USSA honors fallen skiers
In memory of U.S. Ski Team athletes Bryce Astle and Ronald "Ronnie" Berlack, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA), together with the Berlack and Astle families, will establish the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Safety and Security (BRASS) Foundation. The foundation is being formed to increase awareness, promote training and education and advance investments regarding athlete safety and security. The USSA will provide initial funding to the foundation.
The announcement was made by the USSA leading into its annual USSA Congress in Park City.
On Jan. 5, 2015, Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle were killed in an avalanche in Soelden, Austria. On Nov. 21, 2015, during the 2016 U.S. Ski Team naming ceremony in Colorado, Berlack and Astle were honored and named posthumously to the 2016 U.S. Ski Team.
At the time of his death, Astle had been invited to the U.S. Ski Team’s Development Team after becoming the 2014 U.S. national giant slalom junior champion and quickly demonstrated his future place as a full U.S. Ski Team member by being the top North American junior technical (slalom, giant slalom) skier on the NorAm Circuit with six podiums out of eight races. Astle achieved every goal he had ever set for himself. The only goals that had not been reached yet were because he ran out of time.
Berlack had been named to the U.S. Ski Team Development Team in 2013 after achieving development team selection criteria. Prior to a serious knee injury sustained in Hochgurgl, Austria, in January of 2014, Berlack had established himself as one of the most promising junior downhill and super G skiers in the world, achieving a top-10 age group ranking in both events. He was renamed to the development team for the 2014-15 season. He was in Europe to start the Europa Cup series when he died.
On Jan. 5, 2015, Ronnie, Bryce and their teammates stood at the top of an ungroomed slope which was open and not roped off. It was located between Pistes 1 and 30, within the boundaries of Soelden ski resort. The athletes saw fresh ski tracks in the powder. The slope below them had received substantial snow accumulation, plus wind loading, the night before, but had not been controlled for avalanche mitigation. The athletes were unaware that a "level three" regional avalanche warning, which means "considerable risk," was posted that day for the Soelden area.
As they were skiing down the slope, a massive snow slide surprised the athletes and engulfed Ronnie and Bryce. Their four teammates narrowly escaped.
"The loss of these two remarkable U.S. Ski Team athletes was an unfathomable tragedy that has caused the USSA to be introspective. We are looking at all our programs relative to athlete and staff safety," said USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw. "We have learned through our investigation and interviews with the group of athletes and coaches on the Soelden trip that the group was unprepared for the risk encountered on that fateful day. Ronnie and Bryce were talented and experienced world-class skiers who would not have taken unnecessary risks. The fact is the USSA has historically focused on matters that occur ‘inside the fences’ on the race course. That has always been our primary focus, and will continue to be. However, we understand that athletes also face dangers outside the competition venue and that the USSA, through the new foundation, is uniquely positioned to drive a national program about preparing athletes for dangers they encounter on the mountain outside the fences as well."
"The safety and security of our athletes is a top priority," continued Shaw. "As we collectively mourn the loss of Bryce and Ronnie, we recognize the importance of safety training and planning at all levels of athlete development. This is why we are launching a nationwide effort in their memory to promote comprehensive, meaningful and continuous safety and security planning for athletes, coaches and staff."
The responsibility of the foundation will be to drive awareness, create educational resources and offer training programs, and direct grants related to athlete safety and security nationwide. While snow safety and mountain awareness will be vital components of the foundation’s mission, it will extend further to include travel security and other issues posing safety and security risks. The foundation will have seed funding from the USSA, and it will advance fundraising initiatives to raise additional funds for the support of its mission over time.
"The leadership and vision of the Astles and Berlacks, in partnership with the USSA, have made this foundation a reality, and it will be a lasting legacy for Ronnie and Bryce that will benefit countless athletes in years to come," said Shaw. "It will provide resources to develop safety awareness programs nationwide. USSA is committed to raising awareness within our own programs, as well as helping clubs, coaches, and athletes better understand the risks inherent in skiing. Through this effort, the USSA and the foundation will seek to reduce the possibility of tragedies occurring like the one which took Ronnie and Bryce from us."
The foundation will be overseen by a volunteer board composed of subject matter experts and representatives of the families and will be headquartered at the USSA’s Center of Excellence in Park City. The founding board members include representatives from family members of fallen athletes, athletes themselves, coaches, sport leaders and security and avalanche experts. The foundation will be chaired by George "Jory" Macomber.
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