PARK CITY, Utah – The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced the formation of the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Safety and Security (BRASS) Foundation on Monday, honoring the lives of U.S. Ski Team athletes Bryce Astle and Ronald “Ronnie” Berlack, who were tragically killed in an avalanche in Soelden, Austria, on Jan. 5, 2015.
The foundation has been formed to increase awareness, promote training and education, and advance investments regarding athlete safety and security across all snowsports.
“The safety and security of our athletes is a top priority,” said USSA President and CEO Tiger Shaw. “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. This is why we are launching a nationwide effort in their memory to promote comprehensive, meaningful and continuous safety and security planning for athletes, coaches and staff.”
The foundation’s chairman, Jory Macomber, said that BRASS will work with athletes from the national team down to the junior level.
“Our mission is to raise awareness, improve education, and drive safety both at the national team and down at the clubs in all of the snowsports,” Macomber said. “What we’re really looking at is athlete and safety and security everywhere outside of race day.”
The responsibility of the foundation will be to drive awareness, create educational resources, and offer training programs related to athlete safety and security nationwide. While snow safety and mountain awareness will be vital components of the foundation’s mission, it will extend further to include travel security and other issues posing safety and security risks. The foundation will have seed funding from the USSA, and it will advance fundraising initiatives to raise additional capital for the support of its mission over time.
Macomber says that the foundation is currently looking for funding opportunities from private donors as well as exploring other organizations that would be interested in supporting the BRASS Foundation.
“I think it’s really important for our families to put together an effort to bring attention to avalanche danger and what can be done to keep other kids safe in ways that Ronnie and Bryce weren’t,” said Cindy Berlack, Ronnie’s mother. “We want to keep young people, or anybody, really, from falling into the trap of not knowing how to handle themselves in avalanche terrain.”
The Astle family, who hails from Utah’s legendary Little Cottonwood Canyon, is well aware of the dangers that avalanches pose, and hopes to spread that awareness to anyone who might someday venture into avalanche country anywhere in the world.
“One thing that we want to do is put in one place where you can go to USSA’s website – let’s say you’re going to go to Switzerland, you pick what country you’re going to, then you pick what area, and you can find the avalanche report for that given area that you’re going to,” explained Jamie Astle, Bryce’s father.
“We’re just hoping to make a difference with all the clubs in the United States, or as many as we can reach out to,” added Laura Astle. “A lot of clubs don’t ski in areas where there are avalanches and don’t think they need it, but they may end up in one of these places.”
Knowing the risks regardless of location and perhaps more importantly, regardless of skill level, is essential to staying safe while enjoying the mountains. Macomber explained how, on a visit to the site of the accident, it was crystal clear how these tragedies can happen to anybody.
“Tiger and I went and skied in Soelden about two weeks after the accident,” recounted Macomber. “We went down the cat road and looked at where they went down. I went to myself and said, ‘Wow, I would have gone down that.'”
Understanding that avalanche control is handled much differently in Europe compared to North America is also an important factor. Unlike in the United States where all in-bound terrain is controlled for avalanches, in much of Europe, the only parts of the mountains that are controlled are groomed runs. A skier is not guaranteed that anything else, even within resort bounds, is given any control by mountain management.
In addition to avalanche and snow safety, the foundation will also focused on all aspects of athlete security, including air travel and athlete transportation and housing once on location. To make sure these goals are sufficiently covered, founding board members include former FBI agent Raymond Mey and international safety and security consultant for Global Rescue, Dan Richards.
“I think it’s an important part of our healing to put our energy towards this,” said Cindy Berlack. “It’s really hard to move from grief and just looking backwards on what could have been done to looking forward and really trying to gather our focus to do something good.”
The Astles are also looking forward to the good that can come out of this.
“I think Tiger is a really good guy. He’s got integrity, so I believe that they will probably follow through with a lot of this and make sure that it gets put in place,” concluded Jamie Astle. “It’s not going to eliminate accidents, but it should certainly help a lot.”
Founding Board Members
George “Jory” Macomber, incoming Burke Mountain Academy head of school
Laura and Jamie Astle, parents of Bryce Astle
Cindy and Steve Berlack, parents of Ronnie Berlack
Rudi Mair, Austria – Tyrolean avalanche expert
Dan Richards, Boston – International safety and security consultant, Global Rescue
Raymond Mey, Park City – Security expert; retired FBI agent
Bruce Tremper, Salt Lake City – Avalanche education expert; longtime director of Utah Avalanche Forecast Center
Carmen Tebbe Priebe – Sport psychologist
Cover image from USSA