Paul Melchert poled out of the start area onto the steep Quellspitze mountain and within seconds launched off a boulder, sticking the landing.
The 16-year-old from Anchorage was just getting started in his debut at the Freeride World Junior Championships in Kappl, Austria. On pitches that reached 60 degrees, Melchert hucked off cliffs, navigated rock bands, carved through powder and — unlike some competitors — stayed on his skis amid the demanding terrain.
Melchert showed fearlessness, flair and finesse on Tuesday while placing seventh among 31 competitors from 13 countries, totaling 71 points.
“Add one or two 360s and he’s right above the 80 (points) and he’s at the podium,” one of the Livestream commentators remarked.
“Top to bottom, super clean run,” added announcer Will Tucker.
After his 93-second run, Melchert nodded his head repeatedly when his score and placing was revealed. One of the youngest at the competition, Melchert ranked third among a talented American squad at the 11th annual competition.
“He is a motivated athlete and a positive force in ASCs Alyeska Freeride program. Paul is the type of kid who props up everyone around him for success,” Connor Michael, one of his coaches with the Alyeska Ski Club, said before the competition. “He deserves to be in Austria with the best junior freeriders in the world.”
Joining Melchert in Kappl was Alyeska Freeride Team coach Colin Gordon.
Freeride skiing differs from Alpine skiing in that the event is not timed and the course is ungroomed. Competitors can ski any line they choose and are judged by their technique and proficiency along with how well they perform jumps and tricks.
“Paul possesses strong technical skiing ability, paired with a smooth and fluid style. This gives him the ability to inspect and execute the more difficult lines and make them look easy,” Michael said. “He also has a few ‘tricks’ up his sleeve, incorporating 360 spins off cliffs and natural features throughout his competition runs.”
The last Alaskan to compete at the Freeride World Juniors was Leif Mumma of Anchorage, who placed 27th in 2017 in Andorra and 18th in 2018 at the same Kappl venue. Mumma broke through on the senior level in 2022 and will begin his first season on the Freeride World Tour January 28-February 2 in Spain.
Melchert’s head-turning result follows last week’s 13th place by his good friend, 17-year-old Finnigan Donley of Anchorage, at the World Junior Alpine Championships in nearby St. Anton, Austria.
While Alaskan Nordic skiers have won medals and consistently logged top 10s at recent World Juniors competitions, such results have been rare for juniors in Alpine skiing, biathlon and freeride skiing, making Melchert and Donley’s performance all the more noteworthy.
Two more Alaskans will compete on another big stage at the Junior World Championships for Nordic Combined (ski jumping and skiing) Feb. 1-5 in Whistler, B.C., Canada. Carter Brubaker, 19, of Anchorage, will make his third appearance while Skyler Amy, 17, of Anchorage, was also named to the squad.
Melchert, a junior at West Anchorage High School, began racing sanctioned events in 2018. His 2022 performances at Crystal Mountain (second), Alyeska (second), Eaglecrest (first) and Grand Targhee (10th) qualified him for World Juniors. He’s made huge gains since placing 15th at last year’s Junior North American Championships at Big Sky, Mont., and now is ranked 12th in the Freeride junior standings.
Melchert was the second-to-last competitor at the Kappl competition. Watch his run at the 4:55:40 mark of this broadcast.