In Loving Memory
My son Bryce William Astle died at the age of 19 in an avalanche while training with the U.S. Ski Team in Soelden, Austria. He was on the cusp of his breakout into the dream career of becoming a professional ski racer. As a parent, I wanted to put some of my thoughts down on paper about Bryce and what enabled him to achieve his goals so others may possibly learn from his example.
A “positive attitude” is was what I have heard most coaches, teammates, brand representatives and parents say was the secret to what separated my son from most others. In Bryce’s opinion, every day of skiing is a good day of skiing – period. Put your arms around that and you will be a better skier.
But why was Bryce so good? The culmination of these items gave Bryce a superpower.
- He embraced a positive attitudeand was always able see the good things in bad situations. There are no bad days, he would wake up in the morning look outside and say “it’s a beautiful day”, really didn’t matter if it was sunny or snowing. His motto was “Good Vibes Only” and he lived it, he was always smiling.
- Bryce practiced extreme humility. He wanted everyone else to do as well as he did and he was more than willing to help others get better in the process. When he was done racing, he planned on becoming a coach.
- Bryce didn’t want to be just good, he wanted to be the best and he was willing to put all distractions aside to accomplish that. He was totally committedand focused. I used to tell him, “To be successful you have to be willing to do the things that the unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do.” I think he embraced that. He achieved every goal he ever set for himself except when he ran out of time.
- My son’s determination was evident in his unconditional willingness and commitment to do whatever was needed to reach his goals. His end goal was not to make the U.S. Ski Team but rather to be the best skier in the world.
- This takes quite some time to develop but once you possess mental maturity, everything begins to be too easy. Bryce had gotten to a point mentally that at least in GS he could say to himself, “I can do that every run.”
- Bryce didn’t just love skiing, he was in love with skiing. Freeskiing, racing, anything that could be done on skis was on the menu for the day. He loved all aspects of skiing: powder, hucking cliffs, wind buff, slopestyle, big mountain ripping and, yes, racing too. He loved the people, the mountains, the atmosphere, everything about it. This truly was his life.
- What happened a second ago didn’t matter to Bryce – the only thing that mattered was what was in front of him. He could completely screw up his first run and not even make the flip, then go back out to win the second run. He lived in the moment.
- Bryce was always working on skiing better, skiing fasterby putting together fundamental skill building blocks. There were no excuses about boots or equipment set-up, the light, snow conditions, course set, etc. – He would say “if I want to do better, I need to ski better”.
- My son knew if he had a good run or not, what place he came in did not matter because he was ultimately only racing against himself. Was he happy with his run or not? He would tell me that some of his best runs were DNFs. The last race of his life he said he was too conservative in his first run but he was ripping the second run up until he booted out. That would have been a 10-12 point GS finish. No problem, on to the next race. Unfortunately, that was his last.
- I believe a major core strength in Bryce’s abilities was having the knowledge he could do something. Once he knew he could execute a particular skill, it was game over and on to the next building block. These skills were like arrows in a quiver that he could access in a split second at any given time.
- Bryce could create speed like no other. From big mountain extreme skiing, he learned to work with the mountain instead of fighting against it by developing his touch. He could see and feel the fall line of the mountain and was able to move his body fore and aft in an effortless motion to create speed. Bryce was a silky smooth skier.
- Both mileage and variety are the keys to his development, and Bryce skied roughly 800 days before he ever went through a race course at age 12. At the age of 19, he still went over to Alta to rip the mountain with his brothers and friends after finishing training at Snowbird. They skied from opening to closing, day in, day out, all season long.
- Bryce was dynamically athletic, with quick feet and developing strength. He knew this was critical to his success as a ski racer.
- Until his later teenage years, he did not ski in the summer. Bryce played soccer, basketball, volleyball, lifted weights, surfed, rode mountain bikes and ran. Way too many kids and parents think that they are missing out if they don’t ski in the summer, but it’s a bad assumption. Being a well-rounded athlete is much more important.
