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Countdown to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games

Avalanche Deaths Spawn Educational Film: Off Piste

By U.S. Ski & Snowboard
November, 14 2018

Emotions run high in the opening seconds of Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps, a new film released by the Bryce and Ronnie Snow Safety Foundation (BRASS). Young athletes dig frantically in the snow searching for their two friends buried under meters of heavy, compacted snow. But it’s too late.

Avalanches are a powerful force of mother nature. The very mountains that bring such life to skiers and snowboarders can just as quickly take it away. Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps is a poignant reminder of that and a brilliant educational tool to help introduce skiers and snowboarders to basic steps to stay safe in the backcountry.

In January 2015 an avalanche in Sölden, Austria took the lives of two promising young stars of the U.S. Ski Team. They and their teammates were innocently enjoying the sport they love when tragedy struck. The BRASS Foundation, formed in 2016, was born out of the tragic avalanche deaths of Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle to create a legacy of changes in the culture of avalanche safety. Its mission is to lobby for the evolution of snow safety systems and to advocate for greater penetration of avalanche education.

The film and a detailed accident report were released by BRASS to help build greater awareness in the skiing and snowboarding community for avalanche safety.

The 13-minute film was produced for BRASS by Trent Meisenheimer and Arius Sorbonne from the Utah Avalanche Center. It will be utilized at workshops produced by BRASS and other avalanche education organizations. Ski and snowboard competition clubs around the country and the world will use it as a teaching tool. Among the stars featured in the film are Olympic champions Bode Miller, Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety, as well as downhill star Steven Nyman.

"Right from the time of Ronnie and Bryce's accident it's been the goal of the families to use the tragedy as an opportunity to educate others," said BRASS Chairman Jamie Astle, father of Bryce. "For that reason, we wanted to be very candid and forthcoming with the film to reach viewing audiences with a very simple yet poignant message."

Off Piste, roughly translated as ‘off trail,’ is titled after the common terminology in the sport referring to skiing or riding off traditional groomed ski runs in a resort or in the mountain backcountry.

The film is impactful from the start with a re-creation of the rescue of Ronnie and Bryce as teammates frantically search for their friends. It features dramatic avalanche footage from other backcountry accidents that show vividly the power of sliding snow.

Most of all, though, it conveys a powerful message and simple tips to help skiers and snowboarders stay safe.

Through the eyes of their families, you learn who Ronnie and Bryce were. From their teammates who were with them, you learn what they were thinking when they ventured off the groomed trail. You share the powerful, intense emotions they felt trying to find their friends.

"None of the young men in that group knew the difference between on and off piste," said Ronnie's father Steve Berlack. "Off piste in the United States is defined as out of bounds, going through a gate. In Europe, when you are off a groomer you are off piste."

The avalanche that day caused over 7-million pounds of snow to slide. Video of avalanches and a graphic rendition of the Sölden avalanche paint a vivid picture. Accounts in the film document the small but important elements of the accident that could have changed the story that day.

"It takes all of 20 minutes to be learn and be educated enough to have an impact on that situation," said gold medalist Bode Miller.

"You want to be prepared," says Olympic champion Mikaela Shiffrin. "There are five points that are good to remember: You want to get the gear, get the training, get the forecast, get the picture and get out of harm's way."

Through the eyes of both U.S. Ski Team stars and avalanche experts, each of the five points are explored in the film.

"Being a ski racer is a definitely a dangerous sport. What we're going down is a highly regulated area with fencing and snow prep - you have all these things to keep you safe," said Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety. "You get out there into the backcountry there are none of those luxuries, that's for sure."

"For the people who assume that just because know how to ski terrain or rip down a mountain because they ski downhill, it's a very different beast," said Shiffrin.

BRASS is making the film available at no cost to clubs or individuals to help increase awareness and educate.

"We hope that Off Piste gets people thinking," said Astle. "It's not a replacement for an avalanche safety course. But in 13 minutes it will give any skier or snowboarder some tools they can use for decision making."

The release of Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps is combined with a very candid and revealing report of the details of the accident in Sölden, which is available at www.brassfoundation.org. "The film Off Piste and the accident report are designed to share actual information from the accident so it will positively impact others and prevent similar tragedies," said Astle.

The video is available from BRASS free for any educational showing. It can be found on the BRASS website, YouTube, Vimeo or Facebook. <add links>

Additional information on avalanche safety and education are available from a host of regional and national organizations, including the Utah Avalanche Center which is releasing a series of free online avalanche courses.

Avalanche Information Resources

Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps

NOTE: Off Piste: Tragedy in the Alps is available license-free for educational use only. It may not be excerpted or shown commercially without permission of the BRASS Foundation.

About BRASS Foundation
The Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation was born out of the tragic avalanche deaths of U.S. Ski Team athletes Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle to create a legacy of changes in the culture of avalanche safety. Its mission is to lobby for the evolution of snow safety systems and to advocate for greater penetration of avalanche education. It works closely with avalanche industry organizations in the USA and around the world. The BRASS Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit relying entirely on donations from passionate private and commercial supporters.