World halfpipe champion Kyle Smaine has died in an avalanche accident in Japan. The American Freestyle Ski Association informed about the tragic accident via social media. The 31-year-old and a companion were found in central Japan’s Nagano Prefecture by a search and rescue team with no signs of life. They were out on a ski tour at the weekend when an avalanche went off on a 2,100 meter high mountain slope.

There was heavy snowfall in the area at the time of the accident. The local authorities had therefore issued avalanche warnings. A total of four men were hit by the snow masses. According to police, two of them managed to get to safety.

Smaine lived in California. Before his trip to Asia, he posted that he was going to ski in Nagano to enjoy the “incredible snow quality.” The journey ended for him in misfortune, which led to his death.

Grant Gunderson took part in the ski tour and survived. “Yesterday was my absolute worst nightmare scenario. Kyle was thrown 50 meters through the air by the blast and was buried and killed. The doctors did everything they could. I’ll have to deal with that for the rest of my life,” wrote Granderson, who accompanied the ten-day ski tour as a photographer.

Smaine’s wife wrote on Instagram: “You loved skiing more than anyone I have ever met. I hitchhiked you in New Zealand in 2010 and who would have thought that 13 years later we would be married. Best damn years of my life.” And further: “I know you had the best races of your life out there in Japan and I could never blame you for doing what you loved.”

Smaine won World Championship gold in the halfpipe in 2015 at Kreischberg in Austria.