Snow Glamping & Cross Country Skiing: Flagstaff Nordic Center, Arizona

Snow glamping? Doesn’t that sound glamorous? Perhaps many a desert dweller finds themselves longing to experience snow glamping as I have, or perhaps they haven’t. On second thought, they probably haven’t, but if they knew what I now know they might just find a hankering for just such an adventure. Just a short two hour drive away from the cactus covered landscape in Phoenix there is a place for just such an exhilarating excursion! When you top it all off with an accidental Benadryl overdose it gets even better…….not!

Last week I had come up with this hairbrained idea of spending a night in the snowy woods at the Flagstaff Nordic Center so that we can spend two days practicing our cross country skiing. You may remember that next week we have a trip planned up to Winthrop Washington to go cross country skiing to a  hut in the Rendezvous Pass. Obviously my cross country skiing ability needs a lot of enhancement, as witnessed by our excursion last weekend.

And so it is that we find ourselves with a car packed up and we are driving to Flagstaff. We have reserved a yurt and a camper cabin, which we are lucky to have, since the accommodations at the Nordic Center get booked up early in the season. It is highly recommended to make reservations early. We are lucky because during the past week it has snowed everyday, and as we climb up I17 into Flagstaff the landscape is beautiful. Well, I actually think it is more than just beautiful… is stunning! Never have I seen so much snow in Arizona before! It looks and feels like we are in Lapland! Our excitement intensifies with every mile.


After a brief stop at Walmart (yes, I fit in) we make our way through the dreamy landscape to the Flagstaff Nordic Center. We are now familiar with the rental procedure since we were here just last weekend, but there are long lines today and they are running low on skate ski equipment.  Everyone else who bought Groupons has made their way up to the mountains with similar plans.

The folks at the checkin counter for the yurt and cabin are friendly and efficient. The website clearly states that checkin starts at 3:00 pm, but since I am a person who doesn’t need assertiveness training, I poke my nose in and ask if we can move into our cabin and yurt already. Sure enough, it’s 10:00 am and we have access granted. For a $25 fee they will haul our gear out to the cabin, but that won’t happen until much later, so we opt instead to haul our own gear in. It’s a beautiful 1/2 mile walk through the woods and our toboggans come in handy.


As expected, the barebones camper cabin is small, just 12 feet by 16 feet, with one double bed, a set of bunks, a table and four chairs, woodstove and a broom. Outside there is a nice little porch, a snow shovel, a park bench, a supply of firewood, a picnic table, barbecue, and most importantly an outhouse, albeit with an icy seat. The kids are super excited to try out the snow shovel for the first time in their lives, but needless to say it is a short lived joy!

We rented what is called the back country camper cabin, which is about 1/2 mile from the parking area and lodge. There is another cabin right next to ours which shares the same outhouse. There is plenty of space between the units, so it doesn’t feel like an invasion of your space or privacy to have neighbors, except you do need to remember to knock before you barge into the outhouse…..

Right away we fire up the woodstove. The cabin feels cold, and I begin to doubt the wisdom of our decision to go winter glamping! We are going to freeze tonight!

Once we are moved in it is time to go skiing. We decide to do the Abineau Trail again. The trail heads uphill just as soon as we leave our cabin, and we begin the long ascent.  My lungs are burning…..that doggone elevation is killing me! Annika is fast with her skinny little legs.

I probably don’t need to tell you that the weather is stellar.

The Nordic Center rents out two small 3-4 person “backcountry yurts” one of which is pictured here. They are right on the ski trail spaced apart by at least a mile. They also have two large 8 person backcountry yurts that are side by side in a big meadow. Next time I hope to try out the big yurt.


It’s snack time…..

The kids randomly plop down into the snow to take a break. If I did that I would have a heck of a time getting up……

Evening is approaching so we light the barbecue grill for some steak…..mmmmmm…..I have a great Greek steak marinade recipe…’s to die for……

The neighbor’s cabin at sunset. They aren’t home right now.

