Authors: Norman Ollestad
Often I’ve wondered why my father was so compelled to drive
me the way he did. Was it to make me in his image? To compensate for his own unfulfilled wishes? Probably both, I figured.
I don’t know if my father was right or wrong to raise me the way he did. It does seem reckless. But when I delve into those memories, extracting the details, it doesn’t
reckless. It feels like life as I know it. Raw and wild and wonderfully unpredictable. Perhaps my reaction can be explained as mere conditioning—my father conditioned me to feel comfortable in the storm.
This by no means is to suggest that I breeze through life. I stumble and claw my way through like most of us. With my crude tools and imperfect skills I make my way through the chaos with the hope that I will find a little piece of beauty buried in it.
With this on my mind as I raise my own son, I often think about how much and how often I should impose my passions on Noah’s budding interests. I don’t want my relationship with Noah to be a continuation of my relationship with my father, or to be used selfishly to heal my wounds. Yet I feel obligated to expose Noah to my father’s passionate nature, his ability to live life to the fullest. Managing these opposing forces has always been a difficult balance.
The first time I took Noah skiing, he was four years old. By the time I was four I had already carved up most of the black diamonds in Mammoth, and I knew it was imperative that I resist the impulse to push Noah to do the same. Miraculously, I was able to locate a deeply buried streak of patience within, and Noah was awarded with the luxury of getting to go at his own pace.
I had it under control until he was seven. Noah had just skied
Dave’s Run, a formidable black diamond, and I was so elated that I led him on a long traverse under the Dragon’s Back. Along the way, the narrow path became littered with rocks and half-buried tree limbs. I casually skied beneath him in case he hit one and got pitched off the traverse.
We were nearly there, a protected gully that I guessed would have soft snow, allowing Noah to carve his turns even though it was steep. As we traversed the last twenty feet, approaching the rim of the gully, which curved away like a sheet of water draping over the edge of a waterfall, the snow turned to ice. Noah’s skis chattered and he lost elevation quickly. I encouraged him to bear down and crank his edges into the ice. But his legs were wobbling with fear and he began to cry. I got below him and coaxed him toward the rim. I’ll catch you, I said. Just try it. Reluctantly, he squatted and angled into the hill. We swooped onto the rim.
Noah stopped on the lip of the rim, staring down into the gully. It was steeper than I had remembered it. Though, down in its heart, the snow was soft.
No way, Dad, said Noah, plopping down on his hip. I can’t do that.
Of course you can, I said. See how the snow is soft in there. With your great technique it’ll be easy to hold an edge. Easier than this ice.
You shouldn’t have taken me here, was his response.
Well, we’re here now, I said.
I had a pretty good idea of how Noah felt hovering over the lip of the gully. Having been in similar situations at nearly the same age, I understood that he just didn’t want to be scared, didn’t want to feel all that tension in his body, no matter what the payoff might be. He wanted to have effortless fun.
The essence of my conflict, and I believe the essence of the conflict for my father, was illuminated in this moment. In the gully awaited fresh, protected snow—a little treasure secreted away from the sun and wind by its north-facing hemmed-in design. The supple snow in this gully would allow Noah to feel the rush of g-forces pulling against his defiant arc—the full extent of which would not be possible with anything but fresh snow. He would feel the sensation of banking on a thin rail along the mightiest current of all—gravity—an act of supreme freedom. Not to mention the feeling of empowerment that would follow. But he had to fight through the fear, the daunting lip and crusty sidewall, to capture that moment. Left to his own devices, I thought, it might take years for Noah to tackle his fear. For my father, and sometimes for me, this waste was too much for us to bear—the boy must taste the thrill now!
I’m stuck, said Noah. This sucks.
I could lift him in my arms and carry him down into the gully, I contemplated. Then my old dad got the better of me, piping up—You can do it, Noah. You’re golden. Accordingly I dropped into the gully. It was steep and the icy contours knobbing the sidewall were like a gauntlet, kicking and bucking my skis until I hit the soft snow. Now Noah would have to drop in too.
Like the onset of an itch, I sensed that I had crossed the line, and that I was suddenly caught up in my own selfish drama. On the other hand, the situation was contained: I was right there to catch him if he tumbled into the gully, and the snow was soft where he would land. I stuck with the plan and waited for Noah to make a move.
The plan backfired. Noah began writhing and bawling uncontrollably.
I was looking up at him from the heart of the gully and I
thought I might have to attempt to sidestep the precipitous, crusty sidewall and rescue him.
What am I going to do? he screamed down at me.
You can ski that ice along the edge of the gully, or you can ski this soft fluff down here, I said. Your choice.
I pretended that this was really some kind of a choice.
His little head moved to the left, then back to the right. Then all of a sudden he stood up and dropped over the lip. His whole body chattered as he careened down the crusty sidewall. When his skis hit the soft snow his body relaxed in an instant.
Keep it going, Ollestad, I said as he swished across the fall line, gathering courage to make the dreaded first turn.
He shifted his weight, committed his skis and shoulders down the pitch, and made a beautiful turn. Then another. He really had to lean into the hill because it was so steep, and I thought about the soft snow cradling him if he fell, dampering his slide, giving me time to scoop him up.
I yelled for him to stop at the tree line. But he ignored me and disappeared in the woods below. I found him at the chairlift and skied up beside him, expecting a blast of anger. Maybe his experience was not as elating as I had anticipated. Maybe he hated every second of it.
What took you so long? he said, full of gusto.
It was steep, I said.
Good snow though, he said.
We loaded onto Chair 9, the only way out of this back corner of the resort. On the ride up we did not speak. He rested his head against my upper arm. I knew I had gone too far. I knew that we were both lucky it worked out. I also knew that he had found a formerly unknown well of confidence, and that he could draw on this in all areas of his life. There were certainly more graceful ways to reach this same end. I just didn’t know them like I knew
this. So my struggle for the right balance of free will and force continues.
We neared the top of the chairlift. I glanced at Noah. He was staring across the giant sail-shaped bowl, pondering the gully in the distance.
How’s it feel? I said.
He just nodded and kept staring at it. I guessed that at some point during his run, Noah had broken through the storm and locked into the bliss of his victory, the bliss of his connection to the ineffable—that sacred place unveiled to me, and now to my son, by the man with the sunshine in his eyes. There are few joys in life that can compare to that.
And then I reined myself back and asked him where he wanted to go next.
Lunch, he said.
Great idea, Ollestad.
I am grateful to the following people for their invaluable contributions to this book.
(In alphabetical order)
Lloyd Ahern, Kevin Anderson, Rachel Bressler, Bob Chapman, Evan Chapman, Patricia Chapman, Michael Entin, John Evans, Glenn Farmer, Jenny Frank, Alan Freedman, Sue Freedman, Harvey Good, Dan Halpern, Dave Kitching, Eleanor Kendall, Lee Kendall, George McCormick, Doris Ollestad, Noah Ollestad, David Rapkin, Craig Rosenberg, Carolyn See, Virginia Smith, Fonda Snyder, Rob Weisbach, Gary Wilson.
studied creative writing at UCLA and attended UCLA Film School. He grew up on Topanga Beach in Malibu and now lives in Venice, California. He is the father of an eight-year-old son.
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Jacket design by Allison Saltzman
Jacket photographs by © Mark McEvoy/Millennium Images UK
Map by Paul J. Pugliese
Epigraph photograph courtesy of Norman Ollestad
All other photographs courtesy of Norman Ollestad
CRAZY FOR THE STORM
. Copyright © 2009 by Norman Ollestad. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.
Adobe Digital Edition May 2009 ISBN 978-0-06-188643-0
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