Snowboard Association praised the two skiers.

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“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 in the statement.