The body of a missing skier was found at approximately 11:30 a.m. Tuesday Feb. 11, 24 hours after an avalanche in the out-of-bounds backcountry area south of Keystone Resort.
Kevin Kuybus of Highlands Ranch died from blunt force chest trauma, according to the Summit County Coroner’s Office. He was wearing a helmet, Timothy Keeling said in his coroner’s report. Kuybus is the 10th person to die in an avalanche nationally this winter, and the fourth since Sunday. His body was found and recovered by the Summit County Rescue Group.
Kuybus, 46, was reported missing in an avalanche that took place around noon Monday, Feb. 10. Kuybus was with another skier who was also caught in the slide but able to self-extract, according to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. That skier then reported the avalanche, saying he was unable to locate Kuybus. The name of the survivor is not being released at this time because the incident is still under investigation, said Tracy LeClair, Summit County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.
Tuesday morning, search teams were re-deployed as soon as avalanche mitigation was complete and the area was deemed safe. Charles Pitman, Summit County Rescue Group spokesman, said the operation began between 7:30 and 8 a.m. when Keystone Ski Patrol helped stabilize the slide, using explosives to trigger a section of snow that didn’t release in the original avalanche. The rescue group got into the field around 10:30 a.m., Pitman said, and it took about an hour to locate Kuybus’ body.
Roughly 40 representatives — including four dogs — from Keystone Ski Resort, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, Breckenridge Ski Resort, Summit County Rescue Group, Vail Mountain Rescue, Alpine Rescue Team and the U.S. Forest Service went out to continue the search.
“They did not go out with a mindset one way or another, but for the amount of time that passed, it would have been pretty close to a miracle to have found him alive,” LeClair said.
LeClair said the two skiers were not carrying avalanche beacons, but some of their equipment had RECCO reflectors. The reflectors are integrated into gear and require no batteries. The RECCO reflectors are used to help rescue teams pinpoint a person’s location. LeClair said rescuers were using RECCO equipment Tuesday morning, along with probe lines and the search-and-rescue dogs.
“You never say never, and don’t want to presume anything, but the longer that time goes on, the greater the chance the outcome is not going to be positive,” she said.
Pitman said in speaking with the family Monday night, Kuybus’ son remembered his father had RECCO chips in his coat and boots. The rescuers located the body with a RECCO device, about a quarter to a third of the way up the hill from the Tiger Road staging site, Pitman said.
“Once we were on the scene, that [RECCO chip] gave us good odds of finding him if he was there,” Pitman said.
The avalanche debris field was approximately 2,000 feet in length with depths up to 9 feet. The cause is still under investigation.
On Monday, search teams with dogs were deployed from both the top and bottom of the slide area, near the end of Tiger Road. Summit County Rescue Group responded with additional personnel and conducted probe searches. The search continued until approximately 6 p.m., when visibility and conditions became too dangerous to continue the search, according to the sheriff’s office.
A snowmobiler also died in an avalanche Monday near Crested Butte. Both avalanches happened on a day the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) had issued a special backcountry avalanche warning. On Sunday, 21-year-old Ashleigh Cox of Colorado Springs died after being caught in an avalanche in Utah while she was snowshoeing in American Fork Canyon. Also on Sunday, Clint Conover, 36, died after being buried in a slide in Utah while snowmobiling.
According to the CAIC, the current avalanche danger rating is high. Avalanche conditions are considered very dangerous and travel in avalanche terrain is not recommended.