Montana Gap Year for Student-Athletes: RIDGE Mountain Academy

Montana Gap Year for Student-Athletes: RIDGE Mountain Academy

Montana Gap Year for Student-Athletes: RIDGE Mountain Academy

With a current 11th grader in my house, post-secondary plans are front of mind. Right now, her intention is to head directly to college in the fall of 2018, but I’m certainly not opposed to her crafting a carefully planned gap year — defined by the American Gap Association (AGA) as “a structured period of time when students take a break from their formal education to increase self-awareness, learn from different cultures, and/or experiment with possible careers.”

That’s what male and female student-athletes ages 16 to 22 experience at RIDGE Mountain Academy in Whitefish, Montana. This campus-based gap year program (accredited by the AGA) revolves around mountain sports (how awesome!), allowing participants to receive tailored coaching and goal-oriented physical training, as well as have opportunities to develop mentally, physically, academically and socially.

With the striking mountain peaks of Whitefish as their playground, athletes ski, snowboard and tour the backcountry in the winter-spring semester (January-May), while earning college credits from the University of Montana. The core curriculum includes classes in snow science, avalanche safety, wilderness safety and photography. As important, I think, student athletes develop mindfulness; guiding principals at RIDGE include joy and passion, being present, intention and focus, energy and balance, and individuality and teamwork.

Here, take a peek at Training Ground, a video from Montana Tourism that highlights the RIDGE Mountain Academy. It does a great job not only of showcasing Whitefish’s awesome scenery in the winter months, but also the hands-on learning that these student-athletes do in those glorious mountains and in the classroom:

For families interested in exploring this program, now’s the time to start checking it out for the next winter semester. is chock full of information (and inspiration!) that can help you plan your exploration of Montana after taking a tour of the school, with details on a variety of winter activities, places to stay, and more.

I’ve never been to Whitefish, Montana, but it’s certainly on my list. Named one of the top 25 ski towns in the world by National Geographic, Whitefish sits on the edge of Glacier National Park (also on my must-see-before-I-die list). As gorgeous and inviting as those ski slopes look in the winter, I’m eyeing a summer visit for hiking, kayaking, and biking in the mountains, rivers and lakes around this laid-back resort town.

RIDGE Mountain Academy is enrolling now for January 2018. Now here’s the caveat: Tuition is $39,500 for the winter-spring program, which does include room and board, and is on par with other ski academies, prep schools and some private colleges. There are opportunities for scholarships, and students can earn up to nine college credits from the University of Montana. While participating in RIDGE Mountain Academy is certainly an investment, it sure seems like it is a life-changing one for young mountain-sports enthusiasts looking to not only develop their athleticism, but also grow as a person, in preparation for whatever their futures might hold.

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