Aundrea makes a trip to the yurt just before dark hoping to find our stragglers. Dinner is ready soon.

Our cabin is now warm and inviting. Honestly I did not believe it would warm up so well, but in fact we need to have the windows open!

My head is hurting a bit from the high elevation, and my muscles from the skate skiing, so I down three ibuprofen tablets in the poorly lit cabin…..I notice a bitter taste when I swallow them, but perhaps that comes from the hand sanitizer I had squirted on my hands a bit earlier.


These two sisters fell asleep while waiting for dinner. Must have been all that skiing!

After a dinner of quinoa rice, mashed potatoes, steak and corn, we figure we better go burn off some calories, and so we are soon outside again night skiing. Now we did hear the staff earlier telling some customers that if they are still out on the trails after 4 pm they would send the search party after them, so we aren’t too sure if we are allowed on the trails after dark. We don headlamps and off we go. We have to jump into the snow banks at one point to avoid the trail grooming machine, but the driver doesn’t make us get off the trail, so I suppose it’s okay to ski after dark.

We return to the cabin for some hot chocolate and games. I am getting to feel pretty fuzzy in my head, but I attribute it to the high elevation.  I note that my pain is getting worse and not better, despite taking 3 ibuprofen tablets.  I am hurting so bad that when everyone else decides to go tobogganing I have to opt out… back wouldn’t be able to handle it.  The ski trail makes for an awesome tobogganing hill…..and headlamps light the path…..

After all that fun Bjorn complains of a headache, and so I reach for my pillbox, and have a great shock! I realize that two hours earlier in the dim light I had mistakenly taken 3 Benadryl tablets instead of what I thought was ibuprofen, for a total of 75 mg!!!! Now you may wonder why I have so many Benadryl tablets in my travel medicine container, and I will tell you that I took a bunch of Benadryl along on our trip to SE Asia in case someone needed a little sleep aid to transition to the time zone, or for rash or allergic reactions that I feared we might confront. And, obviously I couldn’t see the beautiful pink color in the poor lighting to differentiate it from the beautiful orange color of the ibuprofen…..the size is about the same……nor was I expecting that I would have so much Benadryl along and only one ibuprofen!


Now, as a nurse I am glad that the medication error is on me, and not on my patient, but I begin to feel a little panicked. I have heard of people who have been given doses of meds such as phenergan that makes them sleepy……they stop breathing in their deep slumber…..and the rest is history…..and I happen to know that 25 mg of Benadryl will knock me to kingdom come for 8 hours…….so what is 75 mg of Benadryl going to do to me? There’s no phone service here. It’s a 1/2 mile hike to the car. We are at 8500 feet elevation and I feel a bit winded and lightheaded at baseline…..

I tell my husband about my concern and the kids overhear me. They insist that I must go to the emergency room, but trust me….I am not going to the emergency room for a 75 mg Benadryl overdose! I would be the laughing stock of the ER! Nor am I going to miss out on our snow glamping experience to save my soul!

I assure everyone that I will be okay, but the kids are not convinced and a plan is hatched. I try to protest and assure them that I will be okay, but it is to no avail. The kids want my cell phone, as it is linked to my Fitbit, and from that they can monitor my heart rate as I sleep. They take one hour turns each monitoring my heart as I sleep. I wake up intermittently through the night at the changing of the guard and to David throwing more firewood into the woodstove. My mouth is horribly dry…..horribly dry……I think now I know what it’s like to be a congestive heart failure patient on a fluid restriction and Lasix drip……my tongue is glued to the roof of my mouth and as thick as a brick…..

It’s a long night in our camper cabin, but I think it was longer in the yurt. The three housed in the yurt had not bothered to get up to add wood to the fire during the night, and they wake up freezing! They also hadn’t brought firewood inside so they went outside to get wood from the stash outdoors that is not protected from the elements, which of course means that not only is it cold, but it’s wet, too. Relighting the fire proves difficult at the very least.

