Category Archives: Paul Melby

Another B Lot Boy Featured in Powder: Steve Fratella

Photo by Matt Small

Photo by Matt Small

Julie Brown at continued recently with her Pay It Forward interview series in which she finds the true locals in the ski/snowboard world, asks them a few soulful questions and then has them choose the next interviewee.

I love this series not only because she started at Crystal, but more importantly because these are the true heroes of our sport.

Her first interview was with Crystal Mountain’s Hugh Gren. Hugh paid it forward to Steve and the resulting interview can now be found at Powder.

People like Hugh and Steve aren’t skiing for sponsors. They aren’t posting their best runs to YouTube or even wearing POV cameras. On the chairlift, these guys aren’t worried about the battery life on their GoPro.

They’re scoping their next line.

They go to the mountains to ski, to hang out with their friends, and have fun. They aren’t there to burnish their image or work on their brand or post impossibly filtered photos to Instagram.

It’s no surprise, really, that Julie’s first two interviews were Crystal locals. Many of these guys and gals stay for weeks in trailers in B Lot, Crystal’s big parking lot ringed on one side with RV parking. A handful of the most colorful locals are known, simply, as the B Lot Boys.

Photo by Matt Small

Photo by Matt Small

Steve Fratella is the real deal. He’s been at Crystal for as many seasons as I have. He skis hard and flies well under the radar, and I’m thrilled to see him showcased in my favorite magazine. Thanks Steve for keeping it real.



Paul Melby, Rest in Peace


A Tribute to Paul

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.

This tree marks Paul's final resting place and the new official run at Crystal: Melby's

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.

Tree Well Safety Video


With the return of winter, I thought this might be a good time to remind everyone about tree well safety. I know we like to pretend we have “no friends on a powder day,” but actually these are the days when your skiing partner could save your life.  Check out this intense video in which a skier gets completely entrapped in a tree well.

What’s amazing in this video is really how small that tree is, and how very hard it would have been to find the victim if he hadn’t been skiing with partners. For more information about tree wells go to

NWCN Television Interview


If you missed my interview yesterday on Northwest Cable News, here it is. In addition to talking about my book, I also reminded skiers and snowboarders how to ski safely this winter. The old maxim, “No friends on a powder day,” might need to change. In deep snow conditions, your friends could save your life. Just saying. Click on the video below to play. And notice that under my name it reads “Crisis Expert”. Who knew??

Adventum Magazine


I love this new magazine. Adventum is a literary magazine that focuses on outdoor adventure, and it is right up my alley. Naomi Mahala Judd, editor and founder of Adventum just posted the inaugural edition of this biannual digital and print-on-demand magazine. Not only is it full of great writing about the outdoors, Ms. Judd was also kind enough to print one of my articles. So here’s to Adventum’s first issue. Let’s hope that it sticks around. The world of outdoor writing should be more than gear reviews and trip reports (while these have their place). Adventum strives to bring the inspiration of nature and adventure into the written world. Bravo!

Paul Melby Found


Paul Melby

Paul Melby, a skier missing at Crystal since March 1st, was found yesterday by an employee working on the gondola. His body was spotted in an steep, tightly treed area known as “Mine Shaft”, near the left side of Middle Ferk’s. Here’s a photo of the exact location. 


Ski Patrol Director, Paul Baugher stated that the position in which Paul’s body was found “confirms he’d fallen upside down into a tree well and suffocated. This is known as NARSID.”

A well known local expert skier, Paul Melby was last seen skiing at 2:30 p.m. on March 1st, during a major snow storm, and was reported missing later that evening. The ski patrol began searching that night and continued for the next seven days, utilizing over 130 volunteers and covering over 2000 acres of steep terrain. The snow storms continued for the next several weeks, and soon the snow depth made further searching impossible. The search was set to resume on June 25th.

While we on the ski patrol are grateful that this ordeal is over, and Paul’s family can finally have some rest, we are deeply saddened by the loss. Paul Melby was a fixture at Crystal. Not a powder day went by that Paul wasn’t there, quietly seeking out stashes of fresh snow, smiling his toothy grin and always stopping to say hello. Paul was kind, he loved to ski and he found a community who loved him at Crystal.

Since Paul went missing, his impact on our mountain has been obvious in the number of volunteers who searched for him as well as the outpouring of love and sadness for our  friend. I’m not going to say, “at least he died doing what he loved.” But he was skiing a great run. His skis were still on when he was found yesterday, which tells me that he must not have struggled much. He was still wearing his goggles.

