The body of a skier who went missing at Washington's Crystal Mountain ski area in early March was found Wednesday, according to Crystal's director of ski patrol Paul Baughner. The remains were recovered in a tree well.
Paul Melby, 40, of Lakewood, Wash., was last seen toward the end of the day on March 1 in Rabbit Ears Chute under High Campbell lift. Ski patrol initiated a search for him that night and the search efforts lasted a week with no results, covering over 2,000 acres of terrain with help from 130 volunteers.
The week after Melby disappeared, Crystal Mountain received more than 20 inches of new snow and the search was suspended. Ski patrol resumed the search in early June when the snow began to melt.
According to Baughner, the cause of death was likely suffocation. An employee found the remains while skiing through some dense trees in an area called Mine Shaft, to the skier's left of Middle Ferk's run. "We did multiple passes through that area, even though it wasn't an area of highest probability based on the workup we did," Baughner said. "But after he went missing, there was heavy snowfall and our chances of finding him grew less and less."
Melby was a former ski patroller at Crystal, who switched to driving snowcats in recent years so he could get more skiing in during the day, according to his friend and fellow Crystal Mountain ski patroller Kim Kircher.
"Paul was a fixture at Crystal," Kircher told ESPN. "He was a local, expert skier that everyone knew and liked. He could be found in line at the bottom of the ski area on a powder day. He was soulful and kind, quiet and smiling."
Kircher said the search was hard for many patrollers. "As the season progressed, it was especially difficult to know he was still out there, right under our nose, and there was nothing we could do about it," she said. "Paul Melby was one of us, and that made it all the more trying."
Melby's death is the ninth tree well fatality at a U.S. ski area this year. This type of incident makes up roughly 20 percent of all ski area fatalities.