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CONIFER, Colo. (KDVR) — Current and former students are mourning the loss of a popular teacher who died in an avalanche earlier this week.

Brian Bunnell was snowboarding on Berthoud Pass on Dec. 26 when he was caught in an avalanche. Despite rescue efforts, he did not survive. He was 44 years old and leaves behind a wife and three sons.

“Just knowing the one time changed everything, I can’t wrap my head around it,” Isabella Hess said. 

Teacher would ‘connect with every single one of us’

Hess is one of Bunnell’s current students at Conifer High School. He has been teaching science at the school for the past several years. Previously, he taught at Platte Canyon High School.

“It still a little shocking that he’s gone,” former student Sydney Swope said. 

Swope said she had Mr. Bunnell as a teacher for three years at both Platte Canyon and Conifer. 

“He was very accommodating and let me sit however I wanted and he let me move around, and he definitely tried to connect with his students on a personal level,” she said. 

“He’s a very caring person. He cared about all of his students and made sure that they understood everything and just connect with every single one of us,” Hess said. 

A man in a helmet in the forest
Brian Bunnell

Hess is a junior at Conifer High School and said had recently switched her class schedule specifically so Mr. Bunnell would be her teacher when classes resume in January. 

“I can’t anymore because he’s not here,” she said. 

She described him as a teacher that made everyone feel included and that he had a “specialty” for being able to connect with students. 

“He was really funny. He knew all the trends that was happening among teenagers and he was very hip,” Hess said.

A passion for the outdoors

Hess, Swope and multiple other students said he was well-known for his passion for the outdoors. 

“The biggest memory I had with Mr. Bunnell was his constant commitment to his sons and his skiing. There was a good three weeks of the school year that we didn’t have him in class because he took his sons to see the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Although as a student I found it quite difficult to understand why he would leave in the middle of the year, I look back on it and remember his love and commitment to the sport. There were even multiple times in which he offered other students in the class to go skiing with him at Winter Park when we had long weekends. He was the kind of person that when he walked in the room you knew there was something meaningful going to come out of that day,” former student Ashley Silvernale said in an email to FOX31. 

Former and current students agree his impact on the school, its students and the Conifer and Bailey communities has been profound. 

“My son, Sam, graduated in 2019 from Conifer HS and Mr. Bunnell was one of his favorite teachers. Sam is now about to graduate with honors as a chemistry major at Western and attributes his love of chemistry to Brian. Also, Brian’s love of the outdoors and snowboarding is why Sam chose to go to school in Gunnison,” Melissa Nease wrote to FOX31.