Tag Archives: Paul Melby

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.

Is It Okay to Die Doing What You Love?


In the ski world, like any number of high-risk sports, tragic accidents sometimes happen. When Shane McConkey died nearly two years ago, like a mantra worn thin by repeated mumblings, the refrain echoed through the ski industry, “Well, at least he died doing what he loved.”

Two days before his disappearance, I talked to Paul Melby about his job as a diving instructor. He liked it, but it was cutting into his ski time. As both a former ski patroller and snowcat driver at Crystal, Melby was accustomed to skiing every day. And now, his four day-a-week schedule just wasn’t enough. So, while probing around a tree well yesterday, my heart in my throat, I remembered the refrain. “At least he died doing what he loved.”

But I don’t buy it. I can’t. Death is death. And even if someone dies with a heart full of joy, their blood pumping with a nirvana-esque sparkle, they are still gone.

“At least he died doing what he loved.” Tell that to his mother, to his family, to the hundreds of volunteers that have searched for him.

A few years I ago, I spoke to J.T. Holmes about base jumping. J.T. jumps off cliffs in a squirrel suit and flies. He says he’s like a bird, and that the feeling is unparalleled anywhere else. You can’t get this feeling skiing. When I asked him if it was dangerous, he just smiled.

He explained it to me like this: when you start out base jumping “you have a bucket of skill and a bucket of luck. At first, the bucket of skill is empty, and the bucket of luck is full. You pour from the bucket of luck into the bucket of skill. And someday the bucket of luck will run out.”

I wonder how different that is from drug addicts–engaging in risky behavior one knows will kill you. If J.T. was speaking of using heroin–how the high was worth the risk, how one day it would most likely be his demise–I would have been alarmed. I might have told him to get some help. I may have even taken him to a drug rehab center.

But when we talk about high-risk sports, everyone seems okay with it. Like it’s okay to die doing it, as long as you were happy right up until the end. But aren’t drug addicts enjoying themselves too? Don’t they, too, love the high and want to prolong it, want to get back to that first ideal rush, when they didn’t know if they would ever land, if they would ever have to follow the laws of gravity and physical limitations again?

As a ski patroller, charged with saving lives, I just don’t buy it.

I want to believe that I can save lives, that I can find a missing skier, bring him home–alive and well–to his waiting family. I want to believe that no one will ever die on my watch.

And yet I know, from my own experiences, that isn’t always possible. I know, too, that the rush of adrenaline, the pure joy of cold snow, the deep promise of the untracked line, the expectation of winter storms marching relentlessly towards us makes it all worth the risk.

We tell ourselves, “I could die today and be happy.” And perhaps that’s true. But I would like to posit this view: it’s better to live and ski, or jump, or fly another day. Living is always better. It is only here that we can enjoy the breathtaking splendor of mountains and cold air and crisp joy. It is only here that we can return.

Search for Missing Skier Waiting for Snowmelt


Once about 20 inches of snow melts at Crystal Mountain, Ski Patrol Director, Paul Baugher, hopes to reinvigorate the search for Paul Melby. Enough snow has fallen since last Tuesday, when Melby disappeared, that the chances of finding him are slim until some snow melts. While searchers–both volunteers and patrollers–continue to scour the mountain, the all-out search of last week has tapered down due to the challenging conditions.

We fear that Melby fell into a tree well–the bottomless space created around tree trunks under deep snow conditions–and that he is impossible to see from the surface.

Yesterday, my step-son, Andrew, helped a father and son who had fallen into a tree well at Crystal. While riding the Chinook Express, Andrew saw a skier calling for help near the top of the lift. When Andrew arrived, the skier pointed towards a tree saying that two people had fallen in.

Andrew could not see any sign of the two skiers until he took off his own skis and approached the tree. Nearly ten feet down, a boy and his father–who had dove in after his five year-old son when he skied right into the tree and fell through the airy snow surrounding it–struggled to extract themselves.

The father handed his son up to Andrew, who reached into the tree well to pull him out. The boy, while frightened and crying, was otherwise unhurt. Here’s the part of the story that truly drives it home: even with Andrew on the surface tamping down the snow, even while he was uninjured and fully conscious, the man could not pull himself out of the tree well. Andrew handed him a ski pole, and he still couldn’t extricate himself. Not until Andrew reached down and yanked the man out–pulling with all this strength–was the man able to finally reach the surface.

