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Weather puts on a show for winner of Warmest Cold City contest

As Carling Wilson and her family waited to fly to Buffalo from the airport in Atlanta, she started talking to another woman returning here from a beach vacation.

The woman asked Wilson why she was going to Buffalo in February, and Wilson said she was the winner of a free trip to this area that required her to travel during the winter.

"Aw, man, I entered that, too," the woman said, before adding she hoped Wilson had a good time.

Wilson, who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., and her husband, Joe, are enjoying their all-expenses-paid trip to this area. And they're not letting a little hurricane-force storm bring them down.

"The winds are out of control right now," Wilson said as the gale howled outside the windows of her spacious suite in Hotel Henry, part of the prize she won in Oxford Pennant's Warmest Cold City contest.

Carling Wilson has never lived in Buffalo, but both of her parents are from this area. Her dad and numerous relatives still live here, and she visits regularly with Joe, her stepdaughter and young son.

"I have visited since I was born," she said. They like to ski at Holiday Valley and Kissing Bridge in the winter and see Niagara Falls and ride jet boats on the Niagara River in warmer weather.

Wilson, 34, works in the housing department at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.

She most recently visited the Buffalo area around Christmas. A week after she returned to Tennessee, an aunt told her about the contest and urged her to enter it.

The contest was meant to give someone from anywhere in the country the chance to see Buffalo in a new light.

The only catch was the winner had to visit on a weekend between Feb. 8 and March 10. News of the contest drew national media attention, and Oxford Pennant received more than 80,000 entries.

The contest is valued at $3,180 and covers round-trip airfare, two nights at a luxury hotel, meals at high-end restaurants, spending money, ride-hailing services and booze, among numerous freebies. Oxford Pennant recruited contest sponsors including Hotel Henry, Ristorante Lombardo, Ted's Hot Dogs, Lyft, Daddy's Plants and Picasso's Pizza.

Oxford Pennant announces winner of free winter trip to Buffalo

"I told my husband this would be crazy if we went back to Buffalo in a month," Wilson said.

When told if she won she would have to come back during the winter, Wilson said, "That actually made me more excited."

She added, "When you're the tourist, it's pretty great. Living in it is a lot harder."

Wilson accidentally put her husband's phone number on the entry, so Oxford Pennant called him instead of her when her name was selected. Her husband texted her with the news.

She then looked up the details on what she'd won.

"I told my brother about it and he's like, man, that's worth going up there just for the Ted's and Picasso pizza," Wilson said with a laugh.

She said the logistics were overwhelming at times as she planned the trip.

"My husband is definitely the one who loves eating out. I think eating out for three days, four days will be really nice," Wilson said.

Wilson, her husband and their son, Zechariah, 15 months, blew into town Friday and went to Oxford Pennant to pick up their gift cards and other prize items.

Joe Wilson said they ended up staying there for three hours, eating pizza and getting to know the company's workers.

"They were real welcoming and warm to us," he said.

They stayed with Carling's father for two nights and checked into Hotel Henry on Sunday afternoon for a two-night stay. They plan to go to 100 Acres, the hotel's restaurant, Sunday night if possible and they have a reservation for Lombardo's on Monday.

They'll fly back on Tuesday after stretching out the visit to four days and checking out more local hot spots.

"It's a crazy package. My husband and I are like, how are we going to do all this in two days?" Wilson said.

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