Ski Area Operations program brings collaboration, education and innovation to the ski industry
For more than forty years, the culture of collaboration in the Ski Area Operations (SAO) program at Colorado Mountain College Leadville has paved the way for student success. The best way to learn ski area operations is to experience it firsthand, and in the heart of Colorado ski country, there are ample opportunities for hands-on learning. Partnering with local ski areas, community organizations, and industry leaders has positioned the SAO program to produce qualified ski industry professionals.
“The SAO program hits every point of the industry,” says Daniel Burl, a 2016 graduate from upstate New York, “You get to travel and learn different lifts for Lift Maintenance class, work on the school’s snowcats in Vehicle Maintenance, learn to be a ski patroller at Ski Cooper, learn two different styles of grooming – nordic and alpine – and master snowmaking operations.”
Bringing the lesson out of the classroom and onto the slopes is what sets this program apart. With five major ski resorts within one hour from campus, there are unlimited opportunities to learn from world class mountains.
Just twenty minutes from CMC Leadville is Ski Cooper, Leadville’s hometown mountain and one of the oldest ski area’s in Colorado. Students enrolled in the Ski Patrol lab class spend one day a week on the slopes of Ski Cooper learning the skills required to work as a ski patroller. Two nights a week, Ski Area Ops students climb into the snowcat at Ski Cooper to groom the slopes for Trail Grooming Operations Lab.
“All the nearby ski areas supply lift tickets when we visit for class related field trips,” says Jason Gusaas, Ski Area Operations instructor since 2009, “We appreciate their support in sharing their mountain operations with the next generation of industry professionals.”
These industry connections are mutually beneficial for student learning outcomes and ski area education opportunities. Several major resorts have their employees complete training with CMC’s Ropeway Maintenance Technician Program, a certification offered through the Ski Area Operations curriculum. Ropeway students gain hands-on experience working on chairlifts and gondolas at Vail Resorts.
Great relationships with local ski area’s go beyond the SAO program. Thanks to a partnership with Copper Mountain, Colorado Mountain College students living on campus in Leadville have an opportunity to ski for free while earning their degree. For 2019-2020, eligible students will receive a Copper Mountain ski pass at no cost.
Over the last few decades, Colorado Mountain College has built a name for itself as one of the leaders in ski education. With that recognition, came opportunities for the Ski Area Ops program to develop industry connections. CMC believes that it is critical for students to learn on state-of-the-art machines and heavy equipment—strategic partnerships make that possible.
Prinoth Snow Groomers donated a snowcat to the Ski Area Ops program for students to use in Trail Grooming Lab. Prinoth has also employed CMC alumni, like Zach Collins, a 2007 graduate and Park Specialist/ Demo Coordinator for Prinoth Snowcats. For Zach, the SAO program was his foot in the door to the ski industry.
“While I was attending CMC, I was working full time for Vail on the grooming crew the first year,” says Zach, originally from Boston, “The second year I moved over to Copper Mountain, where I ended up working for 7 years.”
In Equipment Operations class, students learn how to safely and efficiently operate various heavy and light equipment commonly used by ski areas. Wagner Equipment provides support with machines, equipment and the occasional guest speaker.
When it comes to making snow, having access to the latest technology is important. SMI Snowmakers gives the college deals on snow guns and provides technical machinery support. Snomax also donates snowmaking additives to enhance student snowmaking capabilities.
The Leadville community has also created opportunities for Ski Area Operations students to learn from experience. Colorado Mountain College and Lake County have built several valuable partnerships through local events, community projects and municipal services.
The Lake County Road and Bridge department helps with hauling and community support with heavy equipment projects. Students build the course and jumps for Leadville Ski Joring, an annual event on Harrison Ave. Local races, like the Leadville Loppet, are opportunities for students to groom trails and provide event support.
It’s these important partnerships that strengthen the Ski Area Operations curriculum. The more exposure students have with real-world mountain operations, the more valuable they become in a competitive job market. The Ski Area Operations program is proof that collaboration, education and innovation encourages progress while fulfilling industry demands.