Two prospects from the US Ski Team were killed in an avalanche today while skiing near their European training base in the Austrian Alps. The US ski team said Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, died in the incident near the Rettenbach glacier near Soelden, the venue for the annual season-opening World Cup races. Berlack, from Franconia, NH, and Astle, from Sandy, Utah, were part of a group of six skiers descending from the 3,056-meter Gaislachkogel when they left the prepared slope and apparently set off the avalanche. The other four escaped unhurt. Officials in the Tyrolean region said an avalanche alert had been declared for the area after days of heavy snowfall and mild temperatures. "Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport—both on the race course and skiing the mountain," US Ski and Snowboard Association President Tiger Shaw said. "Both of them loved what they did."
Berlack grew up racing in New Hampshire and had been a student-athlete at Vermont's Burke Mountain Academy. He was named to the so-called development team for potential World Cup racers following two top-20 finishes at the 2013 US national championships and a spring tryout camp. Astle was invited to train with the development team this season after strong early season results, including two top-10 results at NorAm Cup races last month in Canada. 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)," Alpine director Patrick 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." (Read more avalanche stories.)