The group of young skiers on that tragic day saw only this: A slope that wasn’t roped off and blanketed in fresh snow.
What they didn’t know was the region had a level-three warning for avalanches that morning, meaning there was “considerable risk.” U.S. Ski Team prospects Bryce Astle and Ronnie Berlack were killed in a slide on Jan. 5, 2015, in Soelden, Austria, while some of their teammates escaped.
As a tribute and a way to better educate skiers, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) formed the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Safety and Security (BRASS) Foundation. The mission will be to develop a how-to guide to not only keep skiers out of harm’s way on the slopes, but to tackle other issues such as what to do in case of a terrorist attack at an airport and travel from city to city given that the racers are on the road so much.
The board members include the parents of Berlack and Astle, along with a sports psychologist, a retired FBI agent, avalanche specialists and security experts.
“This whole thing was driven out of a tragedy and the thought of, ‘How can we make sure it doesn’t happen again?'” said George “Jory” Macomber, a longtime educator who will chair the committee.
On that day in 2015, Berlack, Astle and the rest of the group spotted an inviting slope after a big snowfall. They didn’t realize it hadn’t been controlled for avalanche mitigation. They were caught in the massive snow slide.
“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,” USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw said in a statement. “Ronnie and Bryce were talented and experienced world-class skiers who would not have taken unnecessary risks.”
The USSA will provide the initial seed money to launch the foundation, which will rely on fundraising to support its objective over time. Macomber said the committee has general goals for now, but will narrow the focus once members begin meeting.
“It’s really about everything outside the netting and the course: Training situations, free skiing, travel, lodging, driving,” Macomber said. “This is the next logical step to improving our safety for athletes and coaches.”
At the forefront will be avalanche safety. But the committee also wants to address such topics as what to do in case of an attack like the one at the Brussels Airport and subway in March.
“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,” Shaw said. “This is why we are launching a nationwide effort in their memory to promote comprehensive, meaningful and continuous safety and security planning.
“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.”
This is how much Astle and Berlack mean to this team: They were named to the U.S. squad last November as family and friends gathered in Copper Mountain, Colo., to remember the talented skiers.
The parents of Astle and Berlack will be a driving force on the committee.
“It is our hope that through time, (Ronnie) continues to inspire athletes to reach for their limitless potential, and to be safe doing it,” Cindy and Steve Berlack said in a statement.
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