U.S. Ski Team Prospects Bryce Astle & Ronnie Berlack Die in Avalanche on Austrian Alps

4:37 PM EST 1/5/2015 by Tam Woods, Celebeat Reporter

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Two U.S. Ski Team racers, Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle, died Monday (Jan 5) when an avalanche struck the Austrian Alps slopes where they were training.

Berlack, 20, of Franconia, N.H., and Astle, 19, of Sandy, Utah, died in the incident near the Rettenbach glacier near Soelden, the venue for the annual season-opening World Cup races. Four other skiers were involved in the practice as well but managed to ski out of the massive slide without injuries.

"Ronnie and Bryce were both outstanding ski racers who were passionate about their sport -- both on the race course and skiing the mountain," U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Tiger Shaw said. "Our hearts go out to the Berlack and Astle families, as well as to their extended sport family. Both of them loved what they did and conveyed that to those around them."

The U.S. ski team "in shock," Alpine director Patrick Riml told The Associated Press. "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."

You can send your thoughts to Bryce and Ronnie's families and friends on the U.S. Ski Team Facebook page right now.

Berlack and Astle were part of a group of 10 skiers on the development team which gained experience in the Europa Cup in hopes to compete 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."

The skiers were descending down the 3,056-meter Gaislachkogel when they left the prepared slope and apparently set off the avalanche. Officials in the Tyrolean region said an avalanche alert had been declared for the area after days of heavy snowfall and mild temperatures.

Berlack had two top-20 finishes at the 2013 U.S. national championships and earned a spring tryout camp. He landed a spot on the U.S. Development Team for 2014 after impressing coaches at a spring tryout camp. "He absolutely loved skiing," his mother Cindy Berlack said. "It brought him alive. He worked so hard to get where he was. "He started skiing when he was 2, and I just loved those days skiing with a tiny boy," she added.

Astle was one of the top-ranked slalom skiers in the U.S. and was invited to train with the development team this season afterd two top-10 results at NorAm Cup races last month in Canada. 

"Maturing rapidly both mentally and physically, I am at a stage where I have the potential to make tremendous changes and achieve the lofty goals I've set," Astle wrote recently on a ski blog. "Exposure to the next level will force me to adjust and build character as a skier and individual.  These travels and experiences are key stepping stones to achieving greatness. I have an engraved passion in skiing that will last the rest of my life," he wrote.

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