Rising U.S. Ski Team star Brian McLaughlin (Topsfield, Mass.) remembers the day well when his friend Ronnie Berlack died in an avalanche. Five years ago this January two promising U.S. Ski Team athletes, Berlack and Bryce Astle, were killed during a training camp in Sölden, Austria. Today, the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety (BRASS) Foundation is naming McLaughlin as an ambassador, helping bring greater awareness to other ski racers and clubs of the dangers outside the race course.
McLaughlin, who won the 2018 National Collegiate Athletic Association national giant slalom title skiing for Dartmouth College, will be in the starting gate when the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup tour comes to Beaver Creek, Colo. in early December.
“Ronnie and Bryce didn’t know the risks they were facing that day when they were taking a break from training to make a few turns in the fresh snow,” said McLaughlin. “It’s important that athletes and coaches are well versed on avalanche safety and understand that skiing off piste carries dangers we don’t experience on race courses.”
BRASS was formed to raise awareness across the ski racing community on the dangers of avalanches and the need for education, as well as athlete management by club and team coaches. Since its inception the organization has made an impact globally on the avalanche safety community, and has now begun an educational system in concert with U.S. Ski & Snowboard. BRASS has supported costs of on-snow training for athletes and coaches and is pioneering a new online education system with U.S. Ski & Snowboard that will be released this winter.
McLaughlin grew up ski racing at Green Mountain Valley School in Vermont. He went on to race at Dartmouth College where he was a three-time NCAA All America First Team athlete and three-time National Collegiate All-Academic Ski Team member, earning eight collegiate victories. He springboarded from college to win the 2018 NorAm Cup giant slalom title. Last December he scored his first World Cup points in both Beaver Creek and Alta Badia, Italy.
“Brian is a remarkable young athlete and a role model for the next generation of ski racers,” said Steve Berlack, a BRASS board member and father of Ronnie. “He will help BRASS raise awareness of the need for athletes and coaches to be aware of the dangers and to actively engage in ongoing education to keep them safe.”
This season McLaughlin will display the BRASS logo on his racing helmet and serve as an ambassador for avalanche safety.
“Most of all, I want clubs, coaches and athletes to recognize the BRASS sticker on my helmet and think about how important it is that they engage in avalanche safety education,” said McLaughlin. “This is education that can save lives.”
This fall, BRASS 101 clinics around New England have educated hundreds of young racers. The new online modules from BRASS and U.S. Ski & Snowboard will be designed to impact every coach and athlete. All around the country, local avalanche safety workshops provide skiers and snowboards with the basics they need to better understand the dangers.
For more information on BRASS, check out its website at www.brassfoundation.org.