Cindy Berlack advocates for change at global conference in Innsbruck

INNSBRUCK, Austria (Oct. 12, 2018) - Avalanche forecasters, educators and scientists from around the world had a poignant reminder of the importance of snow safety in an address by Cindy Berlack, whose son and rising U.S. Ski Team star Ronnie Berlack was killed in an avalanche in 2015. Berlack closed out the weeklong International Snow Safety Workshop (ISSW) in Innsbruck, Austria with a four-point plea for reform, representing the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation (BRASS).

ISSW is the largest conference of its kind, capturing virtually the entire snow safety industry. Berlack’s presentation was designed to raise awareness for action steps to be taken by ski resorts and the avalanche safety community to protect others based on learnings from the accident.

A detailed report on the January 5, 2015 accident that claimed the lives of Berlack and teammate Bryce Astle in Sölden, Austria will be released by BRASS this month. In addition, at the opening FIS Alpine Ski World Cup races in Sölden this month, officials from the community will put in place specific changes based on the findings from the accident report.

BRASS is a non-profit foundation formed by the families to lobby for improvements to avalanche safety and to advocate for greater penetration of avalanche education. Berlack spoke on Friday, October 12, the closing day of the Oct. 7-12 conference that attracted over 1,000 avalanche experts to Innsbruck.

Cindy Berlack Presentation

First of all, this has been a very informative week - although tough emotionally, being the MOM of an avalanche victim. I so appreciate your interest in this accident, and the compassion those I talked to have shown to me.

His charm, his huge strength, his U.S. Ski Team credentials could not protect our son, Ronnie (Berlack) from the avalanche. He, the amazing Bryce Astle from Alta, Utah, and their coaches were completely unaware of the dangers in Sölden, Austria, about 30 miles from here on January 5, 2015.

Out of this accident has come the Bryce and Ronnie Athlete Snow Safety Foundation. It is forged out of grief and shaped by hope. Our resolve is as strong as the hardest of metals. We want the international safety system for avalanches to be improved. We believe the memory of Ronnie and Bryce can bring more safety others who are drawn to snow.

I am not a snow scientist. I am an emotionally-driven MOM. Your MOM could be standing here, if it had been you.

I keep on asking WHY in the dark on my sleepless nights. What safety measures were missing?

  1. Make the avalanche control policy at each resort clear to visitors. Resorts need to visibly post their practices of where the snow has been controlled for avalanches and deemed safe, and where it is not. It has to be written at least in the local language and in English - on the slope, on trail maps, tickets, on the website, plastered everywhere.

  2. Post a clear, internationally-consistent sign conveying urgent danger when the snow pack is unstable off the groomed trails. A flashing light, flag, symbol, explained on all the resort maps, the website, on tickets-- which lets even first time visitors know they should NOT to go off the groomed piste that day.

    It was a Level 3 that day, and our boys did not see the ‘Freeride Checkpoint’ sign at Sölden because it was placed out of view to descending skiers. Even if they had seen it, a multi-lighted sign is difficult to understand. What is the aspect they are going to and at what altitude were they? Our young men certainly didn’t. The four athletes with Ronnie and Bryce narrowly escaped.

  3. Adjust International Warning Scale. It was a Level 3 ‘considerable’ warning on that day. Being in the middle of the scale, it appeared to our boys’ coach that the danger was moderate. They allowed the athletes to go free riding, unaware the level was actually deadly. Adjust the Danger Levels 3-5 so visitors will take a Level 3 warning seriously. Also, the word ‘considerable,’ is not a strong clear message that the snow is very dangerous.

  4. Set a level of avalanche education required by all leaders taking organized groups into off-piste areas. Every person responsible for others in a group (schools, ski teams, outing clubs, scouts, church groups, interest groups, paid travel groups) needs to have a standard level of avalanche education to keep their group safe. This should be adopted by each organization which leads people into off piste areas. WE feel ski racing groups are especially vulnerable to snow danger.

We have an educational snow safety video, based on the accident in Sölden, but re-enacted in Snowbird, Utah. I want to leave you with this video as a reminder of the accident and what we all need to do together to protect others.

Thank you for this opportunity.



The snow safety foundation formed following the deaths of two U.S. Ski Team athletes is advocating for global change in avalanche awareness. Cindy Berlack, the mother of Team athlete Ronnie Berlack who was killed in January, 2015, will address the largest snow safety workshop in the world on Friday, October 12 in Innsbruck.

Berlack will close out the five-day International Snow Safety Workshop with a presentation focusing on changes to how avalanche information is conveyed to skiers and snowboarders. Her presentation on behalf of the Bryce and Ronnie Snow Safety Foundation will include a preview of an educational film and the detailed accident report of the avalanche in Soelden, Austria that claimed the lives of her son Ronnie as well as that of Bryce Astle.

“A great deal of good is being done to make snow travel safer,” said Berlack. “However, there is still much more work to be done which needs the immediate attention of the international avalanche community.”

At the core of her proposals to the global snow safety community will be steps to better define avalanche warning levels and to communicate that information to recreational skiers. In addition, BRASS is seeking greater use of multilingual warnings at resorts.

In concert with her presentation, BRASS is planning to release the comprehensive details of the January 5, 2015 tragedy in a full accident report compiled by avalanche experts. The report, which will be released to the public this month as a learning tool, combines interviews with those on the mountain that day with official accident reports to compile an educational document with both details of the accident and summarized learnings.

“The deaths of our sons was a tragedy for our families and our sport,” said BRASS Board Chairman Jamie Astle. “Our intent is to share the knowledge we have learned from the accident to help others.”

The BRASS Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit relying entirely on donations from passionate private and commercial supporters. It works closely with avalanche industry organizations in the USA and Europe including The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education, U.S. Forest Service National Avalanche Center and the Utah Avalanche Center.

Minimizing Risk Through Avalanche Education

Minimizing Risk Through Avalanche Education

We have been working hard to make a difference by bringing avalanche education programs to the ski racing community. Read the article Minimizing Risk Through Avalanche Education, by Megan Ganim on to learn more about what we're doing.

…it’s really important that we start taking avalanche safety more seriously in our community. The loss of Ronnie and Bryce hit everyone in the community hard, and it’s important for us to honor their lives by raising awareness and staying safe.
— Adam Loomis, USA Nordic Combined Team