By Mark Lamport-Stokes
BEAVER CREEK, Colorado (Reuters) - A poignant tribute for two U.S. Ski Team development athletes who were killed in an avalanche last month was held shortly before the start of the men's Super-G at the world championships on Thursday.
Instead of a full complement of forerunners heading down the Birds of Prey course at Beaver Creek before the first ski racer pushed out of the start hut, the clock ticked in silence in lieu of a commemorative 'ghost forerunner.'
That moment of silence on a glorious sunny morning was planned by the U.S. Ski Team to honor Ronnie Berlack and Bryce Astle, who were killed in an avalanche while free-skiing at the Austrian resort of Soelden early last month.
Berlack, 20, grew up racing in New Hampshire and had been a student athlete at the Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont. He was added to the U.S. Ski Team's development team after recording two top-20s at the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championships.
Astle, 19, raced at Snowbird and was invited to train with the development team this season. He had produced impressive early results, including two top-10 NorAm Cup races in Canada in December.
Olympic slalom gold medallist Mikaela Shiffrin, who will defend her world championship slalom title at Beaver Creek next week, vividly recalls the first time she met Berlack, at the Burke Mountain Academy, where they became friendly rivals.
"I was like, who is this little pipsqueak who's so incredibly outgoing and looks like he wants to go so fast on the mountain?" said the 19-year-old Shiffrin, a rising star in alpine skiing who was born in nearby Vail.
"I think I gained a lot of speed just by trying to beat Ronnie Berlack."
Shiffrin, who clinched the slalom crown at the 2013 world championships before going on to become the youngest Olympic champion in that discipline at the 2014 Sochi Games, was 11 years old when she first met Berlack, who was then aged 12.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)