U.S. world champion freestyle skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche in Japan
U.S. professional freestyle skier Kyle Smaine was one of two men killed in an avalanche on Sunday while skiing in Japan. He was 31 years old.
Police confirmed to Reuters that the two men who died were among five caught in the avalanche while backcountry skiing on Mount Hakuba Norikura in the Nagano prefecture, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. Rescue workers found their bodies during a search on Monday, the Japan Times reports. Per the report, the other three people in the party survived. Authorities had issued an avalanche warning for the area after heavy snowfall.
The U.S. ski team confirmed Smaine's death in a statement on Instagram. The identity of the second man killed was not reported or released.
"Today we lost an incredible person, friend, skier and teammate to the mountains," the statement reads. "Kyle Smaine was a World Champion freeskier, loved exploring the mountains, was a fierce competitor but an even better person and friend. We, along with so many others, send our love and comfort to his family, friends and community."
Smaine's father, William Smaine, also confirmed his death to NBC News. Smaine's wife, Jenna Dramise, posted a tribute to her late husband on Instagram Monday.
Smaine posted video of a ski run in the hours before his death alongside a message about his trip.
"This is what brings me back to Japan each winter," Smaine wrote. "Unbelievable snow quality, non-stop storms, and really fun terrain that seems to get better then [sic] more exploring you do."
Tributes poured into the comments section on Smaine's post as well as those announcing his death.
Smaine was a resident of Lake Tahoe, California. He won a gold medal on the halfpipe at the 2015 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in Austria.