Unique ‘Gap Year’ Program Begins in Whitefish, Montana

WHITEFISH, MONT. (January 2015) — RIDGE Mountain Academy has announced the start of its inaugural semester in Whitefish, Montana. Enrolled student athletes combine mountain sports, academics, and life skills in this unique "gap year" program between high school and college that is designed to develop balance, purpose, and potential.

RIDGE was founded by Billy O’Donnell, a former international ski athlete who holds master’s degrees in business administration and global studies from the University of Denver. He founded RIDGE based on his desire to share knowledge, experience, focus, and passion for mountain sports with a new generation of student athletes.


Pro snowboarder Sean Busby is one of the elite coaches at RIDGE Mountain Academy in Whitefish, Montana.

“We have been working toward the launch of our first semester for the past year and a half and our team is ready to bring new momentum into young people's lives,” says O’Donnell. "We are the first academy program to be focused and organized in up-hill touring. Our student athletes will be climbing mountains in so many ways to help them develop mentally, physically, academically, and socially."

O'Donnell and his staff of more than a dozen coaches and instructors believe that the mental and physical challenges where actions sports meet the backcountry will transfer into self-exploration, focus, and discovery of new passions. Each academy member creates a customized curriculum based on individual needs, with coaches assigned for specific disciplines. Students leave the program with a plan crafted by their coaches and mentors.

Whitefish was chosen as the site for the academy for its access to backcountry terrain near Whitefish Mountain Resort and Glacier National Park. The academy operates on a 16-acre campus where students live, cook, and study. Each participant engages in physical training and coaching in their chosen discipline of backcountry skiing or snowboarding, with additional disciplines of Nordic skiing, ice climbing, and skimo racing. In the fall semester, the program transitions to mountain climbing, trail running, and mountain biking.

Courses are required in avalanche safety and wilderness medicine, as well as a mountain snow science course accredited by the University of Montana. The curriculum also includes an innovative health and nutrition program, photo and video training, community internships, and academic tutoring.

Sponsors and partners supporting RIDGE include Backcountry Access (BCA), CAMP technical adventure equipment, Cassin technical ice gear, Dynafit, Flylow Gear, Head Skis and Snowboards, Pret Helmets, Spark R&D splitboard bindings, Suunto, Wend Waxworks, and Zeal Optics.

For more information, visit www.ridgeacademy.com or call 406-730-8524.