Irwin. The private powder playground.

Dec 9, 2020

Almost every morning in winter a giant machine gently rumbles through the sleepy downtown streets of Crested Butte. It’s not the garbage collectors or street snow ploughs. It’s the Tucker.

The Tucker is a custom-built passenger snowcat. But with no plough, a cabin on the back and four snowmobile-like wheels - this is one cool lookin’ machine. It’s just the first of many great experiences you have on a day at Irwin – a private cat-skiing mountain 10 miles (16km) out of Crested Butte. Scout recently had the pleasure of joining in a day on the mountain.

When you hop in the back of the Tucker, you know you’re in for a luxurious day on the mountains. It’s easy to settle back into the leather seats, watch the flat screen TV showing ski movies (we opted for Aspen Extreme) and snack on unlimited treats and drinks. But with dawn breaking over the mountains, it’s hard to take your eyes off the spectacular view out the windows.

After an hour in the Tucker we arrived at the Movie Cabin, surely the world’s most opulently kitted-out log cabin in the middle of seemingly nowhere. Originally built in the ’60s for the Disney movie Mountain Family Robinson, it’s as cute as anything and extremely comfortable.

With a roaring fire, and (more) snacks and drinks, this is base for the day.

After a short safety briefing from our three guides (one lead and two tail guides) our group jumped into the back of a different snowcat (the Tucker is exclusively for the drive to and from town) pumping out cool tunes and headed up the mountain. Once we reached the top of the ridge the views were simply breathtaking.

Mountain views are always beautiful, but there’s something quite special about the view from Irwin. There are the valleys of Crested Butte below, some gnarly chutes and steeps on the mountains opposite (with the odd ski track heading down it) and then the peaks of the Rockies in the distance. It’s even possible to see the East Maroon, one of America’s most photographed mountains, near Aspen.

After snapping back to reality it was time for our first run. And boy was it fun. Despite receiving very little new snow in the two weeks prior to my visit, we were able to find fresh tracks on almost all our runs. This is in part due to the skill of our guides and their intimate knowledge of the terrain. But also because Irwin is in a particular spot in the range that receives twice as much snow as nearby Crested Butte Resort (more than 600 inches a year, or 15m) and because it is closed to the public so its pristine powder stashes are reserved for those lucky enough to ski with Irwin.

I was also impressed by the variety of terrain. There’s steeps, cliffs and chutes for those that so desire it, but there are also gentle tree runs and open bowls. The guides will always talk about the terrain before each run and make sure everyone is comfortable, usually offering a gentler option if it’s a steep run.

Lunch was served at the Movie Cabin – a hearty vegetarian chilli, freshly baked corn bread and salad. Since it was such a nice day most of our group sat outside enjoying the sunshine and views.

The second half of our day consisted of four more runs (taking our total for the day to nine) before it was time to load back into the Tucker and head down the mountains, all of us buzzing with happiness from the great day (and perhaps it was also the après beers served at the cabin).

Although Irwin Guides operate day cat trips during the winter, the operation is usually reserved exclusively for guests staying at Eleven Experience’s Scarp Ridge Lodge. And just like the experience on-mountain, the off-mountain operation is equally schmick and luxurious. This 7-room lodge is where everything has been thought about to the nth degree and more.

In winter it can only be rented out in its entirety by one group at a time (up to 20 people), so it becomes more like a private home. That is if your private home comes with saltwater lap pool, a hot tub designed to specifically target ski muscles, pumped oxygen at night, stocked mini bars with whatever you like, private concierge and more. (It’s not just for adults - kids here have one of the most awesome bunk-rooms we’ve ever seen.)

The nightly rate includes breakfast, lunch, snacks, drinks (including alcohol) and whatever activity you choose to take up during the day and any associated transport, equipment and guides.

Of course the cat-skiing is the primo experience, but don’t dismiss snowshoeing, dog sledding or backcountry skiing among the many options on offer. And as appealing as all those activities are, just hanging out in the lodge is an idea we would certainly entertain … But then again, there is your own 1000+ acre private powder playground with big machines just 10 miles away. Hmmmm

Price for Scarp River Lodge starts at USD$13,500/night for 10 people with every additional person $1035/night.


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