Located in Colorado's “snow-belt”, the ghost town of Irwin, 12 miles west of Crested Butte, receives more snow than anywhere else in the state—averaging more than 500 inches a season (600 inches in '10-'11; 1,000 inches in ’07-’08).
From 1986 to 2002, the Irwin Lodge accommodated overnight guests, served hungry and thirsty locals, and operated a successful cat-skiing business. When the operator pulled out of the backcountry business nine years ago, the lodge was put on the market but never sold. Alan Bernholtz, founder of Crested Butte Mountain Guides, obtained the necessary Forest Service permit, planned for three years and launched a new cat skiing operation last season.
What used to be a bare bones operation is now pretty luxurious. The snowcat features leather seats, a flatscreen TV and even picks skiers up in downtown Crested Butte. The base cabin serves as an après lounge and lunchroom for a catered gourmet midday meal.
In 2012/2013 Irwin will be running a Powder Cat during heavy storm cycles. Their Snow Safety Director, Billy Rankin, will call for a second snow cat 72 hours prior to departure for members of the Powder Cat list. To join the list contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go:
Travel: The Gunnison-Crested Butte Regional Airport (GUC) is located in Gunnison, 28 miles from Crested Butte. American Airlines, Continental and United Airlines offer winter flights from Dallas, Houston and Denver. Alpine Express shuttles meet every flight and provide door-to-door service between Gunnison Airport and Crested Butte.
Driving from Denver, take I-70 West to CO-470 East. Merge onto US-285 South to US-50. From Gunnison, turn right on Hwy. 135 for 28 miles to the town of Crested Butte.
Basic Package: Transportation to and from town, use of Wagner Custom Skis, 8-12 runs, gourmet lunch, safety equipment and water bottle. For an extra $40, a photographer can document your day.
Years in Biz: 2 years (re-opened in 2010 after being on hiatus since 2002)
Size of Tenure: 1,000+ acres
Snowfall: 600 inches per season
Size of Group: 10 people/2 guides
Guarantee: 8-12 runs per day (an average of 10,000-15,000 feet of vertical)
How they Charge: $450/person for the day; $4,000 full-cat rate (10 people)