SOELDEN, Austria >> U.S. Ski Team athletes competing at a World Cup slalom race in Croatia have joined in the mourning of two junior members who were killed in an avalanche in Austria.
The seven starters for the United States, including Olympic giant slalom champion Ted Ligety, will wear black armbands during the race. AJ Ginnis, who grew up skiing with the pair, has duct tape on his helmet as a tribute. The American flag in the finish area will by flying at half-staff.
The International Ski Federation said a 30-second moment of silence will be held before the race starts at 3:05 p.m. (1405 GMT).
Development team members Ronnie Berlack, 20, and Bryce Astle, 19, died Monday in the incident near the Rettenbach glacier in the mountains over Soelden, the U.S. Ski Team’s European training base since 2011.
Berlack, from Franconia, New Hampshire, and Astle, from Sandy, Utah, were part of a group of six skiers who were descending from the 3,056-meter Gaislachkogel when they left the prepared slope and apparently set off the avalanche. The other four skied out of the slide and escaped unhurt.
The incident left the U.S. Ski Team “in shock”, U.S. Alpine director Patrick Riml said, and men’s head coach Sascha Rearick left the World Cup group in Croatia to head back to Austria.
“We’ve always been a tight family, but this is going to make us even tighter and stronger,” Rearick told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Soelden. “Stronger mentally and stronger in many ways.”
Rearick said the skiers and staff at their training base were “standing strong together.”
“The emotions are coming and going in cycles,” the coach said. “But the support we are getting from the whole family of ski racing has been very nice to have. We really appreciate that. The support from different federations, different skiers, they have been coming in from New Zealand to Canada to America to Switzerland, everywhere.”
After the incident, the team gathered for a walk in the woods on Monday afternoon.
“In the evening, when I arrived, I was overwhelmed by the power,” Rearick said. “I didn’t know what to expect but I was inspired by the collective strength. We’re holding strong, we’re putting together details for the planning for how to move forward as a group. We will move forward in a positive direction.”
Rearick described Berlack and Astle as two promising athletes and as great characters, too.
“Ronnie was a cheery individual who was so proud to be part of the team, and always did everything to help the team in any way he could,” he said. “Bryce had a tremendous smile, a joy of life. I will never have a shorter 10-hour drive to California than the time I drove with him.”
Rearick said the team will watch the first run of Tuesday’s race on TV together.
“And then we’ll leave them,” Rearick said. “We put together individual plans for each athlete so that they can move at their pace and in their way, that’s the main goal, to start the process of moving forward.”
Several members of the U.S. women’s team took to Facebook to express their feelings.
“I’m heartbroken at the news of my younger @usskiteam teammates passing away,” Stacey Cook wrote. “Avalanches have stolen too many lives of friends way too early. A small comfort is knowing how much love and passion we all share for this sport, and how big I’m sure they were smiling right up to the end…”
Alice Mckennis acknowledged it was “hard to put it in words how devastated and saddened our little ski world is today.”
“We lost two great young men today,” she said. “Ronnie and Bryce touched many people in their lives and now remind us that every day is precious and that we must live every single one of them to the fullest and chase after our goals and dreams just like Ronnie and Bryce were.”