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Gap Semester at a Glance

Dates: Jan. 16- March 21 (65 Days)

Cost: $13,500

Group Size: 8-12 students

Ages: Course is designed for ages 18-25+

Location: Home campus in Florissant, CO (1 hr. west of Colorado Springs, 2 hrs. from Denver Airport). Expeditions throughout the southwest to remote wilderness areas of multiple states including Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Utah.

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Field Expedition: Backpacking

Backpacking provides the perfect opportunity to gain comfort in the outdoors. As our initial expedition, we will focus on teaching technical skills lessons, establishing group routines, and working closely with each participant to ensure a foundational understanding of living in the outdoors. The trip will take place in a southern desert climate and consist of at least four nights spent out on the trail.

Field Expedition: Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry skiing allows for the direct application of basic backcountry skills in a Rocky Mountain winter environment. We will learn how to ski downhill as well as how to travel uphill and traverse on our skis. An important aspect to backcountry travel in the winter is understanding the complexity of the Colorado winter snowpack, and how to safely ski tour and identify appropriate terrain. The backcountry ski section culminates in a “hut trip” with the group traveling via skis to a backcountry hut, sleeping in a warm, off the grid cabin, and exploring the local slopes to make some turns.

Field Expedition: Rock Climbing

In our rock climbing section we turn our sights to the vertical landscapes of sandstone and limestone in the American West. Using a basecamp in the Mojave Desert, the group will take day trips to the surrounding crags and cliffs to learn roped climbing and bouldering. We will rely on the encouragement and coaching of each other to take on each of our personal challenges in rock climbing.

Field Expedition: Mountain Biking

Mountain biking provides yet another avenue to explore varied outdoor terrain. This section begins with learning mountain bike technique on an established trail system, as well as basic maintenance. From there, we learn how to pack our camping gear on our bikes and head out for a multi-day bikepacking tour of the Chihuahuan Desert.

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Is the Sanborn Gap Semester for me?

Yes! You do not need to be an experienced backpacker, mountain biker, climber, or skier to do the semester. Some outdoor experience is welcome, but an adventurous and curious mind is even more essential. We tailor our instruction to every individual to make sure you get the most you can out of your semester with us.

Capstone Experience

The Sanborn Gap Semester culminates with participants taking ownership over their final expedition, called the Capstone. Each participant will select one outdoor pursuit from our four field expeditions that they wish to take to the next level of learning. Participants will then plan and execute the Capstone in a small group with the others who have selected the same sport. Each Capstone group will receive close personal mentorship prior to the expedition from a mentor dedicated to each group. With this final preparation and intensive training, each Capstone group will set out on their own, with their mentor nearby for support, to complete the Capstone expedition in the last week of the program.

Speaker Series

Throughout the program guest speakers from a variety of different fields come to High Trails and share their story. During these close and personal conversations, participants have the opportunity to learn more about the abundance of paths available in the outdoors.

Sample Speakers:

Beth Jensen, Director of Sustainable Materials and Products at VF Corp.

R. A. Wobus, Professor of Geology, Williams College

Jason Bayuk, Financial Planner at Barnum Financial Group, Founder of Transition S & E Marketing

Ryan Burr, Education Program Coordinator on Summit Huts Association Board of Directors

Kelly Muededonck, Retail Education Coordinator at Smartwool

Kody Maynard, Theater Educator and Director at Challenger Middle School, Site Director for the National Student Leadership Conference

Professionals from many careers with a passion for the outdoors


Receiving the right training is a crucial step in gaining competency and confidence in the outdoors. Throughout the course, we’ll take multiple certification courses taught by outside, industry-recognized organizations. These include:

-Wilderness First Responder

-Mental Health First Aid

-Bike Instructor Certification Program Ride Leader

-American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education Level 1

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Environmental Education and History of the West

Everywhere we go on the Sanborn Gap Semester, we’ll learn about the natural and human history of each area. We’ll weave the curriculum from our longstanding residential outdoor education program, High Trails Outdoor Education Center, into the Semester to enhance our connection to our home base here in Florissant. As we travel the American Southwest, we’ll uncover the context for our explorations. We’ll examine the history of the peoples that have lived on the lands we camp upon and connect that to our understandings of recreational access now. We’ll approach each natural area as a “visitor,” keen on understanding the flora, fauna, geographical features, and weather patterns that define these regions of snow and desert so often seen as remote and barren.

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