Take 5: Jordan Thomas of the Cloud City Rail Jam at CMC-Leadville | SummitDaily.com

Take 5: Jordan Thomas of the Cloud City Rail Jam at CMC-Leadville

There's nothing like a spring rail jam.

When the weather warms and the snow softens, skiers and snowboarders from across the nation descend on terrain parks to show off their stuff. Colorado has long been home to a few of the nation's biggest and baddest parks, and by now, just about every park is running at full strength.

But it doesn't happen overnight. Behind the scenes at Breckenridge, Copper, Keystone and elsewhere, dozens of groomers, builders and designers with park crews spend hundreds of hours creating nearly perfect features. Some are former pros, others are self-taught, and still others learn the ins and outs in the classroom before moving to the field.

That's where Jordan Thomas and the CMC Cloud City Rail Jam come into the picture. Now in its 12th year, the rail jam is an end-of-season party-slash-final project for students in the school's ski and snowboard business program. The event has changed and evolved over the years — it takes on a new flavor with every new class — and for the first time this season, chief of rail jam Thomas is bringing something tantalizing to the table: robust sponsor tiers.

Sure, the phrase itself sounds like a lot of marketing jargon, but new sponsors at varying levels of involvement means more publicity for partners (always a selling point) and more prizes for competitors (always a must). This season, Thomas and crew have joined with 22 sponsors, from big names like Christy Sports, Weston Snowboards and Unity Snowboards to small outfits like Internal Bakery, a lifestyle brand founded and operated by a CMC-Leadville graduate. The team even started going after national names like Chaos Hats of Quebec and Pit Viper sunglasses of Salt Lake City to bolster the local offerings.

Before the rail jam, the Summit Daily sports desk caught up with Thomas — a Summit County local since 2011 — to learn more about the jam, the CMC ski business program and why she hardly thought twice about a college degree until moving to the mountains.

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Summit Daily News: A rail jam is an unorthodox school project, but the CMC jam has been happening for 12 years now. Why do you think it's survived?

Jordan Thomas: Each year this has been a little bit different. We usually take a rail jam and sync it up with the ski area management program, so it fits very nicely. We have terrain park design classes, along with snowmaking and trail grooming, so the rail jam is a lot of fun to see how the skills look in the field. People get a little learning in the classroom, then they learn in the field. It's a way to expand and branch out, seeing the difference between what they do in class and what they want to do on the snow.

SDN: How has the event itself changed over the years?

JT: It has a few new elements. Last year they brought in a grom division and we wanted to bring that back. We have the open skier/snowboarder jam, then a separate under-16 jam. We're incorporating features for the older, maybe more progressive riders, and then some of those smaller features for younger kids. It was really neat to have the out there last year.

SDN: What drew you to CMC's ski and snowboard business program?

JT: I was an events ambassador for a Lasik company a few years ago and when they branched out into the mountains I got into the coordinating aspect. I like skiing and snowboarding, so I wanted to mix that with it. It's about the event and marketing side of the business for me, and fitting that with the coordination side, the events side. It's nice to be passionate about this. When you have not only a passion for what you're doing — the events themselves — it makes it easier to really get involved.

SDN: When you moved to the mountains, did you know the college had a program for ski industry professionals?

JT: I honestly didn't think college was for me at all. I didn't think I'd go back to school, but when I get involved with the events at the Lasik company it made me think I wanted more. I looked into CMC and it really inspired me to want something more, to work for it. That was very nice.

SDN: Now that you're running the show, what are your hopes for the rail jam? What do you want to pass along to the next class?

JT: I'd like us to bring up the number of contestants and spectators. We've already been trying to do that with social media and flyers and everything else. Next year, we've got the sponsor tier that brings more professionalism to the event. These (new) companies never knew what we were doing out here, but now they do and they're excited to be a part of it.

SDN: And what about you? Where do you hope that planning, coordinating and hosting an event like this takes you and your career?

JT: I'd like to be in this position in the future. This is my goal: to run events, be the person behind the scenes making everything happen. I'm hoping something like this can go on the resume and really shine for one of the local resorts. I'm quite a fan of Summit County so I hope to find something in the area, something at a place like Copper or A-Basin or Loveland. I like those community places.

CMC Cloud City Rail Jam

What: The 12th edition of an open rail jam for groms and adults, held at the Colorado Mountain College campus in Leadville on a course built and designed by CMC students

When: Saturdaym March 26 at 11:15 a.m.

Where: Colorado Mountain College Leadville campus, 901 U.S. Highway 24 in Leadville

Cost: $10

Helmets are required. Registration is only available the day of the jam at the CMC campus from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. An open practice session takes place before competition begins with the grom division (ages 16 and younger) at 11:15 a.m. The first 30 competitors receive a jersey intead of a paper bib. Food, music and sponsor tents are on-site throughout the day. For more info, see the CMC Cloud City Rail jam Facebook page.

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