United States freestyle skier Kyle Smaine died at the age of 31 after being caught in an avalanche while skiing in Japan on Sunday (January 29), his family confirmed to NBC News.
Smaine, of Lake Tahoe, California, posted that he was in Japan for the "unbelievable snow quality," according to the caption of a post shared on his Instagram account prior to his death.
"This is what brings me back to Japan each winter," Smaine wrote on Saturday (January 28) in a video shot from his perspective while skiing. "Unbelievable snow quality, non-stop storms, and really fun terrain that seems to get better then more exploring you do."
Smaine, who won a gold medal in the halfpipe at the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in 2015, was skiing in Nagano Prefecture, which is located at the center of the Japanese island, Honshu, when an avalanche occurred, his father, William Smaine, told NBC News. At least five men, reported to be nationals from the United States and Austria, were caught on the eastern slope of Mount Hakuba Norikura when the avalanche struck, a Nagano police spokesperson told Reuters.
Police said the five men were skiing in two separate groups at the time of avalanche, with three successfully climbing down the mountain on their own accord. Smaine and another skier who has not yet been identified, were stranded and later located by authorities with no vital signs.
An avalanche warning was issued by weather authorities following several days of heavy snowfall in the area.