My hope is that he just drifted away, unaware of the just how deeply he would be missed. Rest in peace, my friend.

Search for Missing Skier Will Resume at Crystal


The snowpack at Crystal is starting to melt. Total snow in Green Valley is 122 inches as of this morning, which means that the search for Paul Melby will resume soon. Paul disappeared on March 1st at Crystal Mountain while skiing alone. He was last seen at 2:30pm skiing Rabbit Ears underneath Chair 6. There was 100 inches of snow on the ground. It is presumed he fell into a tree well. I’ve written more about this here and here.

Search Details

Sat. & Sun. June 25 & 26: Main thrust of search, when volunteers are needed. We are expecting to reach target snow melt by June 25th and will be looking for volunteers to help with the search.

Those willing to help must be:

  • expert level skiers or snowboarders able to handle expert terrain as second nature, so attention can be paid to thorough searching, not on maneuvering/surviving on skis.
  • have and be able to use skins, snowshoes or other means of ascending, and “expert level” traversing definitely WILL be required.
  • able to stay outside–possibly all day–with ample opportunities for rest. Food, drink, bathrooms and sunscreen may not be easily accessible so come prepared–but travel light; “10 essentials” type packs may hinder progress through tight trees.
  • each team of 2 should have a cell-phone. Verizon service preferred, AT&T OK, others may need to rely on text messaging. Radio’s may be available for those without phones, but we may want the ability to converse privately, too.

This is an official Missing Person search conducted with the approval of the Sheriff’s Office, not an opportunity for free skiing. Searchers will be assigned areas to search, and will be required to report back with details of the location of terrain searched and density of tracks in the area.

Lifts will be used and searching will be done in areas not open to searcher’s friends/family or the general public.

Those of you willing to search can leave a comment here, email me personally or call Patrol Dispatch at 360-663-3060. Let’s find Melby and bring him home to his family.

Avalanche Hazard Going to Extreme


The Northwest Avalanche Center is calling for extreme avalanche hazard today above 4,000 feet. You don’t see that very often, but here it is. Crystal Mountain hasn’t seen rain in almost a month, and we have picked up several feet of snow in that time. Our telemetry currently still reads 150cm in Green Valley. With today’s rain (almost an inch of water and counting) we may have reached this season’s snowpack apex.

It’s all downhill from here. Or is it?

Today’s rain might actually be helpful in the long run. It will soak the pack, perhaps even percolate down to those pesky crust layers wreaking havoc all around us (think Clark Canyon at Mt. Hood , think 30 feet of debris in Rumble Gully near Mt. Baker, think too many close calls to count), causing them to fail today (while, hopefully, no one is out there) or stabilize. It will also jump start the annual shift to spring–initiating the melt-freeze cycle necessary for corn production. So that if we ever get any sunny weather, the snowpack prime will already be pumped.

More importantly, if the rain reduces the snowpack, we can restart our search for our missing friend, Paul Melby. By my estimation, over five feet has fallen since Paul went missing. Perhaps, once the snowpack melts, we can return Paul to his family.

So here’s to the rain! Viva la wet stuff! Hooray for gray-misty-damp days! Now let’s just get it over with.

Below is from NWAC’s avalanche forecast, for those masochistic enough to consider venturing out:

A westerly jet over the south Gulf of Alaska began to direct a west to east oriented warm front to the Northwest on Tuesday night. Satellite images Wednesday morning show moisture extending well to the south and west to the tropics. This should be a heavy snow, rain and warming event for the Olympics and especially the north to central Cascades. The heaviest precipitation intensities so far Wednesday have been at Snoqualmie with .3-.4 inches per hour common. Snow levels have not risen to expected levels so far Wednesday possibly due to precipitation intensities and melting snow lowering the snow level. Precipitation intensities have been less at Mt Baker so far today possibly due to blocking by Vancouver Island.

Reports the past few days have generally indicated lingering powder at higher elevations. But increasing triggered damp or wet loose snow avalanche conditions have been reported at lower elevations. An avalanche fatality occurred near Stevens on Sunday and a close call was reported via TAY at Snoqualmie on Sunday due to these conditions. So some recent snow will available for entrainment by avalanches the next couple days. Total snow depths are at what is likely to be winter maximum for this season at some NWAC sites such as Paradise and White Pass. Reports have also indicated that deeper weak layers near crusts from mid winter should still be possible in some areas. Very large cornices have also been reported. The major heavy rain and warming event Wednesday is likely to trigger avalanches to these layers and to trigger cornice failures.