Author to tell survivor story in Edwards
Vail, CO Colorado
EDWARDS, Colorado – Twenty minutes into their flight to a ski championship ceremony, the chartered Cessna crashed into the San Gabriel Mountains during a blizzard. Norman Ollestad, an 11-year-old boy, was the only survivor – his father, his father’s girlfriend and the pilot all died. With a broken hand and deep cuts on his face, Ollestad spent nine hours climbing down the mountain – 3,700 icy feet – alone. It took Ollestad 30 years, but his book “Crazy For The Storm: A Memoir of Survival,” revisits the 1979 crash and more importantly, the remarkable bond between father and son.
“The whole thrust of the book is my father taught me how to survive and gave me a skill to deal with fear and manage adversity, both psychologically and physically,” Ollestad said during a phone interview this week.
The book was recently released in paperback and Ollestad will visit The Bookworm of Edwards on Thursday evening as part of a tour of Arizona and Colorado, he said.
“He just has a really amazing story,” said Besse Lynch of The Bookworm. “You get a lot of survivor stories out there, but his is a little different in that it’s not just a story of survival, it’s a story about how his relationship with his father, and all the things his father taught him, made him capable of overcoming obstacles throughout his entire life.”
The California-based author dedicated the book to his father, a former FBI agent, child actor and wholly adventurous spirit, and his own 9-year-old son, Noah.
“My father craved the weightless glide,” Ollestad writes in the book’s dedication. “He chased hurricanes and blizzards to touch the bliss of riding mighty waves and deep powder snow. An insatiable spirit, he was crazy for the storm and it saved my life. This book is for my father and for my son.”
Ollestad’s father took him surfing and skiing from the time he was 3 years old. The two went on countless adventures together – surfing fierce waves in Mexico and skiing deep powder in Austria – which ingrained in him the skills and mental toughness needed to survive the accident.
If Ollestad’s father could read the book now, he’d likely be proud of his son.
“I think he’d get a kick out of it and most importantly, he would be excited that I took something that might just stay a tragedy, a painful memory, and sort of transformed it into what it really was – I had a great life with my father and he taught me a lot,” Ollestad said. “That was his whole thing – try and find the good and I think I did that with the book.”
Though Ollestad studied creative writing at UCLA, he wasn’t ready to tackle the book – and reopen the old emotional wounds – until his late 30s.
“Two things happened. I became curious more about pain and sadness and less afraid of it, and I had my son, who was 5 or 6, and that kind of opened me up to my father’s side of the story,” he said. “Those two things came together and motivated me to take the book on.”
While Ollestad felt fine during the day as he was writing the book, when he finished writing for the day he’d have a sore throat and fever and wanted to sleep.
“There was this strange psychosomatic part of it,” he said. “Revisiting what happened didn’t open wounds in the sense that they couldn’t close anymore, it’s just that I had to open them and go into them to write the book as accurately and intensely as I wanted to.”
The past few months Ollestad has been working on an autobiographical novel, a sort of sequel to “Crazy For The Storm,” he said. After losing his father, Ollestad said his mother “vanished in an emotional way.” The next book will explore how a boy who lost his father, and in some ways his mother too, navigates his love life in his 20s and 30s.
“As a survivor, you have a lot of protective barriers and in love you have to really become vulnerable, the inversion of that,” Ollestad said. “I’m turning that idea into novelistic form.”
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.