Two years ago, my husband and I road-tripped to Colorado with our kids for Christmas. I’d always dreamed of a destination holiday somewhere snowy and festive, and a previous skiing trip had been a huge success with both us and the kids. So I Googled “most festive places to spend Christmas” and found the ski town of Durango was in the top 10. It looked adorable and was the polar opposite of Houston, where we live, with its year-round heat and humidity.
My mom had passed a few months earlier and I wanted to be anywhere but home when the holidays rolled around. Durango was a two-day drive from Houston, and I’d spent weeks planning our itinerary: ski lessons, snowmobiling, a scenic Polar Express train ride through the mountains, and day trips to Mesa Verde National Park and the Grand Canyon. We even brought our dogs and a small Christmas tree. What could go wrong?
In a word: Everything.
I’d booked a two-story yurt that looked fun and cozy, with its warm wood paneling and 360 views of the woods. It was at the top of a steep hill and I ignored the owner’s suggestion to have 4-wheel drive if visiting in the winter. A couple of reviews mentioned seeing bears, which would’ve been a welcome alternative to what was heading our way.
We’d packed my mid-size Acura SUV to the hilt with snow gear, waterproof boots and layers of insulated clothing. My husband had done a lot of research and made sure we were all outfitted for the elements. All four of us looked forward to skiing again — my older son excitedly asked if he could try snowboarding — and I couldn’t wait for my kids to experience all the fun things I’d planned. (And more importantly, step away from their screens.) Our activities were scheduled to begin the very next morning after we arrived. I wanted to take full advantage of our time in Colorado.
The drive there had been largely uneventful until we got within a couple hours of our destination. Everyone perked up when we started seeing mountains and snow. We stopped at a Subway for lunch and found the walkway to the door slippery with ice. You don’t see this in Texas, I thought. We were about to see lots of things you don’t see in Texas.
Our first morning there, we woke to find that a snowpocalypse had hit, which I didn’t think was a real thing, but I can assure you now that it is. We’d seen snow before but not this much snow. It looked like about 7-10” of snow had fallen and was accompanied by freezing fog and high wind gusts. It was beautiful, sure, with everything blanketed in snow. But there were good reasons the only people on the roads were tourists. The locals knew to stay home.
But we didn’t know better, so we bundled up and headed out for our snowmobile reservation, 30 miles away at a ski resort aptly named Purgatory. Just leaving the Airbnb was dicey; it felt a little like a very slow roller-coaster that had gone off the rails. The snow shower turned into a snow squall as we drove, and it looked like we were in a black-and-white movie. We finally made it and spent two glorious hours snowmobiling… then we had to turn around and slip and slide back to the yurt.
Things weren’t much better the next day. It looked like a violently shaken snow globe outside, but we were determined to make the early ski lesson we’d driven 16 hours for. We arrived at our ski lesson an hour late to find the electricity down and people dangling overhead in the ski lift, where they’d been stuck for 45 minutes. The ski instructor was nowhere in sight, our hair was frozen in crispy chunks, my goggles wouldn’t fit over my glasses and my neck was freezing.
After a long, harrowing ride back to our cabin filled with curse words, gasps and speeds of no more than 15mph, we lit the wood stove, made a Stouffer’s lasagna and hunkered down. The mood was quiet and somber. Nothing was going to plan, and no one was more disappointed than I was. Our destination Christmas and week of adventure was falling flat. The kids were back on their phones, my husband was shoveling a path to the wood pile and I got busy making a list of who to call to cancel our remaining activities.
By this time it was clear that in a match between us vs. historical weather, we were losing. My oldest son had just graduated from college, and I thought this would probably be our last family trip together before he started a new job and his own life. That stung.
But while we never went skiing, I was incredibly grateful that we’d made it back unharmed both times we’d ventured out, that our dogs were safe, and my car survived. We had enough food and a warm place to sleep. And although we were stuck inside the remainder of our time there, the view out the windows was extraordinary.
The week was spent playing card games and watching movies as chunks of incessant snow fell from the ponderosa pines, smashing into the windows. Here was my white Christmas. I’d never been so happy to leave somewhere in my life.
Now I’m quite content to spend the holidays wearing shorts with the air conditioner on at home. It’s where the heart is and where my stretchy pants reside, where the fridge is fully stocked with my favorite beverages. There’s rarely snow and never bears. I see it now for what it is: five-star perfection.
Courtenay Rudzinski is a freelance writer in Houston, where she resides with her husband and two rescue pups. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Business Insider, Well+Good and more. You can find her on Instagram @courtenayr.