JACKSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The search for a missing snowmobiler, buried in an avalanche in the Never Summer range, turned tragic Wednesday night. The Colorado Avlanche Information Center says one of two snowmobilers died. The second was partially buried and uninjured.

The search for the missing snowmobiler continued for a second day on Wednesday. Crews from Jackson County Search and Rescue, Grand County Search and Rescue and the CAIC joined in the effort.

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It’s not clear if crews reached the body.

“We don’t have all the information for this particular case, it sounds like some of the people in the group did have beacons but the person who was buried didn’t,” said Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.

(credit: Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

The avalanche occurred Tuesday on Ruby Mountain in the Never Summer range, just southeast of Rand. With the snowmobiler missing Wednesday, details about the accident were still under investigation.

According to a preliminary report, the group searched tirelessly for the missing snowmobiler before calling 911. Search and rescue crews arrived on scene Tuesday evening, but were unable to locate the missing man. The search resumed Wednesday morning.

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The terrain on Ruby Mountain where the avalanche was triggered has been described as a large, steep, northeast facing bowl, above 11,000 feet. The exact kind of terrain the CAIC avalanche forecast warns backcountry users to avoid. The CAIC report states that, “early reports describe the riders traveling across the slope more than once before the avalanche.”

(credit: CAIC)

“There are very tricky avalanche conditions. You can trigger avalanches from low angle slopes, the avalanches are breaking very wide, they’re over-running common routes where people ride their sleds and ski up into the mountains,” Greene continued, “They’re over-running places where people commonly regroup and feel like they’re safe. So, this year, you really need to match what you’re doing with those conditions.”

In 2019, Colorado saw historic, 100-year avalanche conditions, but only 6 deaths.

“We average six people dying each year, and so we’re already way above the average, we’re headed for a record for the season. We may be headed for a record this month. These are all records that we do not want to break and to see us push up so close to them, especially with so much winter left, is really heartbreaking and terrifying,” said Greene.

Greene says the avalanches of 2019 were 100-to-200-year events, but this year isn’t to be overlooked.

“These avalanches are much smaller but from a person’s perspective, they’re easy to trigger. You can trigger them from quite a long distance, and they propagate over a really wide area and they often run through terrain features,” Greene continued, “so where you might expect the avalanche to propagate across a bowl and hit like a sub-ridge or a stand of trees, in this case, the fractures are running through those terrain features into the next bowl.”

Greene urges backcountry users to check the avalanche forecast, get educated on snowpack, and for now, stay off, and out from under slopes greater than 30 degrees.

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“There are a lot of factors contributing to where we are right now. You know, in order to get avalanche accidents, we need the ability to trigger avalanches and we need people out there recreating in the terrain and being exposed to avalanches and we’ve got a lot of both this year,” said Greene.

Jamie Leary