SAO Grad Cultivates Colorado Ski Industry Career

Alex Ranz and other Ski area operations graduates at the 2017 graduation ceremony. Alex is now building his ski industry skills and professional Colorado ski industry career
Alex Ranz & fellow Ski Area Operations classmates graduated from CMC Leadville spring 2017. Pictured left to right: Alex Ranz, Jason Gusaas, Clayton Trombley, Toph Moore, and Brandon Cardwell

From Snowcats to Chair Lifts; SAO graduate Alex Ranz develops ski area operations skills while cultivating a mountain career

No one likes to wait in a lift line. Everyone wants to get on-and-off the chairlift as fast as possible, to spend more time exploring the mountain, and less time at a crowded base area. High speed chairlifts make this powder dream a reality. They reduce lift line waits and increase traffic circulation throughout the mountain – moving more people, faster.

Most skiers and snowboarders give little thought to how these incredible people-moving machines are actually built and installed. Alex Ranz, a graduate of Colorado Mountain College Leadville’s Ski Area Operations program, had the opportunity to learn about the process first hand. This past summer, the twenty-year-old graduate accepted a job with Leitner Poma, installing a new high speed six-person chair lift on Vail Mountain.
Alex Ranz and co-worker installing the high speed char lift at Vail Mountain this past summer. Ski area Operations graduates grow ski industry skills and professional Colorado ski industry career.
Alex Ranz and fellow Ski Area Operations graduate John Stratton climbing a lift tower. PC: Blake Beavers

Alex graduated from the Ski Area Operations program in spring 2017 with an Associates degree in Applied Science, and a certificate in slope and trail maintenance. Thanks to his instructors and the hands-on, experiential based curriculum, he was prepared to launch his ski industry career — even before graduation.

“My favorite classes were the Grooming and Heavy Equipment Labs,” says Alex, originally from Cincinnati, OH, “These are hands on courses that allows you to use state of the art equipment to learn and practice all the basic skills of operating to transition you into an entry level position.”

Alex Ranz, Ski Area Operations graduate learned to operate grooming equipment and snowcats, leading to his first job as a snowcat operator at Copper Mountain. Colorado ski industry career
Ski Area Operations students learn how to operate and maintain heavy machinery and grooming equipment. PC: Alex Ranz

Alex worked this past winter as a Snow Cat Operator at Copper Mountain, just 30 minutes from the Colorado Mountain College Leadville campus, where he learned to operate grooming machines and perform trail maintenance activities.

“SAO gave me some great connections with local resorts,” says Alex, “and also gave me the skills and confidence to do well as an entry level snow cat operator. Paul (Rauschke) and Jason (Gusaas) were also very influential in my success in the program. They’ve been in the industry for a long time and have tons of knowledge to share with students.”

Alex has come a long way since he initially heard about the Ski Area Operations program through a video on the annual Cloud City Rail Jam — a terrain park event put on entirely by the SAO Events Management class as the course final. He hopes to eventually become a Slope Maintenance Manager, but he understands that in the ski industry it’s all about climbing up the ladder – or in this case a lift tower.

“Staying at a ski area and gaining a variety of experiences is the best way to get your dream ski job,” says Alex, “It’s not always all about skiing or snowboarding. Take it seriously and you will succeed!”

About the Ski Area Operations program

For 30 years, Ski Area Operations degree and Ski Area Management degree graduates from Colorado Mountain College have helped shape the snowboard and ski industry worldwide. A blend of technical and hands-on training sets our students apart, not to mention easy access to nine Colorado ski resorts including Steamboat, Vail, Copper Mountain, Breckenridge and Keystone.

The Ski Area Operations Degree Program at Colorado Mountain College is the most comprehensive training program of its kind in the nation, and the only one in the heart of Rocky Mountain ski country. Students get hands-on experience and access to the best powder in the world. The program prepares students for careers in lift installation, ski area design and management, mountain operations, safety management and more.

In addition to an Associate of Applied Science: Ski Area Operations, students often specialize by earning certificates in Ropeway Maintenance Technician, Ski Area Operations Management, Ski Patrol Operations, or Slope and Trail Maintenance.

In addition to the general education requirements, students are required to complete courses on chairlifts, ski area risk management, snowmaking, and ski patrol, as well as a required on-slope work experience. Elective courses allow SAO students to explore and develop professional specializations such as terrain park grooming, snow vehicle maintenance, events management, avalanche awareness, surveying and more. Learn more about Ski Area Operations classes and curriculum here or by visiting

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