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BOZEMAN, Mont. – You are hearing and watching the incredible images as a pre-holiday blizzard freezes in place millions of travelers who are trying to get home for their celebrations.

Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University
Chris Cooper of Western Carolina University

We offer you the insights of one North Carolinian caught up in this winter wonder-if-we-ever-will-fly land. And he isn’t humming “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”

Chris Cooper by day is a political science professor at Western Carolina University and an elections expert who in this case elected to get away for a pre-Christmas skiing trip in Montana with his 9-year-old son Jack and other family members.

But the Coopers may have to redirect Santa Claus to a different chimney: There are no flights home from Bozeman until Christmas night.

“Unless we get lucky with a cancellation, we won’t be home until 9:30 p.m. on Christmas,” Cooper wrote in a message to WGHP.

Chris Cooper’s trip to Bozeman, Montana, has been all downhill from here. (CHRIS COOPER)

The original plan

Cooper’s plan was to reunite with his wife and daughter at home near Sylva after flying back to Asheville this morning via Chicago. You are correct to think that snow and cold froze them in place.

Cooper has kept his many followers on Twitter well informed with the chilling details of the day he and Jack endured as they concluded their incredible journey up and down the four mountain ranges that surround Bozeman.

You realize that this is real winter, not that fake snow that sometimes is used to supplement the real stuff on the slopes in North Carolina. In fact, the Coopers’ skiing was curtailed this week because the slopes were too cold to be open (about -6 is the limit). Think about that one: A winter playground is too cold for play.

The first bad sign: -41 wouldn’t allow the rental car to start. The deicers at the airport couldn’t work, either. (CHRIS COOPER)

But their prospects for a routine return to North Carolina have proven even colder, although Jack probably wouldn’t classify the situation as “cool” in any way.

First, early this morning, the Coopers’ rental car wouldn’t start. The thermometer outside read -41, which is a chilling realization.

“I had to get a jump from an Army guy named John who was on his way between Alaska and Dayton, Ohio,” Cooper said.

The Coopers’ itinerary (don’t laugh) called for them to leave Bozeman at 8 a.m. (MST) and to bounce through Chicago (don’t laugh at that, either) for arrival in Asheville at 3, where his wife and daughter were to meet them for the hour’s drive to where their stockings are hung.

“I used to call this ‘inside,'” Chris Cooper said of the icy window. (CHRIS COOPER)

But that plan never took off. Not only are airports closed and flights being canceled – FlightAware as of 4 p.m. placed the number of cancellations at more than 2,100 domestically and 5,000 total and the delays approaching 20,000 – that situation was exacerbated in Bozeman, at least, because the de-icers wouldn’t work on the jets.

“They can’t run the de-icers if it’s below 25,” Cooper said.

Waiting and wondering

So in the airport they sat, as airlines adjusted and readjusted, and they dreamed – but not of a White Christmas, in this case.

There was talk of a noon departure and hope of a delayed intersect in Chicago. There was the possibility of a jump to Newark, New Jersey, and an overnight stay there.

One nice distraction: the view outside of Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. (CHRIS COOPER)

“My stepfather’s flight to Houston (then to DC) was canceled, and he’s now flying out tomorrow,” Cooper said at midday. “My stepbrother was flying Bozeman-Denver-Oklahoma City, and he’s currently on his 15th hour of delay in Denver.”

Bozeman is a winter wonderland, not a Hallmark set. (CHRIS COOPER)

Then the original flight was canceled and the process of trying to rebook began.

“The United app is overwhelmed and won’t work,” Cooper said. “So I’m waiting in line.”

That’s when he found out that rerouting to Newark was off the table and that Santa would beat him to the Smokies, where the high on Friday is predicted to reach 15, with a low of 4. It’s only slightly warmer on Saturday (26/10). Oh, snow is forecast.

What now?

So what do you do when you’ve checked out of your room, turned in your rental car and been prepared to take wing?

Jack Cooper in happier times on a ski slope outside Bozeman, Montana. (CHRIS COOPER)

“It’s -28 or so outside, so most other options (Museum of the Rockies, explore Yellowstone, etc.) are off the table,” Cooper said.

“My son is currently getting way more screen time than the law will allow.

“He was loving this trip … until he wasn’t.”

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But his Dad isn’t going to let the frown turn down.

“Change of plans,” Cooper wrote late Thursday afternoon. “Driving to Salt Lake City to try to get this boy back for Christmas. Supposedly, flying out of Salt Lake tomorrow.”

“Supposedly” might feel like the key word.