Year Program

A Year with IWLS!
(160 – 240 days)





One of our most popular year program structures spans the globe, from the glaciated peaks and fjords of Alaska to the untouched landscape and rugged beauty of Patagonia. In a year you’ll climb the third highest peak in North America (Pico de Orizaba), explore glaciers of the largest non-polar ice cap in the world, paddle in the largest protected wilderness area in the world, explore slot canyons of the southwestern U.S., and raft the longest and largest river in Nepal. Year programs vary by individual and we are experts at customizing your experience. Whether you are a gap year student, a full time degree seeking student at a different University, or looking to make a career change, we have the perfect program for you.

Just letting you know Kiernan arrived home safely last night from his Seattle/Toronto flight.  He said that the kayak trip in Glacier Bay was his favorite course and we reminded him that he said that after every course (Utah, Mexico, Argentina etc. !!! LOL.)  Many thanks for this spectacular experience – the mentoring, education and challenges Kiernan experienced will serve him well in everything he does.  Thank you also for everyone’s help whenever we called the office – everyone we dealt with were exceptional.  – Maureen E.

Over the course of a year, students develop substantial technical skill and gain leadership experience, preparing them to be professional leaders or guides in several disciplines. Whether graduates find work as rafting expedition leaders, sea kayaking instructors, outdoor educators, or mountain guides, the IWLS year program sets them up for success. Career development and subsequent high likelihood of job placement make the IWLS year program ideal for aspiring outdoor professionals.

The standard IWLS year program begins in Utah, continues to Alaska, and finishes in Mexico. However, students have the option of customizing their year-long program to best fit their educational and professional goals.

Customized Year Programs:
With rolling enrollment and year round start dates, the structure of the IWLS year program is flexible to fit your educational goals. We have courses running throughout the year and around the world, and it can be an ideal program to fill a gap year before university. This gives students a variety of options to customize their year long experience with IWLS. Year courses generally incorporate between 2 and 3 IWLS semesters, however the exact structure varies depending on season and personal interest. You may find yourself trekking amongst the tallest peaks in the world, kayaking among islets of Patagonia, and rafting excited whitewater in the Yukon. With locations around the world, the IWLS year program is the strongest possible professional training program for technical skill development and outdoor leadership training.

After each segment you will have a few days to unpack, clean up, reconnect with all your loved ones, and prepare for the next portion of the program. If your first aid isn’t current, consider adding our 10-day Wilderness First Responder course to your semester. This course is available for additional university credit and is the minimum standard for instructors and guides in the outdoor industry. Upon completion of your year with IWLS, you will be a competent and confident leader in a variety of terrains and techniques. Qualified students may have the opportunity for employment as a guide or instructor with IWLS.

The Instructors and Guides of IWLS are widely recognized as some of the very best in their field and have practical leadership experience from around the globe. They are well trained and have an uncommon enthusiasm for sharing their skill and knowledge, borne out of a passion for outdoor exploration.

The International Wilderness Leadership Schools’ educational model nurtures leadership development and creates an awareness of the guiding mentality that is essential for leading safe, fun adventures in the mountains. The combination of technical skills training, experiential education and practical leadership experience make the IWLS curriculum world class.

The IWLS General Curriculum outlines the essential components for effective outdoor leadership. Here are a few points that the course will focus on:

  • Equipment/Clothing Selection and Use: You’ll learn to choose the right gear for the correct application, whether enjoying a sunny afternoon on a snow slope or trekking through a tropical rainforest.
  • Leadership: You’ll have the opportunity to lead the group in a variety of activities and objectives.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet, it is our duty to respect the natural landscape. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace® principles.
  • Safety and Risk Management: Safety is always the #1 consideration. As the course progresses, you’ll develop an awareness to appropriately asses risk and make safe decisions.
  • Wilderness Emergency Procedures and Treatment: Learn how to effectively manage safe, efficient, and timely backcountry rescues.

-Ted Roxbury

Sea Kayaking

IWLS Kayaking Curriculum is oriented to providing students with a solid skill set of paddling techniques to be safe and confident in a coastal environment. Here are a few of the topics students will learn on the course:

  • Braces: Paddling in rough conditions requires solid bracing skills. We’ll learn and practice the low brace, high brace and sculling brace in a fun, controlled environment.
  • Rescues: What happens when you’re paddling with clients in the frigid waters of Southeast Alaska and a boat capsizes? We’ll learn everything from the paddle-float rescue to the assisted bow rescue to kayak rolling.
  • Towing: Whether you are pulling an injured kayaker away from booming surf or lending a helping hand to a seasick client, you’ll learn the finer points of a towing system and the criteria for towing.
  • Tides and Currents: Southeast Alaska is home to some of the largest tidal changes in North America. We’ll learn about tide charts, the”Rule of 12’s”, and how to identify and avoid strong currents.

