The body of a skier missing on Crystal Mountain since March has been found.

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The body of a skier missing since March 1 has been found at the Crystal Mountain ski area, and searchers say he likely suffocated in a tree well.

The body of Paul Melby of Lakewood was found Wednesday by an employee who was cutting through the trees to get to a lift tower, said Paul Baugher, Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol director.

The area had been searched several times, Baugher said, but not as extensively as other areas on the mountain.

Melby was last seen on March 1 in the mountain’s High Campbell area, which is for advanced skiers. He was skiing by himself.

Baugher said Melby was found in an area of steep trees near the 5,600-foot level, about 100 yards away from the Middle Ferks ski run. He said the area was very challenging because of the steepness and tight trees. Skiers refer to the run as the Mine Shaft, Baugher said.

The day he went missing was stormy with heavy snowfall, Baugher said, and searchers spent a week looking for him before stopping the search. Rescuers presumed he had fallen into a tree well and suffocated, which is apparently what happened.

The formal search was resumed three weeks ago, Baugher said. “We got lucky yesterday,” he said. The employee was skiing through the woods and found Melby’s skis and partially buried body.

His body has been taken to the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s office. Baugher said Melby’s family has been notified that his body was found. “I hope we’ve finally closed the door on one of the longer searches,” he said.

Baugher is convinced Melby fell into a tree well because his body was found in trees.

“This didn’t fit the profile where he would go, but the problem is when you’re not with anybody you can be anywhere,” he said. “A guy like that can ski anything.”

The message is to not ski alone, Baugher said.

“This could have had a different outcome if he’d had someone there,” he said. “When you’re by yourself, there’s no margin for error.”

Melby, 40, graduated from Clover Park High School in Tacoma and worked at a ski shop and at Crystal Mountain. He most recently worked as a deep-sea diver at Global Diving and Salvage in Seattle.

“I’m so thankful we could resolve this and get Paul back with his family,” Baugher said. He said Melby was the ninth snow-immersion death in the country this winter, out of a total of 48 ski- area deaths.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or