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Skimo race season approaches with annual Irwin race

“We need a lot of snow, but that can happen at Irwin”

by Than Acuff

It may be 50 degrees outside and sunny with little snow on the ground but organizers are pressing on with preparations for the 8th Annual Irwin Skimo race Saturday, December 9 on the Irwin cat skiing tenure eight miles west and 1,800 feet up from the town of Crested Butte.

The race has always been one of the standout events of the Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup (COSMIC) race series and is one of the earlier races on the series circuit. The Irwin area is notorious for copious amounts of snow and can benefit from early storms. The race itself is unique in that the course is held in a backcountry setting.

“It’s still a pretty special race in a lot of racer’s minds,” says race director Bryan Wickenhauser. “The sport continues to grow and some of the new racers don’t really like the idea of the backcountry setting but once they do it, they realize how special it is.”

Last year the race teetered on the edge of cancellation but thanks to a little help from Mother Nature and the diligent work of race organizers, the race went off without a hitch.

This year there is less snow and organizers held their first meeting on Monday, November 27 to discuss the race and current conditions.

“We cut to the chase right away,” says Wickenhauser. “We’ve been doing it long enough that we know how to pull it off so we talked about whether or not it was actually going to happen.”

“We decided to make the call on Sunday, December 3,” says Irwin Snow Safety Director for the Eleven Snowcat Operation Billy Rankin. “We figure that, at that point, we will know if there’s a monster storm coming, which is what it will take.”

The course itself will remain the same if possible and offers a little bit of everything for everyone. In an effort to keep the race challenging for seasoned veterans and open it to fledgling skimo racers, there are two classes at the Irwin race with the difference being the length. The elite class course is three separate loops covering 10 miles with 5,000 feet of climbing. The rec class will only run through two of the loops. Both classes will get the experience of climbing up a boot pack. Due to its backcountry venue, the event is capped at 80 racers. There will be transportation via snow cat available but costs extra and is limited. Otherwise, racers are left to their own devices to get to the venue. They can either ski up there or ride or get towed by snowmobile.

But, again, no one will get to do anything if it doesn’t snow. They do have the option to push the race back one day to Sunday, December 10 if that helps at all.

“It’s either Saturday or Sunday,” says Wickenhauser. “We need a lot of snow, but that can happen at Irwin.”

“Right now we have 10 inches of snow on the ground,” adds Rankin. “We need one really big storm or two or three little storms. It’s not looking good but we will keep a little optimism that it will be possible. At the end of the day, a guide needs to able to run a toboggan with a patient in it.”

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