Adventure as part of your educational journey.


General Questions

Alzar is a Spanish verb which translates to “to rise,” “to elevate,” “to lift,” or “to boost.” It is used in many different expressions, such as alzar el vuelo (to take flight), alzar la carpa (to pitch a tent), and alzar la vela (to set sail). As a verb, it indicates action, and Alzar Gap students are full of action. It also reflects our larger goal of elevating what education can be.

Alzar School is the overall organization that offers the Alzar Gap programs.  Alzar School has been operating semesters and short programs for high school students since 2007.  Alzar Gap leans on the amazing resources that Alzar School provides (such as our two amazing campuses, years of expertise operating in our course areas, and more).  Alzar Gap’s staff bring the expertise of working with high school graduates to tailor our gap programs for your needs.

To be accepted to Alzar Gap, a student must be motivated and must also demonstrate strong character, as students are given significant trust and responsibility from the beginning of their program. A student must not have a history of dishonest and/or irresponsible behavior, and must be willing to spend the entire program drug and alcohol free (if you think you might be tempted to break this rule, please do not apply).  It is important to note that Alzar Gap is a program for students who choose to participate. It is not appropriate for students who are court mandated or otherwise coerced to enroll.  Finally, a student’s application and references must indicate that they have the desire and potential to become an effective leader who will work to make the world a better place. Please see Alzar School’s Student Eligibility Criteria.

Alzar Gap’s programs are built on our Six Foundations: leadership training, academics, cultural exchange, outdoor adventure, service learning, and environmental stewardship. Our unique combination of these six foundations makes the program stand out. We are a small program that places emphasis on genuinely challenging high school graduates to become leaders. We don’t think that “someday” they can make a difference. We know that they can make a difference today, and we give them the tools to do so.  We are confident that there is no other program where you can invest in yourself as a leader as intensively as you can at Alzar Gap.

Our mission is: We build leaders who positively impact the world.

We recognized that students find out about Alzar School during different points in their overall educational journey.  For many students, the right time for an Alzar experience is for a semester during 10th or 11th grade.  But for others, it makes more sense to join for a program after graduating high school.  Alzar Gap is part of our efforts to reach more people with our essential mission.

Yes, Alzar Gap is a division of Alzar School, which is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that is officially registered with the State of Idaho and the IRS. Contributions to the school are tax deductible (check with your accountant to maximize your donation). It was approved as a 501c3 in April 2008.

As a 501c3 nonprofit, Alzar School relies on a variety of sources for funding, and Alzar Gap (as part of the larger school) is in a similar position. Private donations make up a significant portion of our funding. Additionally, we do apply each year for numerous grants to support the school. We do charge Alzar Gap students tuition. However, our programs are subsidized by the donations we collect. We also seek to minimize tuition costs by drawing from passionate, committed volunteers whenever possible.

No, Alzar Gap does not pay commission to any US referrals to our gap year program.

Alzar Gap is a division of Alzar School, whose administrative team oversees it.  Alzar School is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors whose members have a variety of skills and perspectives. We also have a volunteer Advisory Committee who offer their guidance to the school. They are made up of experts from the fields of education, outdoor recreation, business, medicine, service, etc, and are located throughout the United States. The faculty and staff include the founders of Alzar School (Kristin Bierle, Executive Director and Sean Bierle, Head of School) and a Gap Program Coordinator.  Alzar Gap receives support from the school’s Director of Expeditions and Risk Management, Director of Admissions, Director of Advancement, Director of Chilean Programs, and Administrative Assistant.  Read the staff bios here. Alzar School attracts professional and passionate educators as instructors and staff for its programs.

Alzar Gap will run its first gap program starting in January 2022.

Alzar School was founded in 2004 by Sean and Kristin Bierle. At that time, the school offered three-week expeditions within the United States, Mexico, and Chile. In the fall of 2012, the semester program was launched, and in 2015 Alzar School became an official member of the Semester Schools Network.

Alzar Gap instructors are inspiring educators who have a passion for working with young adults. They are charismatic individuals who are excited to share their life experiences, passion for the outdoors, and commitment to learning.  Our instructors’ backgrounds may include experience working as an outdoor guide/instructor, teaching as a high school teacher, working with nonprofits, or leading international educational programs. In all cases, our instructors are chosen for their extensive experience as an educator, strong outdoor resume, risk management skills and passion for working with young adults.
Our instructors all hold a Wilderness First Responder certification (an 80-hour advanced medical training certification), as well as CPR/AED training. In addition, all river staff hold a swiftwater rescue  training certification, and have extensive commercial river guiding experience. All gap instructors attend a comprehensive 7-day training each year that cover topics related to leading groups of young adults on multi-week educational adventures. We hold a high standard for employing kind, approachable, and inspiring individuals who can serve as a role model for our students.

