"Powder," by Tobias Wolff, is about a man recalling his memory of a specific ski trip taken with his father, at a time when his parent's were on the verge of divorce. He recounts the day with vivid detail, telling us the reasons why his parents divorce was imminent, but also how much he loves his father despite his faults.
The boy conveys his controlling behavior to the point of numbering his clothes to ensure rotation, and asking for school assignments well in advance so that he can make up schedules; in short, he plans everything in his life that he can possibly have control over because of he cannot do anything about his family's situation. His father is remembered as an irresponsible man who unintentionally causes problems for his son through his consistently careless actions. The boy realizes he is the complete opposite of his father's personality, but admires the older man's ability to live in the moment, without worrying over consequences.
The separation of the boy's parents which is leading to the inevitable divorce is the root of the conflict. His father does not help matters with his actions, as in taking the boy to bars previously against his mother's will, and keeping him late this particular Christmas Eve, skiing longer than they should have which leads to being snowed in on the mountain, because the road home is closed due to adverse weather. The father comments that the boy's mother will not forgive him if he does not deliver the boy home in time for dinner. Showing determination, thus planting the seed that he truly does care to make things right with both his son and wife, he breaks the law by passing through a road block put up by local police and makes a fearless run down the mountain road covered with fresh powder from the snowstorm. The boy is filled with worry over the consequences waiting for them at the bottom, but is not afraid for their safety because he trusts his father's driving skills. This is the turning point that makes the boy realize his worries are pointless; when he can just as easily enjoy the moment of exhilaration with his father instead of concentrating on problems that he has no control over.
This story is told from the first-person perspective of the boy, as he explains his thoughts and feelings about his father, mother, and the emotional situation they are living through. Through his memory, he pinpoints the moment that his mind-set changes about who his father is, which alters his own personality hereafter.
The central idea of this story considers taking life too seriously and trying to control all the events in life will not allow full enjoyment of any given situation, and that letting go of concern over events that are beyond controlling will lead to more enriching experiences.