Soelden, Austria – Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle grew up almost a continent apart. Ronnie was raised in a ski racing family in Franconia, N.H., as a kid watching hometown hero Bode Miller make his rise to ski stardom. He later moved to Burke Mountain Academy, where his dad was a ski coach.
Born in California, Bryce Astle moved to Utah as a child. A typical weekend routine was making the quick trek from the family home in Sandy up Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird. Ski racing became a big part of the Astle household.
As careers progressed, their paths began to cross more often. Sometimes they would face each other in FIS races or the U.S. Championships. Two years ago Ronnie’s performance earned him a spot on the D Team. Last March, Astle was top junior in the GS and earned an invitation to train with the program.
This past summer, the two teammates trained side-by-side in the USSA Center of Excellence and were roomies. When Ronnie had surgery last summer, Bryce kicked him out of the house to do his rehab walking (like the doctor ordered) and cooked him dinner.
Earlier this week, fate brought them together again during a U.S. Ski Team development training camp in Soelden, Austria. It kicked off what would have been an important tour of FIS and Europa Cup races in central Europe – all hopefully leading up to the Junior World Championships this March in Norway.
It was a big deal trip for Bryce. After a month on the NorAm Cup tour at Copper Mountain and Panorama, B.C., he was headed to his first European tour, leaving Utah on New Year’s Day filled with excitement and nervousness – but ready for the new adventure.
By now, the world knows Ronnie and Bryce’s names, but for all the wrong reasons. Monday they joined four other teammates skiing off Soelden’s Gaislachkogl when the mountain collapsed around them. They didn’t make it out.
As a competitive athlete, your life revolves around results and points lists. Ronnie and Bryce’s points profiles showed their positive progress. But for those privileged enough to know them, it wasn’t the points that caused them to gravitate to these two outgoing young men. It was their character.
All day long the tributes poured in, from TV newcasts to Facebook. You heard words like role model, integrity, fun to be around, true to himself, adventurer and passion for life. These were young men who lit up the finish line with their smiles. They were young men who were motivated to a goal. They didn’t have a plan B – they didn’t need one. They were destined to make it to the World Cup and on to the Olympics.
Ronnie and Bryce were not household names like Bode Miller and Ted Ligety. But like Bode and Ted, they were earning their way to the top. “We believed in these guys,” said the Team’s Alpine Director Patrick Riml. “That’s why we selected them.”
They trained hard. “Excuses don’t build bigger biceps,” Ronnie used to say.
Along the way, they always had time for their friends and family. They made a difference in people’s lives. Their inspiration kept fellow athletes in the sport. It made others work harder and to believe in themselves.
Monday morning Ronnie’s friends from Burke grabbed his “friends list” to make personal calls before the news went viral. It was a pretty long list.
It’s sad to think that it takes such a tragic event to truly highlight the best in someone. But with tragedy must come learning. This week the world learned a lot about two talented men. We learned about the values that drove them to success and how that spoke volumes to others.
But of all the tributes, one stood out amongst all the others. Ronnie and Bryce were genuine.
Ski in peace, guys.