It has been a year since Paul Melby disappeared at Crystal. As I spoke to his mother this weekend at a memorial party held in Melby’s honor at the patrol shack on Campbell after sweep, I realized how elusive life can be sometimes.
Too often I’ve held my breath lately, trying to stave off that ominous feeling that’s becoming all too common. Oh no not again. Last year, when Paul went missing, when we couldn’t find him and knew he must be here, right here, I could feel it right under my breast bone. It starts as a tickle and grows into a heavy anvil resting on my chest.
On Saturday, as a large group of Paul’s friends, family, ski patrollers and those that searched for him celebrated his life, that heavy feeling in my chest subsided. I think Paul would have been surprised by how he touched so many others. He was always a bit of a loner, humble and okay with whatever label others found for him.
When Paul was on the ski patrol, he must have found the Brittany Spears stickers that adorned his locker by happenstance. He covered his locker with them (or perhaps someone else did it). But when we teased him about it, he just smiled and shrugged. It was no big deal one way or the other if we thought he adored the teen idol. As his locker neighbor, I was convinced he loved the young Brittany.
So when I talked to Paul’s mom, Bonnie, on Saturday I mentioned Brittany Spears and his apparent devotion to her. Bonnie set me straight. Paul’s computer had tens of thousands of songs on it, and she had recently given it to a friend of Paul’s. Bonnie had gone through the list of music.
There wasn’t one Brittany Spears song in the bunch.
I have to admit; I was a little relieved. Not that a devotion to the young Brittany wasn’t endearing, but the more recent Brittany is a pretty tarnished idol. Paul had probably just found a packet of stickers and covered his locker with them on a lark.
When Paul would answer the radio as a ski patroller, he would always respond, “Go for Melby”, as if he was a third party relaying the message. Even when we told him to just respond as himself, he continued to “go” for Melby. Sometimes when I’m out skiing I imagine myself “going” a few turns for him, and this makes me feel better.
Paul Melby will always be a bit of an enigma to me. He was a man so loved and who touched so many lives, but he never seemed to fully realize that. Paul did not seek accolades; he didn’t even seem concerned if he was fully understood.
Paul sought the freedom of skiing. He loved the mountains and was devoted to Crystal. I recall our last conversation together. We stood at the top of the Gondola, and he dropped his skis on the snow. He told me his new job was keeping him from skiing as much as he liked. We discussed the upcoming forecast and the hope for fresh snow. We admitted that the conditions that day were “just okay” but “better than nothing”. He said he’d rather be skiing any day than not skiing, regardless of conditions. When he left, I smiled. It was a good reminder to be grateful.
Paul had a connection with animals, and he especially loved the Avalanche Rescue Dogs. His family has generously donated The Paul Melby Memorial Fund to Crystal Mountain’s Avalanche Dog Program. That money will be used for education and further training for the dogs and their handlers and is greatly appreciated.
Paul is deeply missed. He was one of us–a patroller, a ski bum, a Crystal local. He taught me a thing or two about gratitude and not sweating the small stuff. Rest in Peace my friend.
There will now be a new run at Crystal called “Melby’s” and will be printed on the new trail maps we just ordered. Melby’s is named for Paul’s final resting place, between Upper Bull and Middle Ferk’s.