“An excellent amenity and recreational opportunity”
The Crested Butte Town Council agreed at their Monday meeting to send a letter to the Forest Service supporting a skiing operation on Forest Service land near Irwin Lake.
With no public comment and no hesitation, the council voted unanimously, 5-0, to support the project. Mayor Alan Bernholtz and councilman Billy Rankin did not vote, since they have been hired as snow safety consultants on the project.
Missy Ochs came before the council representing Irwin Backcountry Guides LLC. “Your support will allow us to enter into the environmental assessment process,” she said. “We are a local team hoping to revive snowcat skiing near Irwin and we hope to be operational this season. We hope we can jump through all the Forest Service hoops in time to get going this season.”
Ochs explained the group hoped to operate a day snowcat ski operation. They would potentially shuttle a maximum of 10 guests a day up to the Kebler Pass trailhead and transport them to Lake Irwin in a snowcat. That trip would take about 45 minutes. There, a renovated 450-square-foot hut would act as a warming house. Eventually, the group hopes to allow overnight ski trips using the old Irwin Lodge.
“We want locals to be excited about the operation,” Ochs told the council. “We figure we will have 60 to 70 percent occupancy the first couple years, so there will likely be space available on the snowcat for locals to purchase.”
Forest Service snow ranger Kai Allen has indicated that if granted, the initial permit would likely be for one year. The operation would then be evaluated and issues discussed. Eventually, a longer permit, perhaps for five or 10 years, could be issued.
When asked about snow safety by councilmember Reed Betz, Ochs said the group had hired Bernholtz and Rankin. Rankin will be snow safety director and Bernholtz will be the mountain manager.
“Avalanche mitigation will be part of the deal since the area gets 600 to 700 inches of snow a winter. We will use explosives similar to what CBMR does to control slides. We are shooting to operate four days a week and then expand as we show the Forest Service there won’t be big issues,” said Ochs.
The council agreed to sign the letter that in part read, “The Town Council and Community of Crested Butte supports the resumption of snowcat skiing in Irwin. Such an operation will provide an excellent amenity and recreational opportunity for the people of Crested Butte and the region as a whole. The operation will be a unique experience for its participants and contribute to our efforts at making Crested Butte a world-class recreational destination.”
Ochs said skiing would be conducted on more than 1,600 acres of Forest Service land. “We want to do a responsible operation and we will be incorporating energy-wise and sustainable practices,” she said Tuesday after the council meeting.
Bernholtz said Tuesday he felt the snowcat operation would be a perfect fit for the area. “I’m looking forward to working with this company because I think they are a quality company with the community’s best interest in mind,” he said.
The letter of support will be signed by Mayor pro tem Leah Williams and sent to the Forest Service.