Bryce ran out of time to fulfill his higher goals and to make the changes he wanted to in his next ski race, but he possessed all the character traits and building blocks necessary to succeed in any endeavor. Those who can find the strength to do the same will undoubtedly discover the particular joy Bryce found in achieving his goals and then moving on to even more challenging ones.
USSA’s Responsibility for the Deaths of Bryce and Ronnie.
The US Ski Team screwed up and their shortcomings are the reason for this tragic accident. The only thing that could have saved the lives of Bryce and Ronnie was supervision. USSA’s snow safety incompetence and ignorance was unfathomable and remains to this day. US Ski Team coaches are not required to have snow safety training.
- Six boys headed out to go skiing at a ski resort just like they had done thousands of times before.
- USSA has nearly 100 years of experience skiing in Europe, the boys had little or in Bryce’s case none.
- The US Ski Team home European mountain is Soelden. Soelden Management apparently told the US Ski team in the past that many areas at the resort do not receive avalanche control work and they should not allow their team athletes or coaches to ski any uncontrolled areas. This vital information was not given to this group of kids.
- No orientation was given to the kids regarding the dangers of skiing at a resort in Europe in comparison to skiing at a resort in North America.
- No posted signs of warning were in English.
- As of 1/5/15, the US Ski Team did not have any safety policies or procedures outside of a training or race course.
- Out of over 60 US Ski Team coaches, only a few had any snow safety training. None of which were with this group of kids.
- The boys were skiing within the boundaries of the Soelden ski resort but had no idea they were skiing in an uncontrolled area of the resort.
- Off-Piste was not explained to the athletes. (In Europe anything off a groomed run is considered Off-Piste or an uncontrolled environment).
- The area the boys skied had not received any avalanche control work that season.
The USST and the US Olympic Committee screwed up, they had become complacent. We do not believe that Bryce would have wanted us to destroy the USST and the dreams of his friends to become World Cup skiers. What we asked from the USST is to take ownership of what happened and fix the problem. Unfortunately, this apparently has been too much to ask.
What we asked of USSA:
From: Laura and Jamie Astle
RE: Safety Guideline Requests
In response to the recent tragic avalanche deaths of our children and your team members, we are asking that safety guidelines be established by the USSA, and be followed by USSA program directors, coaches, and athletes. These Guidelines will be followed on all training days, competition days, and on “days off” or “partial day off” if skiing is planned. These Guidelines will apply to all US Ski Team (USST) athletes and all those training with them.
- Require all USST coaches and athletes to complete the AIARE Level 1avalanche safety course. http://avtraining.org/aiare-level-1/
- Supply all athletes and coaches with avalanche safety equipment and educational classes on how to use it. The equipment will include an avalanche air bag back pack, an avalanche transceiver, a collapsible probe, and a shovel. There will be a picture of Bryce and Ronnie in each backpack, with a short synopsis of the circumstances which caused their deaths and potential hazards to watch out for.
- All USST outerwear clothing will be equipped with RECCO Rescue System Reflectors.
- Establish an educational process for how to interpret each numerical grade used in the local avalanche bulletin in the Country where the USST athletes and coaches are skiing. Appropriate language translations of avalanche bulletins and safety warnings must be available daily to athletes and coaches regardless of what the skiing, training, or racing “plan” is for the day.
- Set a strict protocol that if avalanche warnings are above a level (2), to be set by avalanche specialists, which all athletes are committed to staying on groomed trails unless they have received AIARE Level 1training or they are accompanied by a local certified guide and are equipped with full avalanche safety gear.
- The athletes must sign a contract that they will adhere to all safety protocol or face the possibility of being dismissed from the USST.
- The program directors and coaches must review safety conditions at every venue each day with each other and with the athletes.They must also be aware of up-coming unsafe conditions, (Ask the mountain ski patrol about current conditions and precautions that should be taken). Any concerns about weather or conditions must be communicated to the coaches and then to the athletes in their daily “Five Minute Morning Safety Meeting”.
- Designate a coach or USSA staff member, present with the athletes, to be responsible for the safety of all elite USSA athletes at all times they are not engaged in a training session or racing.
- Add International avalanche link information to USSA web page. Menu=Country>Area. (BRASS link also to be added).