High Mountain Institute

Where Nature and Minds Meet

At the High Mountain Institute (HMI), high school juniors (and some seniors) receive a full semester of academic credit while participating in extended backpacking and backcountry ski expeditions in Colorado and Utah. Located in Leadville, CO, at elevation 10,000 ft, HMI brings together students from all over the U.S. for seventeen unforgettable weeks. The mountains are our classroom and no previous outdoor experience is needed to participate.

The HMI Semester

Wilderness: Extended wilderness expeditions (three trips ranging in length from 10 to 16 days each) are what set HMI apart from other semester schools. All experience levels are welcome; not only do we teach students what they need to know to successfully backpack and backcountry ski but we lend students all the gear they need to participate. Each expedition provides the opportunity for students to connect with the natural world, develop leadership and interpersonal skills, and disconnect from technology. On expeditions students hike the highest peaks in Colorado, explore slot canyons in Utah, sleep under star-filled skies, ski pristine slopes, and much more.

Academics: HMI is a fully-accredited independent school that offers a mix of traditional junior-year academics and experiential, place-based courses. Our math, history, and Spanish courses are designed to align with students' home school curricula. Meanwhile, our natural science, English, and wilderness ethics courses are unique to HMI and serve to connect students with the natural world and the American West. Academic work continues on backpacking expeditions and students can take up to one additional course through an independent/online study.

Residential Life: 50 students make up each HMI semester representing a wide range of backgrounds and geography. Students live in off-the-grid cabins, chopping wood for their woodstoves and completing daily chores to maintain campus. On the weekends and during free periods, students have chances to explore our area on foot, bike, or cross-country ski. Common weekend activities include trips to downtown Leadville, a nearby hot springs, or Great Sand Dunes National Park.

HMI alumni and families say it best:

“HMI changed me completely. I am more confident, more responsible, and a better student. Put simply, I enjoy life more than I did before HMI.” --HMI Alumnus

"Over the course of the semester, you gave Jack something we never could have...and we are eternally grateful. It is even difficult to put into words. I honestly did not anticipate how wonderful his semester away would be. It was truly a gift. I feel that Jack, a kid who has put so much pressure on himself--finally had the time and space to breathe...to have fun and truly connect with people. He learned that he doesn’t have to have it all figured out. And your staff provided tremendous role models!" --HMI Parent


We seek to build diverse cohorts of students who represent a wide range of geographic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. We do not prioritize students with previous outdoor experience in our admissions process. HMI is selective, but not overly so. We look for high-achieving students but strive to review each candidate holistically, valuing a student's application essays and teacher recommendations as much as their academic transcript. Extensive need-based financial aid is available. Applications are due by February 15th of a student's sophomore or junior year.

School Facts

Semester Size


Student Teacher Ratio


Grade Levels

Junior, Senior, Gap Year, Summer

Focus / Specialty

Outdoors, Leadership, Sustainability


Leadville, Colorado



Admission Deadlines

February 15


Waitlist Only for Fall 2022
Waitlist Only for Spring 2023
Accepting Applications for Fall 2023
Accepting Applications for Spring 2024

Contact Information
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For more information and to apply, please visit — High Mountain Institute Web Site.

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