600” per Year at a Ski Resort in Colorado? Colorado’s Secret Big Snow Stash = Irwin

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The views aren't
The views aren’t bad at Irwin, CO.  photo:  Alex Fenlon

Irwin Colorado – A Geographic Phenomenon

photos by Alex Fenlon, words by Irwin Cat Ski.  

Located on the western edge of the Elk Mountains just 10 – miles outside of Crested Butte, Colorado, the old mining town site of Irwin is a geographic phenomenon as far as snowfall goes. Irwin receives, on average, 600” a year, just as much, if not more, than any other area in Colorado and the West.

Irwin has a rich history, like many other Colorado towns, had a mining boom in the late 1800’s and the town developed overnight with the presence of Silver. Thousands of people, bars, churches, and a brothel all existed at 10,000’ just below Lake Irwin and the Ruby Range of the Elk Mountains. The miners were a hardy bunch dealing with long hard winters and tons of snow.

Irwin cat ski
Irwin cat ski.  photo:  alex fenlon

Fast-forward to 1977 and Dan Thurman, the inventor of the airplane auto pilot is found flying around looking for places to build a backcountry lodge and buys 100 acres of mining claims just above Lake Irwin and builds the 20,000 square foot Irwin Lodge. After a few years of private operations Irwin Lodge opened it’s doors to cat skiing tours.

For the next 20+ years Irwin Lodge was the location of many epic turns and deep powder days. With almost as many ownership schemes as years operated the lodged closed it’s doors in 2002 and sat dormant for 7 years. The Lodge was gutted and never rebuilt but the current operation shifted the focus back to the skiing.

Irwin cat ski
Irwin cat ski.  photo:  alex fenlon

After a couple years of checking it back out and easing into it, Irwin was back. With the purchase of brand new snow cats, a renovated high tech but rustic cabin, a luxury lodge in Crested Butte, and a stylin Tucker to transport guest to Irwin the skiing is more alive than ever. Irwin is still the location of deep powder skiing, beauty, and now the highest-class cat skiing operation that has ever existed.

Why Does Irwin get so much snow? It’s quite simple, Orographic Lifting. The Wets Elk Mountains create a perfect mountain Barrier. As storms push through western Colorado the first real obstruction they hit are the West Elk Mountains and this causes storm to be lifted. When an air mass is lifted it cools while the relative humidity rises and the air mass condenses and forms snow. If you know anything about mountain meteorology there are several ways to achieve lifting of an air mass, but orographic lifting is the most significant. Irwin also tends to achieve this favorable orographic lifting from most storm directions. Irwin receives 2-3 times more snow than Crested Butte even though it is merely 10-miles away.

Irwin Cat Skiing.  photo:  alex fenlon

To learn more about Irwin and the Eleven check out there websites at:



Irwin Cat skiing has a parent company The Eleven. The Eleven is a global experiential travel brand with destinations worldwide. As far as skiing goes The Eleven has a ski chalet in the French Alps and a heli ski operation in Iceland. 

irwin air.  photo: alex fenlon

Below are the numbers from the past 4-years of measuring snow. Note that the last 2 seasons were below average and definitely hurt the overall average.

Irwin Cat skiing snow totals from the last 4-seasons

Season Total Oct Nov Dec Jan Feb Mar Apr
2012-13 420 0 27 104 66 67 80 76
2011-12 289 3 45 33 78 89 23 18
2010-11 738 39 100 138 86 137 134 104
2009-10 525 30 23 122 67 127 59 97
Average 493 18 49 99 74 105 74 74
Irwin cat ski
Irwin cat ski.  photo: alex fenlon

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5 thoughts on “600” per Year at a Ski Resort in Colorado? Colorado’s Secret Big Snow Stash = Irwin

  1. If anyone kept snowfall records for the Lake Irwin area in the 60s & 70s I’d put my money on Jade Hyslop, one of the few people who lived up there year-round. To the best of my knowledge, none of Dan Thurman’s staff kept snowfall records during the early years of Irwin Lodge.

    And yes, the town of “Irwin, CO” (with a bank, hotels, stores, etc.) existed 9 miles west of Crested Butte for 10-15 years at the end of the 19th century to accommodate the new silver mining industry in the area. But present-day references to Irwin Colorado are about the tour guide business by that name located within the town limits of Crested Butte.

  2. Irwin CO is not a town -maybe an abandoned mining site.
    It is the name of an outfitter in Crested Butte.

  3. My old HP laptop with Win XP , a 2002 vintage OS, is still current, used by many
    people, and fully supported by Microsoft . (for a few months at least or more) LOL

    We can thank the flood of netbooks a few years ago (Eeee, Acer etc)
    for keeping XP alive !

    Mac’s ,otoh, have gone thru 8 versions of OS 10.

  4. That’s big snow. Bigger than Utah. do you have the other year’s snow numbers? I’d love to see ‘em.

    1. I’ve been trying to tracking down The Old Irwin Lodge’s snow numbers with no luck. They were most likely on graph paper or an old PC computer somewhere?

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