When sisters Elizabeth and Blythe packed into the backseat of the family car, they thought they were heading home to West Chester after celebrating Christmas with extended family in Upstate New York.

But their parents, Richard Holmes and Kristin Hazard, had a surprise for them. Instead of heading toward Philadelphia, they were going cross-country skiing in the Adirondack Mountains.

They never made it.

Holmes, 52, and Hazard, 49, were killed Tuesday afternoon when their 2002 Honda Civic slid on a snow-covered road, skidding sideways into an oncoming car. Police say unsafe speed and blowing snow were factors in the crash, which happened on a state road about 11 miles southwest of Utica.

Elizabeth, 15, and Blythe, 12, were not seriously injured. Police said the girls and their parents were wearing seat belts. The driver of the other vehicle also survived the crash. The family dog, a schnauzer named Fritz, was hurt but is expected to live.

Neighbors on Patrick Avenue in West Chester were stunned by the news. One woman burst into tears and asked, "Both of them?"

Family members on Wednesday remembered the couple for their dedication to their daughters.

"Rick worked hellish hours, but he always had time for the kids when he came home," said Robert Hazard, one of Kristin Hazard's two brothers. "When they were 2 and 3 and 4, he would come home and get on the ground and play the fantasy games with the dolls and the little animals."

Kristin Hazard, who as a child shunned Barbie dolls and favored red cowboy boots, taught her girls to be strong and independent.

"They're just really self confident, caring little people," Robert Hazard said of his nieces. "They don't exclude people or pick on the weak kids.

"The quality of their children just shows what good parents they were," he added.

The couple met in Chicago when Richard Holmes was an aspiring actor. He once played the emperor in The Emperor's New Clothes but was too bashful to go naked, said his older brother, Robert Holmes.

"Instead, he wore boxer shorts with red and white polka dots," Robert Holmes said.

Kristin Hazard had moved to Chicago after spending a year in Wyoming helping to construct an oil refinery, said Hazard.

Both ended up studying business and found jobs in sales. Richard Holmes worked most recently for Mercury Solar Systems, a company headquartered in New York with offices in Philadelphia that sells and installs solar panels.

Kristin Hazard had lucrative jobs as a sales representative for outdoor equipment companies but gave that career up when her first daughter was born.

"Kris made a conscious decision not to put her kids in day-care," Robert Hazard said. "That was a financial decision, but it was one they felt was worth taking."

Kristin Hazard had recently begun studying to become a respiratory therapist, and she hoped to work in neonatal care, said one of her sisters, Holly Hazard.

The couple each came from tight-knit families and traveled often to see relatives on holidays. They spent Thanksgiving this year in Richard's hometown of Lillington, N.C., where his parents still live.

This Christmas, the family went to the home of Kristin Hazard's father in Upstate New York, where her four siblings and their families stayed during the holiday.

"We sat around the tree and sang Christmas carols. We played cards, and somebody played guitar," Holly Hazard said. With 25 people gathered, "it was a fabulous Christmas, which is a small consolation, but a consolation."

Elizabeth is a student at Henderson High School and Blythe attends Peirce Middle School. The sisters will be relocated to Falls Church, Va., to live with Holly Hazard, who was named their legal guardian in the couple's will.

A memorial service will be held Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at the West Chester Monthly Meeting of Friends on North High Street.

The families are setting up a college fund for the girls. Donations can be sent to Holly Hazard at 6322 Lakeview Dr., Falls Church, Va. 22041.

Friends can write remembrances on the couple's memorial Facebook page at http://on.fb.me/eeIVlR.

Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.