A former world champion halfpipe skier and gold medal winner, Tahoe-based freestyle pro skier Kyle Smaine, died Sunday morning in an avalanche in Nagano, Japan.
South Lake Tahoe pro skier Kyle Smaine won a world championship in 2015, per TMZ, winning a gold medal in the halfpipe competition at that year’s FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships. His fame was enough that the city of Nagano, Japan had hired him to come promote skiing in the area. But it was on that trip that Smaine was killed in an avalanche while skiing Sunday morning, according to CNN. He was 31.
Smaine’s wife Jenna Dramise remembers him in the Instagram post above. “You loved skiing more [than] anyone I’ve ever met,” she writes. “I picked you up hitchhiking in New Zealand 2010 and who would have thought we would be married 13 years later. The best damn years of my life. I know you had the best runs in your life out there in Japan and could never blame you for doing what you loved.”
Smaine’s final Instagram post is seen above, posted from the same trip to Japan, just hours before his passing.
Per CNN, Smaine is one of two who were found dead after Sunday's avalanche. “At least five men, all foreign nationals from the US and Austria, had been caught in the avalanche on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura,” that network reports.
The Tahoe Daily Tribune refers us to this story from the Mountain Gazette, who had journalists also on that trip. “On the summit, [Washington-based pro skier Adam] Ü and Smaine ran into a group of Austrian skiers. Smaine and Ü skied the same run as their previous lap. The Austrian group decided to ski a slightly different aspect with different exposure, according to Ü,” that publication reports. “Smaine and Ü, at the bottom, were transitioning their backcountry gear back into uphill mode. The first of the Austrian group joined them. The second Austrian skier triggered the slide.”
"We saw it coming," Ü told Mountain Gazette. "We heard the crack. We realized it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit."
According to Fox News “Three of the five survived — two uninjured and a third with a shoulder injury. They walked down with the other party, leaving behind the two who were already without vital signs when dug out.”
Related: Helmet Cam Video Captures Near-Death Tahoe Ski Stunt Gone Wrong, as Skier Nearly Suffocates Immersed in Snow [SFist]
Image: kylesmaine via Instagram