mountain peaks in distance at Rocky Mountain national park
(Photo/Mary Murphy)

Skeletal Remains in Rocky Mountain National Park May Solve 38-Year-Old Mystery

Officials believe skeletal remains found on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park belong to a West German ski mountaineer who disappeared in the park 38 years ago.

On February 13, 1983, Rudi Moder hiked out from the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead on Colorado Highway 17 near Cameron Pass. Described as an experienced winter mountaineer, the 27-year-old was bound for a two- to three-night ski mountaineering trip over Thunder Pass and into Rocky Mountain National Park.

On February 19, his roommate reported him overdue. Despite extensive search and rescue efforts, Moder was never seen again.

Now, skeletal remains discovered by a hiker near avalanche debris last August are thought to belong to Moder.

Rocky Mountain National Park
(Photo/Rocky Mountain National Park)

According to the National Park Service, park rangers and the FBI Evidence Response Team worked together to recover the remains after a series of wildfires and snowfalls delayed initial efforts. The effort was eventually successful and also yielded personal effects thought to be Moder’s, including skis, poles, and boots.

The Grand County Coroner’s office analyzed the physical remains, attempting to confirm identification through dental records. However, the results were inconclusive. Officials also worked extensively with the German government for repatriation, family notification, and dental record analysis.

“Although the dental records were inconclusive, the other items found tie the remains to Rudi Moder,” Kyle Patterson, NPS Public Affairs Officer said in an email, “so the ID process has been completed. We are assuming he was caught in an avalanche.”

rocky mountain national park search and rescue
Searching for Rudi Moder in 1983; (photo/Rocky Mountain National Park)

Initial search efforts in February 1983 looked promising, as SAR teams found a food cache and snow cave containing Moder’s belongings. But heavy snowfall ultimately prevented the success of the operation, which included search by ski and snowshoe, helicopter, and avalanche dog.

rocky mountain national park
Aerial search for Moder in 1983; (photo/Rocky Mountain National Park)

Multiple ongoing efforts throughout the following spring and summer proved fruitless. The discovery and conclusion closes a 38-year-old cold case that has spanned 5 decades.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.