Since the first gap program will launch in January 2022, there are not students/parents who have specifically done the gap program yet.  However, we definitely have many families who have been a part of the Alzar School high school semester who would be excited to share their experience with you. Many of the course locations are shared between the semester and the gap programs, and these families can speak to the power of our leadership curriculum and team.  Please email so that we can help arrange a conversation.


During the Alzar Gap experience, students have the option to earn up to 16 college semester credits through our relationship with Portland State University, and Western Colorado University. All of our college credit opportunities are entirely optional and designed to add depth, and value to your Alzar Gap experience.

We have designed our curriculum to be challenging and integrated throughout the experience.  Our leadership program, threaded throughout students’ experiences at Alzar Gap, asks students to consider their leadership in real-world situations. Not only do students study leadership academically, but they also apply these lessons in multiple designated leadership roles throughout their semester with feedback from peers and instructors.  Beyond that, each of our gap programs’ curriculum works to help students develop a sense of place for the areas we explore.  That might mean learning Chilean history, studying the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, or practicing Spanish.

Each Alzar Gap cohort is between 6 and 14 students.  With 2-3 instructors, the ratio of students to instructors is 5:1 (or better).

The 10 Elements of Leadership that are taught and utilized in our leadership curriculum are: 1) Character, 2) Technical Proficiency, 3) 360˚ Thinking, 4) Resiliency and Resourcefulness, 5) Communication Skills, 6) Accurate Awareness, 7) Personal Leadership and Follow-through, 8) Community Membership and Service, 9) Inspiring Vision, 10) Continual Learning and Improvement. These elements give students and instructors a common vocabulary with which to discuss leadership.

During the Alzar Gap experience, students have the option to earn up to 16 college semester credits through our relationship with Portland State University, and Western Colorado University. All of our college credit opportunities are entirely optional and designed to add depth, and value to your Alzar Gap experience.

Our alumni have gone on to attend some of the finest colleges and universities in the country.  We believe that an Alzar Gap graduate is uniquely prepared for college in that they have spent intentional time maturing and broadening perspectives while living independently. Our alumni have a greater awareness of what they are looking for from their university experience and of the elements of a community that help them thrive.  If you haven’t already checked it out, read more about why you should take a gap year or learn more about the College Planning process and Alzar Gap.

Student Life

Alzar Gap is designed for motivated high school graduates who want to make a difference in the world.  Students should have done well in a traditional classroom, but also desire to do something different as part of their post-high school career.  Our admissions department looks for leadership potential. This might be demonstrated by community service, participation in school clubs and teams, or other civic involvement. Once at Alzar Gap, the most successful students are those who keep an open mind, who are willing to work hard, and who generally have a positive attitude.

We have a basic set of expectations that have been developed over years of running programs for young adults. The expectations outlined in the Code of Conduct are designed to help minimize needless risk, promote a positive community and help students accomplish their goals while on an Alzar Gap program.  These broad expectations apply to all programs, and additional detailed expectations for a given program or component of a course are further explained on site by staff leading the course (such as how to check in while doing a homestay, what the boundaries are for independent exploration, etc0.

Alzar Gap students come from all over the United States, and at times our gap programs include students from all over the world.  Generally, the gap program is one step in a larger post-high school journey that includes college.  For some students, our gap programs are in the year immediately after they graduate high school.  But others will attend college/university for a year/years and then take a break from the traditional classroom.  Students are unified by the desire to see more of the world through their education. Check out this Google map showing our network of alumni.  We do provide financial aid to support students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.

Students will have access to the internet and their cell phones while at our Idaho campus, although we do ask students to keep them out of community settings. There will be times while on expeditions (both domestically and while in Chile) when students may not be able to access internet or phones. For most of the gap program, parents will have plenty of opportunities to call and hear about the amazing experience the students are having. The students will also be able to receive mail while in Idaho.

One of the strengths of being a small boutique gap program is the ability to have a flexible schedule that adapts to our environment as we explore different “classrooms.” While no day at Alzar Gap is typical, generally each day offers structured activities and time to recharge with unstructured time to read, relax, play music, etc.

If a student plans to take medication during the program, it is important that the participant can self-manage care and delivery of medication.  Students are discouraged from removing or titrating themselves off of their prescription medication without the consultation of their guiding physician and informing Alzar Gap of the recent change. Students are encouraged to bring enough medication for the entirety of the program, or to reach out to Alzar Gap to develop a plan to obtain refills for medication while on the program.

Tuition & Scholarships

Because programs vary based on location, focus, and length, each program has a different tuition amount.  Please see the Gap Tuition and Financial Aid page for more details.  You will be asked to pay a nonrefundable deposit of $2,000 upon acceptance and return of the Initial Registration Form.  This deposit is applied to the cost of tuition. The remainder of the tuition will be due 30 days before the first day of your program. We realize that attending Alzar Gap requires a significant financial commitment on the part of your family. Our goal is to make these programs available to as many deserving students as possible, therefore, we have several financial aid options available.  You can apply for financial aid after submitting your application for admission.