-Darsie Culbeck


IWLS Mountaineering Curriculum is built from countless expeditions in Alaska and around the world. You’ll learn how to be a competent and proficient mountaineer in a variety of different environments. Below are some topics we’ll cover:

  • Self-Arrest: What happens if you fall on a steep now slope? Learn, through hands on experience, how to stop a fall quickly and efficiently.
  • Anchors: Anchor building is a fun, yet intricate subject. We’ll examine single, double, triple and complex anchors, and their different applications. Learn how to place anchors in snow, rock, and ice.
  • Crevasse Rescue: Traveling in glaciated terrain requires that every member of the team be proficient in crevasse rescue. We’ll learn how to get a team mate out of a crevasse quickly and efficiently.
  • Technical Climbing: Rock climbing, ice climbing and steep snow climbing are all included in the IWLS’ curriculum.

-Ted Roxbury


IWLS Avalanche Curriculum is a nationally recognized progression of material that prepares students to be safe backcountry travelers.

  • Avalanche Characteristics: We’ll examine loose snow, wet snow, soft slab, and hard slab avalanches along with some potential triggers. You’ll learn the definition of terms such as stauchwall, alpha angle, and bed surface.
  • Snow Stability Evaluation: Is this snow capable of avalanching? Learn tests such as compression test and rutschblock test that will help you evaluate layers within the snowpack. Develop your documentation skills for accurate recording and analysis of information.
  • Safe Winter Travel: As a group, we will travel safely through avalanche terrain. Considerations will include cornices, equipment selection, route finding, campsite selection, and effective communication.
  • Avalanche Rescue: Someone buried in an avalanche has an 87% chance of survival if found within the first fifteen minutes.

Backpacking & Whitewater

IWLS Backpacking & River Skills Curriculum prepares students for exploration into remote, backcountry settings. Here are some points we’ll cover on your course:

  • Swiftwater Rescue: You’ll learn the skills necessary to descend a river safely and how to correct things if problems occur. From learning how to pluck swimmers from rapids to righting flipped rafts, this comprehensive course sets the standard for river rescue.
  • Stoves and Campfires: The ability to repair a broken stove, make an emergency fire after being submerged in an icy river, and melt snow efficiently for water are key components for leading a group in the wilderness.
  • River and Stream Crossings: In river crossings, attention to detail and safety are #1. You’ll learn and practice safe techniques for wading across a small stream or doing a Tyrolean traverse across a raging river.
  • Geology: From plate tectonics to granitic batholiths, you’ll learn the history of the land you are exploring and how these forces create and influence the environment around you.

During each course, camping and housing arrangements would be provided by IWLS but before and after each course you would be responsible for associated costs with living (i.e. food and housing).  We are happy to help make arrangements in each location for you and help with associated logistics.  Also, travel costs (i.e. plane tickets) associated with each course are not included in the price.  An IWLS associate would pick you up from the airport and provide travel during the course, but airfare is not included.

Obviously, the costs vary significantly if you choose a year program within Mexico and the Continental U.S. compared to Nepal and Argentina for example.

During a year long program with IWLS, students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of outdoor activities and therefore need to have a variety of different equipment. IWLS maintains an equipment warehouse in Haines and Salt Lake City in order to provide students with any rental equipment needs during their courses.

Each course operating in a different location will build on the previous course and allow you to develop a variety of specific technical skills and attain a higher level of proficiency in the backcountry. Also, every location has specific features that demand a specific set of skills, therefore the skills being taught will be specific to that location. For example, a mountaineering course in Alaska will focus on glacier travel while a mountaineering course in Nepal will involve more international logistics and high altitude concerns.  Please contact us for more information or to set up a gap year experience!

Experience Level: No previous experience is necessary for this course. However, with a desire to learn and an enthusiasm for adventure, you’ll develop the skills necessary for a lifetime of wilderness exploration.

CERTIFICATIONS Upon completion of an IWLS year program, students may qualify for the following certifications:

ACA Certificates of Completion
American Canoe Association


ACA Levels 1-5
American Canoe Association


Level 1 Avalanche Certification*
International Wilderness Leadership School



Swiftwater Rescue Technician, Level 1
Rescue III International or ACA

12 & 24 Day Guide Training Certificates of Completion
International Wilderness Leadership School


Wilderness First Responder (WFR)
International Wilderness Leadership School


BLS for the Healthcare Provider
American Red Cross


CPR for the Professional Rescuer
American Heart Association