Winters can be quite unpredictable. They expose you to a range of physical and emotional challenges and help you grow as a person. Whether you choose to go backpacking in Ecuador, witness the picturesque landscapes of New Zealand or train as a winter sports instructor in a ski resort in Hokkaido, this guide will help you pick a perfect winter gap year program.

Before you go on a winter gap year program, consider your interests. Think about what you are passionate about and give thought to any specific goals you’ve in mind. While you can participate in a long-term program in one destination to sharpen your outdoor skills, your best bet is to combine three or four destinations based on your skills and interests. This will give you a greater exposure to the outside world.


If you love outdoors, you can spend your time exploring the Canadian Rockies soaking up the mountain lifestyle. Banff National Park offers several outdoor experiences such as hiking, river-rafting, rock climbing and has three world-class ski areas where one can train to be a ski and snowboard instructor. Working in retail, restaurant and other industries in a mountain resort will also bring you season passes, transport deals, discount meals, free ski and snowboarding lessons.


For those who want to combine their gap year adventures with a bit of culture, sake, and food, Japan is an excellent choice as a winter gap year destination. Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island is famous for winter gap year programs as the region is known for volcanoes, natural hot springs, national parks and ski areas. From modern world fancies in Tokyo to old world charm and laid back atmosphere in Kyoto, with Japan’s world-class infrastructure, getting around the country is quite easy.

New Zealand

If you want to go on a winter gap year program in the southern hemisphere, this includes the months of May to August. One of the popular destinations for winter gap year itineraries in the southern hemisphere is New Zealand. Due to country’s jaw-dropping landscapes, Wanaka and Cardrona in South Island, Queenstown and Mt Ruapehu in North Island have become popular destinations for winter programs in New Zealand.

You can participate in a dog sledding program as you learn to live a life full of adventure in America’s Northwoods. Other popular winter gap year programs include ski and snowboard instructor programs in France, semester expeditions at the Rockies, leadership programs in Patagonia. In Canada, you can become a ski instructor after following a pre-season instructor course. New Zealand and Canada offer paid internships for ski and winter sports instructors.

Outdoor Adventures

Backpacking, mountaineering, canyoneering, and rock climbing courses are popular options as they help you to expand your outdoor skills as you are exposed to diverse environments and cultures. Participate in an eight-day Wilderness First Responder to enhance your skills of responding to remote backcountry medical emergencies. For those who love adventure, take an 85-day aquatic wilderness course which includes water-based activities such as sailing, white-water rafting, scuba diving and sea kayaking in Florida Keys, Panama and Costa Rica.

Work Abroad

Take advantage of working holiday visas offered by other countries. Japan and New Zealand are two popular destinations to score a working holiday visa. One can immerse in Japan’s rich culture, taste amazing Japanese cuisine, participate in ski programs and work as an English teacher. While you work as a cashier or kitchen staff in New Zealand, you are unlikely to get bored with the diverse landscapes the country has to offer.


Voluntourism is a great way to explore a new country during your gap year especially when you are on a budget. Most of these programs are based in remote areas of South East Asia or South Asian countries such as India, and Sri Lanka. This will give you the opportunity to see a glimpse of the local life as you contribute to the betterment of local communities.

When you are planning a gap year, have a clear goal in mind. Make sure it’s going to be something productive. This can be something like being a certified ski instructor or learning social skills to mingle with diverse cultures. Challenge yourself, get out of your comfort zone and try something new. If you go on a gap year program which covers several countries and cities rather than just one location, you have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures, and learn about the differences in their lifestyle, social norms, and beliefs. It helps to shape the perspective you have about the world.

What to Pack for a Winter Gap Year Program

When you are specifically considering a winter gap year program, and unless you are going to travel to a tropical country, keep in mind that winters can be extremely harsh and unpredictable. Pack light thermals to wear underneath your clothes. Pack jumpers, a good pair or two of waterproof boots, clothes that can be washed and dried quickly, a warm hat to cover your ears and ear muffs. Gloves, scarves and warm, fluffy socks are essential.


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