US Ski Team Mourns Teammates Who Died in Avalanche

PHOTO: From left, Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle in handout photos provided by the U.S. Ski Team.PlaySarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team | U.S. Ski Team
WATCH 2 US Skiers Killed in Austrian Alps Avalanche

Members of the U.S. Ski Team plan to wear black armbands during today’s World Cup slalom race in Croatia in tribute to two prospects who were killed in an avalanche one day earlier, team spokeswoman Megan Harrod told ABC News.

Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, died while skiing near their European training base in the Austrian Alps.

The skiers had high hopes of joining the U.S. team.

Sasha Rearick, the Men’s Alpine Head Coach with the U.S. Ski Team, heard about the avalanche, but didn’t realize at the time that the two development team members had died.

“I was in tremendous shock.... Just the avalanche, you know, your worst nightmare comes true. And then you hear that the passing of two of your boys. You first, how are you going to have the strength to get through this? Fortunately, together as a team, as a family, we’ve found strength in each other, and we’re working through it,” Rearick told ABC News.

A grief specialist is helping the team members with the mourning process, Rearick said.

“The whole U.S. ski team is a tight family, a very, very tight family. And so it’s not just this group, but we have to take care of everybody,” Rearick said.

PHOTO: Ronnie Berlack skis past a slalom flag at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper MountainEric Schramm/USSA
Ronnie Berlack skis past a slalom flag at the U.S. Ski Team Speed Center at Copper Mountain

Julia Wessels, a representative with the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF in Switzerland, said about 100 people die each year in avalanches in the Alps. There have been two deadly avalanches in Austria in recent days.

Berlack of Franconia, New Hampshire, was described as "perhaps the next generation of great athletes to come out of the Granite State (think Bode Miller and Leanne Smith)," according to the U.S. Ski Team's website.

He was a student of The Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont, a boarding school offering a college preparatory curriculum and skiing.

Burke Mountain Academy headmaster said Berlack had been a “vital part” of the school since he was a young boy through his father’s involvement in the academy. Berlack had attended the school through his post-graduate year and trained there last week.

“Ronnie was someone we all loved and deeply respected,” headmaster Kirk Dwyer wrote on the school’s website. “He had a huge spirit. There is no one who better represents our core values than Ronnie. Our hearts go out to his parents Steve and Cindy, and his sister Carolyn.”

PHOTO: At Center, Bryce Astle, at the 2014 Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley Resort in Olympic Valley, Calif.Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team
At Center, Bryce Astle, at the 2014 Nature Valley U.S. Alpine Championships at Squaw Valley Resort in Olympic Valley, Calif.

Astle of Sandy, Utah, was an invitee to the U.S. Development Ski Team and needed to raise $22,000 online to fund his travel and training expenses.

"This basically means that I will be treated as if I were a member of the team for the coming season," he wrote on the USSA Crowdfunding website, where he had raised $5,455 of his $15,000 goal.

"I'm honored to be an invitee and hope to seize the opportunity," Astle had written on his fundraising page, which has just 12 days left before its deadline.