Living at 10,152 feet here in Leadville is an incredible privilege, and I try not to go through a day without being grateful for the chance to live here. To me, it’s the rare combination of living close to nature in a beautiful outdoor environment coupled with our unique and gritty community that makes this place so special. Sometimes, seeing Leadville again with new eyes helps us to continue to appreciate this one-of-a-kind place.

I have recently had this opportunity due to my transition to Colorado Mountain College (CMC) after several years at Lake County High School. In my role at the high school, I knew CMC well and felt like an “insider.” Now that I’m working at the college on a daily basis and getting to know CMC as a larger institution serving many of our mountain communities, I have a deeper appreciation for this incredible asset in Leadville. Below are a few things that have stood out.

First, CMC’s funding structure allows for a wide range of programs and affordable tuition. Because it’s a property tax-supported college, CMC does not rely on state funds and student tuition like many other colleges and universities. This allows CMC to offer degrees and certificates that directly meet the needs of the communities we serve. Lake County residents can also study at any of CMC’s 11 campuses and pay in-district tuition.

In addition, students come from all over the country to attend CMC Leadville. Our outdoor recreation leadership program is top notch and has prepared mountain and outdoor professionals now working all over the world. Our fire academy and fire science associate degree programs attract students from across the state, and our innovative avalanche science program is in high demand.

Lastly, and this I did know, we are lucky to have great relationships and support in our little town. Transitioning from high school to college has allowed me to be reminded of the support and amazing people here. We have too many wonderful organizations and people to name them all, but the Leadville Trail 100 Legacy Foundation, Lake County School District teachers and staff, Get Outdoors Leadville!, the Lions Club, Cloud City Wheelers, and our elected officials like our mayor and commissioners have reminded me of the passion they have for our community and for students of all ages.

As I work to continue helping CMC support our students and community, I am grateful for a wonderful partner in the school district and for the many great people and organizations we have here in Leadville.

Ben Cairns is CMC vice president and campus dean at the Leadville and Salida campuses. He can be reached at

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