TOKYO (AP) — World champion halfpipe skier Kyle Smaine, who lived near Lake Tahoe, died in an avalanche in the mountains of central Japan over the weekend, according to the Associated Press.
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Photographer Grant Gunderson, who was on the trip, detailed the avalanche on social media and said Smaine “was thrown 50 meters by the air blast and buried and killed.”
Two other skiers were with Smaine, one of whom died and another who was buried in nearly 5 feet of snow but emerged unscathed. Gunderson did not give the full names of the other skiers.
Tributes to Smaine poured in on his Instagram page. On its own Instagram posting, the U.S. Freeski team said “Kyle Smaine was a World Champion freeskier, loved exploring the mountains, was a fierce competitor but an even better person and friend.”
His wife, Jenna Dramise, also posted on Instagram, saying “tonight I hope to ride some pow or bikes with you in my dreams.”
Smaine, who lived near Lake Tahoe, California, recently posted that he was taking the trip to ski in the backcountry of the Nagano prefecture to enjoy the “unbelievable snow quality.”
There had been heavy snowfall in the area at the time of Smaine’s trip, and authorities had issued avalanche warnings.
According to his profile on Xtreme Spots, Smaine grew up in South Lake Tahoe and his home mountain is Sierra at Tahoe. He also states in his profile that he spent a lot of time at Woodward Tahoe.
Smaine won the world championship in ski halfpipe in 2015, the year after that discipline was added to the Olympics. His last major contest was a World Cup in Mammoth Mountain, California, that he won in January 2018.