We strive to make gap programs available to students and work hard to raise funds for financial aid each year. When you complete your application for admission to Alzar Gap, you will also be given the option to apply for financial aid. Admissions decisions are made independently of financial aid awards.

Outdoor Program

Each gap program is slightly different.  However, our locations offer the chances to participate in a variety of activities.  Our Idaho campus is located on the North Fork of the Payette River, just over two miles downstream from the world-class Kelly’s Whitewater Park and seven miles upstream from the Class II-III Cabarton Section. Students live within an hour of two ski resorts where they can explore some of Idaho’s great powder on some gap programs. Other gap programs spend an extended period of time in Chile and Patagonia, which provides the majestic Andes for mountain sports. Students learn to backpack, kayak, raft, ski, and more.

Outdoor adventure sports have inherent risks. Through training, coaching, and development of good judgment, you can learn to manage risks. Alzar Gap students often participate in wilderness first aid training or swiftwater rescue training, and they learn to evaluate real vs. perceived risk and to weigh risk vs. consequences. The goal is to help students become lifetime outdoor enthusiasts who can recreate responsibly.

Alzar Gap is fortunate to be able to explore rivers and mountains in Idaho, Oregon, California, and Chile. Each river offers everything from Class I for our beginners to Class IV for our advanced students, and we break into groups based on skill-level. Alzar School has spent time on the Klamath River, Cal Salmon River, Trinity River, and Clear Creek.  We backpack in the Andes (several different national parks), Owyhee Canyonlands, Trinity Alps, Salmon River Mountains, and more.  We operate on special use permits from the Klamath and Shasta-Trinity National Forests. In Idaho we run the Main Payette River, South Fork Payette River, North Fork Payette River (Cabarton section), Salmon River, Owyhee River, and Snake River (Hagerman – Bliss). We operate on special-use permits from Boise National Forest, Payette National Forest, and Salmon-Challis National Forest. In Chile, the rivers we run depend on river levels and geographic region, and may include the Rio Simpson, Rio Paloma, Rio Azul, Rio Espolon, Rio Futaleufu, Rio Claro, Rio Teno, Rio Achibueno, Rio Nuble, Rio Fuy, Rio Trancura, Rio Luicura, Rio San Pedro, Rio Claro (Siete Tazas), and Rio Baker. Learn more about our outdoor classrooms.

With so many great outdoor sports and activities integrated into one of our gap programs, a variety of gear is needed. Alzar Gap will provide most of the necessary technical equipment, but students will need to acquire certain items.  Generally speaking, students are responsible for having their own personal layers and footwear (rain jackets, long underwear, hiking boots, etc).  Please contact for a current packing list for your specific program.

Cultural Exchange

The founders of Alzar School have been working in Chile since 2001, and Alzar School started running programming there in 2007. Chile offers an amazing classroom for our students. The culture is warm and inviting and the government and economy are stable. Students practice Spanish as they make lifelong friends. The history of the country is fascinating, from the pre-colonial Mapuche, to Charles Darwin’s explorations, to the Pinochet era. Chile’s geology and geography provide endless lessons and stunning backdrops. Chile offers an unbeatable opportunity to explore a different country—one that is, in many ways, extremely different from the United States, but shares many common values.  Patagonia, a wild and remote portion in the south of the country, maintains some of the best wilderness expanses.  We have developed a one-in-a-kind home at Base Patagonia along the shores of Lago Atravesado that is perfect for groups to live at and learn.

Chile is a long, magnificent country, and we do our best to expose students to as much of the country and culture as possible while still deeply learning about the places we visit. The Alzar Gap group also travels together, camping in the Andes and renting cabanas. The school maintains Base Patagonia in the Aysen Region, near Coyhaique, with refugios (rustic cabins) for students to live in. The extended time in one community allows students to get to know the area and local culture. Students spend time exploring the Andes and participating in cultural activities (such as shopping in a Chilean market or interacting with local schools).  For some programs, there are homestays where students live at the homes of Chileans who have been vetted and are interested in cultural exchange for their families.  These homestays may not happen every program, depending on the season, group size, and other factors, but as often as we can, we work to get gap students into the homes for authentic Spanish practice.  During our time in Chile, there is limited internet access.

No. Students can join the Alzar Gap programs in Chile with no previous Spanish training, however, all gap students will engage with the language with a mix of instructional strategies. Immersion in Chile is by far the most fun and effective way to learn the language. Alzar Gap instructors will help students build their vocabulary, and then students work toward mastery in authentic situations (like making purchases at a Chilean market). Each cohort includes students who have never studied Spanish, native Spanish speakers, and everyone in between.