On Monday, news hit the wire that Bryce Astle, 19, and Ronnie Berlack, 20, both skiers on the U.S. Development Ski Team, died in an avalanche in Austria. Beyond stating that Astle, from Sandy, Utah, and Berlack, from Franconia, New Hampshire, were skiing off-piste when the avalanche struck, the reports were vague. Six skiers total were reportedly involved in the incident, but four were able to ski out of the slide unharmed. The reports showed no indication that either Astle or Berlack were wearing avalanche safety gear, including a beacon, probe, or shovel.
Today, Nick Paumgarten, a staff writer for The New Yorker and a POWDER correspondent, published on the The New Yorker’s website a more in-depth and thoughtful article about what happened in Tyrol, Austria, on Monday. Paumgarten reports that avalanche conditions were unstable with warm temperatures and a recent “big dump of fresh snow.” The skiers had the day off from training. Astle and Berlack were buried under three meters of snow. What remains unclear is whether the skiers received guidance to not ski off-piste, or if they knew how dangerous the conditions were. Speaking to the absence of facts surrounding the incident, Paumgarten offers this explanation:
“I’ve found that the locals in the Alps tend not to want to talk about mountain accidents, out of apparent concern for spooking tourists and provoking the mountain spirits. Americans regard each new incident of death in the mountains as a case study, an inquiry into the nature of risk and human error. Perhaps oversimplifying, I’d say Americans yearn to avoid repeating these mistakes while Europeans know deep down that these mistakes are bound to be repeated. It’s hard to fault either point of view.”