Author: Mike Ramano
- Mike Romano lives in Denver with his wife and baby daughter. When he's not skiing he enjoys drinking beer and mountain biking.
The highlight of my ski season is finally here. The Irwin Guides Backcountry Powder Camp in February will be my fourth camp and each year it can’t come soon enough. Every year we've skied incredible snow in beautiful places with awesome people, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Before I started the camps, I’d always wanted to become more comfortable the backcountry. I had all of the gear, but I lacked the experience and a knowledgeable ski partner. Since Crested Butte is my favorite mountain town in Colorado, I started searching for backcountry skiing opportunities there, and luckily found Irwin Guides. That first year, I was a little nervous and I didn't know exactly what to expect. Only one other guy signed up for the camp and he was a local skier. My nerves disappeared quickly as soon as we met our guide Evan. We had a blast chasing him up and down all of the different drainages in the CB area, and he gave us great tips about navigating the terrain. But, the absolute highlight of that trip was skiing first tracks down Red Lady Bowl. If you are not familiar with Crested Butte, Red Lady is a 3,000 vertical foot bowl on Mount Emmons that is visible from Elk Avenue. At the end of that day peering up at the mountain from town, it was pretty awesome seeing our three tracks right down the middle of the bowl.
I had such a great time during that first camp that I knew I had to sign up again the following year. Unfortunately, that winter started out pretty dry, but Evan was able to deliver again. Even with the dry conditions, he knew exactly where to go to get us the best snow on the best terrain. Luckily, a storm finally blew in towards the end of the week and gave us some fresh powder. The best part of the trip was lapping steep pillow lines on Mount Axtell, which is just a few miles up Kebler Pass. It is made up of several steep gladed chutes that open up to a huge powder field at the bottom. It was pretty impressive watching our guide lay down massive GS-style turns down the whole run.
Last year may have been the best year yet. We had a great group of skiers that meshed really well together. Everyone toured and skied at a slightly different level, but we all had a blast getting to know each other (and nobody seemed to mind waiting for me on the climbs). We had some great days, but the best one was the day we skied a perfect couloir off the North side of Mount Owen. Mount Owen is a 13,070 foot peak located near Irwin Guides cat skiing operation. It was incredible to be able to get into the high alpine in the middle of the winter. I would never feel comfortable with that unless I was skiing with a guide like Evan.
Obviously, I'm a huge fan of the Backcountry Powder Camp because of the skiing, but it's also because of the people I've met. No matter if they were a Crested Butte local, from the front-range, or out-of-state, we all came together for our shared love of skiing and the outdoors. Everyday I've skied with Irwin Guides has ended with cold beers with my new friends at the Brick Oven.
Honestly, I think this is the best deal in skiing. You may be worried that you can't afford to do it. But, if you’re interested in skiing hard, getting out to the most beautiful backcountry in Colorado, and meeting great people, then really, you can't afford not to do it.