Meanwhile in our camper cabin this morning it’s warm and cozy. Obviously I didn’t stop breathing and am perfectly fine after some sleep, although still a little brain fogged. We get up to make some delicious breakfast. If you shop at Costco you might be interested in knowing that they sell a protein pancake mix called Kodiak. It’s delicious!!!! We have to move our bacon cooking operation outdoors since the cabin is getting smoky. Passersby skiing on the trail tell us that the bacon smells delicious… they wished they had a camper cabin of their own!

We have to vacate the cabin after breakfast. Once we are checked out we go skiing again. Lucky for me my Benadryl brain fog has started to lift and I feel a little more human. This time we choose the Raspberry Trail. We see maybe two other skiers. It is quiet and beautiful…….and soon enough we discover it has a very long ascent, and the trail is soft, as though it hasn’t been been packed down well enough. That means that it is a workout to skate ski……

As I push one foot in front of the other I find my thoughts drifting off to a time in Finland that we had gone to a cabin with friends in Ylläs, way up north in Lapland near the Swedish border. It was April, and the daylight hours in this far northern snow covered country were long. On the drive there we had to dodge a herd of reindeer that was walking in the middle of the road.

We spent the first day in Ylläs downhill skiing using T-bar lifts to drag ourselves back up each time. The sun was huge and was trying to poke through a heavy mist on top of the mountain that day, resulting in an incredible halo. I can’t even begin to explain how unbelievably beautiful it was. I felt as though I was communing with God in a most amazing way, that somehow He was there in that halo speaking directly to me. I felt He was telling me that everything would be okay, and that I should not sorrow so intensely over our lost son who had died in utero just 8 months prior…..and how He would bless me with another son. I felt inexplicably one with nature, and my eyes seemed fixed upon this otherworldly sun that had ghostly Saturn-like rings about it.

Once the ski lifts closed we ventured back to the cabin for dinner, and basked on the sunny deck awhile. The kids tobogganed on the hill just outside the cabin while the sauna heated up. Finns are the ultimate experts at cabin life, and to be sure there is not a cabin in that country that is not equipped with a sauna. It was dusk when it was our turn to enjoy this Finnish cultural gem. The heat seared my flesh and soothed my aching muscles as we threw ladles of water on the fiery stove, thick clouds of steam rolled briskly upwards off the stove as it hissed and crackled and popped.

The magic of that moment in Lapland carried us away, and soon we found ourselves alternately frolicking in the deep snow and rushing back into the warmth of the sauna with skin prickling from the temperature extremes.  And that night we loved each other as none have ever before or ever since, holding each other close, and my heart sang praises for this beautiful day. It is a beautiful thing when a sorrowful heart finds reason to rejoice.

This magical day was enhanced by the next day that dawned bright and beautiful, as only a spring day in Lapland might. We donned our cross country skis and slipped out onto the groomed trails. The sun flickered between the trees as we were gliding along while pressing one foot in front of the other. The trail had a crisp corduroy finish perfected by the ideal temperature, and the trail went up and down in these incredible rollers that soon had us laughing with glee.

I feel an unwelcome burn in my lungs and fire in my legs, and my heart is racing, which drags me back into the reality of the moment. Here at the Flagstaff Nordic Center the forest is beautiful, the elevation literally breathtaking, but today the trails are not optimal and I am feeling it. Finally we crest a long hill and the rest of the way is down, down, down……this time I feel confident and exhilarated as I glide through the forest back to the lodge.

Yes, I am confident that I am ready to take on the Methow Trails next weekend in Washington. Our little hut on the Rendezvous Pass is calling out to me…..come…..come….here there is breathtaking beauty, a simpler way of life…..come reconnect with your innermost soul….come enjoy a little slice of heaven….

On our way back into Flagstaff we stop in at a great little local coffee shop called Late For The Train… Starbuck’s for me! We order two Dave’s Rockrammers for the road, which is a triple shot pulled short with raw sugar and a splash of half & half…..that outta keep me buzzing all the way back to Phoenix….maybe even into next week when we go to Washington…..