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IT WAS IN Whistler, British Columbia, four years ago, on a warm green day in July. I decided to take the lift up to the top of the mountain. My son McCall, then nine years old, was up there in the mists somewhere, on the Horstman Glacier, at a summer snowboarding camp. Like a good Presbyterian inspecting my investment, I decided I should go check out the scene.



McCall is a natural snowboarder. From the beginning, he had one of those gifts that can come only from the icy-bearded Norse gods. (My wife is half Norwegian.) He learned to shred on the brawny slopes of

Telluride when Unfamiliar words came out of my nine-year-old's mouth. At one point I actullly heard him say, "That's so wack, it's dope!"

he was six, and from that point on snowboarding pretty much wouldn't let go. He began to obsess on the subjector, as the child psychologists call it, to perseverate. He spent whole afternoons bouncing on a trampoline in our backyard while strapped to his board. In class, he doodled designs of fantasy snowboard companies in the margins of his notebook. When he was eight, he wrote a school paper in which he said he loved snowboarding "as much as life itself." He started wearing outrageously hideous beanie hats, and his door became barnacled with shredder stickers. His friends called him Air Mack. He even began composing odes to the mountain, like this:



I am the tall strong mountain, king of the snow.

When people slide down my face they tickle me so.



I knew he was good, but on this bright morning in Whistler I was about to find out just how good. The humming express chair whisked me upslope, over heathery meadows where fat bears prowled for berries. I reached the station, took another express lift, then boarded a clunky bus that chuffed up to yet another lift, which deposited me in a snowy-white world of endless winter, more than 5,000 feet above town.



From the catwalk, I peered down into the immensity of the Horstman Glacier. The mists parted to reveal an arresting sight: a thousand jittery dots in the snow, all launching and buzzing and looping down salt-crusted slopes.



Good God a'mighty! It was a mosh pit of determination down there, an X Games incubator. Every inch of the glacier was roped off to create lane after action-packed lane where hundreds of juiced-up kids from a dozen camps ran gantlets of jumps, hips, boxes, tabletops, and rainbow rails. It was the Institute for Advanced Aerial Studies, the Academy of Amplitude, the Summer Symposium of Goin' Huge.



A gamma-ray burst of adolescent energy assailed me as the mighty riffs of Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever" came blasting up from concert speakers parked on the bowl's icy floor. As the Nuge bragged that he could make a pussy purr with the stroke of his hand, I realized that my nine-year-old little buddy was down there in all that baggy-panted bustle of delinquents.



It took me another half-hour to work my way over to the rocky couloir where McCall's camp was ensconced. The Camp of Champions, it was called. For a few minutes, I watched him quietly as he mingled with his posse of knuckle draggers.



It was strange. I was standing only 20 yards away, but I hardly recognized him. In one short week of camp indoctrination, he'd undergone a personality transfusion. He had a new slouch, a new squint, a new inflection in his voice. Unfamiliar words came out of his mouth. At one point I actually heard him say, "That's so wack, it's dope!"



But I felt uncomfortable spying on him like this. "Hey, McCall!" I yelled, a bit too cheerfully. "How's it going?"



He tried to ignore me, but I could see that the aura of tribal togetherness had been punctured; the magic was gone. It was as though I'd intruded upon a finger-cymbal dance of twirling Hare Krishnas.



I spoke to his coach, a heavily pierced and studded French-Canadian dude in his mid-twenties who'd supposedly competed all over Europe. "You are McCall's father?" he said and then pursed his lips and adopted that tone of utmost Gallic severity. "You realize that McCall has a gift. I have coached many. But his talent is . . . is . . . electric."



It was like a scene from Searching for Bobby Fischer. I could see that this coach was prone to hyperbole, yet still I couldn't mask my fatherly pride.



McCall shambled over in his fat Burton boots and guardedly decided he was glad to see me. He breathlessly recited the sweet new tricks he'd landed this week: a switch 180, a perfect Japan air grab, a deliciously corked-out method down in the quarterpipe.



"This place is sick!" he said. He wanted to start training now for the 2010 Winter Olympics, which, it was already being rumored, would be held in part right here on the slopes of Whistler Blackcomb.



What was the point of doing anything else? he wondered. What was the point of going home, even?



"Dude . . . I mean Dad. Can we just move here?"




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