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US skier Kyle Smaine killed in avalanche in Japan

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(NEW YORK) — Kyle Smaine, a U.S. professional skier who was the halfpipe gold medalist in the 2015 world championships, died Sunday in an avalanche in Japan, according to his wife and a fellow skier who was also caught in the snow.

Smaine, 31, was in Nagano over the weekend for a marketing trip for Ikon Pass and Nagano Tourism when the avalanche took place on Mount Hakuba Norikura, according to a blog post by the skiing news site Mountain Gazette.

Pro skier and Mountain Gazette correspondent Adam Ü was also at the resort along with Mountain Gazette photographer Grant Gunderson, who was the photographer on the marketing trip, according to the site.

Ü told the Mountain Gazette that the three of them were going out to ski during the last day of their trip on Sunday.

“We had no camera gear with us. We were going out for fun,” he told the site.

Gunderson went back to the resort when Ü and Smaine went for a second lap and were joined by a group of Austrian skiers.

Ü and Smaine were at the bottom of the mountain and were transitioning their backcountry gear back into uphill mode, when the avalanche started as some of the Austrian skiers were coming down the mountain, according to Ü.

“We heard the crack. We realized it is a big one. We started running and then we got hit,” Ü told Mountain Gazette.

Ü said he was buried 1.5 meters deep for approximately 25 minutes before rescuers came to his aid. Luckily, he said he was left unscathed.

Ü explained that rescuers did find Smaine, but he was unresponsive.

The cold weather and other factors have hampered search and rescue efforts for the 13 people who were caught in the avalanche, according to Nagano authorities.

Later Sunday night, Smaine’s wife Jenna Dramise posted a tribute to her husband on her Instagram page hours after the avalanche.

“I’m so incredibly thankful that I got to marry you and have you in my life. You loved skiing more than anyone I’ve ever met,” she said.

Dramise said she and Smaine married in November and had been together since 2010.

Smaine competed professionally for years in many competitions, including the X Games, and won a gold medal in halfpipe at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships 2015.

Smaine posted a video to his Instagram page Saturday before the tragic accident showing a first-person video of him skiing in Nagano.

“Unbelievable snow quality, non-stop storms, and really fun terrain that seems to get better the more exploring you do,” he wrote in the Instagram post.

Many pro skiers expressed their remorse for Smaine online following the news of his passing. David Wise dedicated his X Games gold medal win in Men’s Ski SuperPipe Sunday night in Smaine’s memory.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight. It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend, but I’m glad I can take one home for him,” he said.

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