Five years ago, two promising young U.S. Ski Team athletes were killed in an avalanche, not fully realizing the dangers they faced skiing off piste in Austria. Since then, the mission of the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation (BRASS) has been to promote greater awareness of avalanche safety through education and advocacy initiatives.
On the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, U.S. Ski & Snowboard and BRASS have released a groundbreaking online Avalanche Safety Online eLearning module designed to expand education to U.S. Ski & Snowboard athletes, coaches and local clubs nationwide. The first-of-its-kind educational tool was created by the Utah Avalanche Center in partnership with U.S. Ski & Snowboard and BRASS.
Bryce Astle, 19, and Ronnie Berlack, 20, died January 5, 2015 in Sölden, Austria when they were caught in a massive slide in an off piste area, within the boundary of the resort but not regularly controlled for avalanche danger. BRASS was formed after the accident and has been instrumental in raising awareness globally, with a primary focus in reaching competitive athletes and coaches.
“BRASS sees a real need to reach the tens of thousands of athletes and coaches in America who are simply not aware of the dangers they face when skiing off a race course,” said BRASS Chairman Jamie Astle. “This online tool will greatly expand our reach, providing basic awareness education and encouraging athletes and coaches to also get on-snow for more expansive education.”
The online module integrates video and presentation content into both a short and longer, 90-minute program that includes online testing to validate the impact of the education. It covers a wide range of avalanche safety awareness, utilizing the basics of the popular Know Before You Go program developed by Utah Avalanche Center and now being presented in workshops nationwide. It also expands into the basics of avalanche safety science. The content includes personal messages from Olympic champions Mikaela Shiffrin and Ted Ligety.
“It’s pretty obvious that avalanches are really dangerous,” said Shiffrin in the opening video of the module. “Eventually, you’ll be lured into the backcountry. We can learn to reduce our risks by learning about avalanches.”
The online module is available on BRASSFoundation.org and usskiandsnowboard.org. The primary targets for the initial module are ski and snowboard coaches and local clubs. It is also available to all U.S. Ski & Snowboard members through their My.USSA.org dashboard under Courses.
“Club coaches, volunteers, administrators and officials are vital as they are the ones who have day-to-day contact with athletes,” added Astle. “They need the knowledge to expand their leadership and management of athlete safety.”
U.S. Ski & Snowboard helped pioneer and fund the program and will make completion of the short course mandatory for all members beginning in May. The courses will be integrated into U.S. Ski & Snowboard sport education’s curriculum.
“Athlete safety is paramount to our organization,” said U.S. Ski & Snowboard President and CEO Tiger Shaw. “This online learning module will help all learn more about the importance of avalanche safety and awareness.”
The content was developed by Paul Diegel and Trent Meissenheimer of the Utah Avalanche Center, along with U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s sport education team led by Gar Trayner and education specialist Chris Packert.
"Utah Avalanche Center was able to bring utilize its expertise to help BRASS and U.S. Ski & Snowboard to develop an avalanche eLearning program that will be used to provide avalanche awareness to coaches and athletes," said Utah Avalanche Center Executive Director Chad Brackelsberg. "This program will also help the Utah Avalanche Center achieve its goal of reaching as many people as possible with an avalanche awareness message in an effort to prevent avalanche accidents.”
The online Avalanche Awareness module initiative with U.S. Ski & Snowboard is another step in a series of programs pioneered by BRASS. The BRASS 13-minute Off-Piste video, featuring a re-creation of the accident, has now been seen by over a million worldwide. It remains a valuable tool for clubs to educate athletes and coaches. A turnkey BRASS 101 club presentation workshop has reached over a thousand individuals this season alone. And a partnership between BRASS and U.S. Ski & Snowboard has brought AIARE Level 1 (American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education) training to over a hundred national team coaches and athletes in the past three years.
BRASS will also take its message to national ski resorts, participating in the upcoming National Ski Areas Association winter workshops at Squaw Valley, Calif. and Killington, Vt.