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

7 thoughts on “Search for Missing Skier Waiting for Snowmelt

  1. Josh

    Is there anyway to trim the limbs off some of the trees adjacent to the groomed beginner runs? I know the idea is to stay on the groomed runs, but on a crowded mountain beginners are more likely to lose control and end up in the trees. They are also less likely to know what a tree well is and perhaps pull on a tree limb to help get them through the powder and inadvertently pull themselves into a tree well. I’m guilty of that and I know what a tree well is (embarrassing to admit and complete lapse of judgement). The kid and his family are lucky he wasn’t buried when he fell in. As deep as it was the father would have had an incredibly tough time digging him out in time.


  2. Josh,
    That’s a great idea. At Crystal, we have systematically limbed many treed areas–mainly expert terrain to open it up to new skiing. We also limb trees around merges to allow for better visibility from the groomed slopes. While it isn’t possible to limb every tree lining a groomer, it could be possible to limb some. We will look into this in our continued efforts to make Crystal a safe and fun area to ski.


  3. suzanne vliet

    The Melby family is weighing on my mind and heart. I am hoping for the best outcome possible for everyone involved. My heart goes out to you. Thank you to all those trying to find Paul. Please don’t stop looking until you bring him home!


  4. Eric

    This is such a sad situation. I am curious, has the patrol tried using a RECCO transponder to locate Mr Melby?
    I have the reflectors on my boots, and see them on jackets, but often wonder how quickly the patrol reaches for this technology when searching. I know that RECOO is not a beacon alternative, but it might be useful in this situation.


  5. Eric,
    Yes, we did use a RECCO device to search for Paul, but to no avail. I imagine his clothing did not come with a RECCO chip, although more and more clothing manufacturers are using them.


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