This was a near miss. Fortunately for the five year-old, his father had seen him fall into the tree well, and equally fortuitous was that Andrew saw the situation from the chairlift and could pull them both out.

The weather forecast is calling for some warmer temperatures next week, and once the heavy snow of the past several days settles out, the all-out search for Paul Melby will continue. For those still interested in searching, check in with ski patrol, who can assign you to a specific area.

All of the most-likely locations have been thoroughly searched and most of the less-likely as well. It is unlikely that Melby ventured out of bounds or under a rope line. He is an expert skier, capable of skiing anywhere on the mountain. He was last seen in Rabbit Ears Chute under High Campbell Chairlift.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Melby and his family. Thanks to everyone who continues to search and hold out hope for our good friend.

For more information about tree wells visit www.treewelldeepsnowsafety.com.

The Search For Paul Melby Brings The Mountain Together


Every day since Paul Melby’s disappearance on Tuesday hundreds of volunteers have scoured every nook and cranny of Crystal’s terrain looking for the missing skier.

These skiers and snowboarders have demonstrated tremendous generosity, banding together, spending hours and days looking for any sign of Paul. Last seen skiing under the High Campbell chair in Rabbit Ears Chute, little is known about where to focus the search.

Ski patrol and volunteer searchers have thoroughly scoured the mountain and yet the search continues. When a skier went missing at Mt. Bachelor, hundreds of volunteers searched for 23 days before being found.

The snowy conditions that brought Paul to the mountain have made searching especially difficult. I’m praying that Melby is found soon. Thanks to all who have sacrificed time and effort to join the search.

Update on the Search for Paul Melby


Paul Melby has still not been found. Anyone available to search tomorrow, Friday, check in with the Crystal Mountain ski patrol in the morning. Melby’s family still holds out hope, and I am keeping them in my prayers. Thanks to everyone that has offered support and help during this ordeal.

Search Continues for Missing Skier


Paul Melby, a Crystal Mountain local and good friend, was last seen at the top of the High Campbell lift on Tuesday afternoon. A few hours later, when he didn’t make it in after last chair, his friends alerted the patrol. Seven teams searched Tuesday night. With little information to his possible whereabouts, patrol director, Paul Baugher was quoted as saying it’s “like searching for a needle in a stack of needles.”

We fear he fell into a tree well. An expert skier often skiing alone, Melby could have fallen into the soft, unconsolidated snow that surrounds tree trunks. Dense limbs prevent the snow from becoming cohesive.making it difficult to get out.

I, myself, have fallen into a tree well in the Left Angle Trees area. (Note to my Mom: I know you are reading this, and it wasn’t that bad. I’m just giving an example here about the dangers of tree wells and my experience, don’t worry. I know that you, too have had close calls in tree wells! Okay thanks to all my non-relative readers for that disclaimer.) I was alone and caught an edge. As I glided, slow-motion-like towards the dark limbs, I thought nothing of it. I could just grab a limb and pull myself out. But it wasn’t that easy. The snow was loose and the more I moved, the further my body slipped down into the powder. Luckily, I could reach my bindings to release them, allowing me to get my feet beneath me and climb the tree limbs. Getting caught in a tree well is much like hanging from the tree several feet off the ground, but unable to breathe.

Recently we practiced searching for a victim in a tree well. I was the victim. My step-daughter, Evelyn, was shadowing me that day and she acted as the witness, while I shimmied down into a tree well, keeping my skis in what I thought was a visible location. I made a call as a victim might–from my cell phone alerting the patrollers, who came to search for me. I could hear their voices and resisted the urge to call on the radio to bring them in. I wanted to tell them, I’m right over here, just keep going around the next tree. Don’t miss me, don’t get too low and ski right past me. I’m right here! Even though the snow was dense and work-hardened around the base of the tree, it was still uncomfortable and I dared not move too much.

I was relieved when after twenty minutes, the other patrollers found me and extricated their “victim”. It was yet another reminder to stay away from tree wells and always ski with a partner. Had Evelyn not been there, the patrollers wouldn’t have found me so quickly, if at all.

This morning the search for Melby continues. His family has asked for volunteers to help in the search. If you are an advanced skier and want to help out, meet at 8:30 at the patrol room near the base of the gondola.

My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and everyone in the Crystal community.