How to Ski Smarter in the Age of Multi-Mountain Passes

Vail Resorts and Alterra Mountain Co., the two dominant corporations in the ski industry, have spent years encouraging skiers to purchase season passes for many ski areas rather than buying lift tickets for individual days.

They have added more resorts, more bonuses, and lower prices every year, and this year they released a third multi-mountain pass called the Mountain Collective. One-day lift tickets at several Vail and Alterra mountains now cost more than $200.

The sport of skiing is part of the subscription economy, and skiers who strategically use a multiresort pass can save money and spend more time enjoying the slopes with fewer other people.

How to Ski Smarter in the Age of Multi-Mountain Passes

This is your go-to guide for picking the right pass, making the most of it, and avoiding the craziness that is peak season at popular resorts and in long lift lines.

Historical Context

All three passes (Epic from Vail, Ikon from Alterra, and a Mountain Collective pass with a different name) function in the same way, providing passholders varying degrees of access to ski resorts across North America and beyond depending on the pass’s purchase price.

There has been a lot of drama around the passes over the years, with resorts switching alliances, bidding battles for iconic mountains, and varying refund policies in the wake of the coronavirus. Vail shocked the ski community in March by slashing Epic rates by 20%, making their full pass roughly $300 cheaper than Ikon’s.

Epic holders who were disappointed by Vail’s strict return policy last season were appeased by this action, and Ikon devotees were given a cause to try Epic. Seemingly, it was successful: Compared to September of 2020, Vail reported a 42% increase in season pass sales, with 2019 reporting a 67% increase.

Although conditions were less than ideal last winter, a record 59 million skiers and snowboarders visited U.S. resorts.

This season may be busier than last if ticket sales are any indication. This year, ski resort operator Powdr established a “Fast Tracks” initiative that will allow skiers at four of its Ikon-partnered resorts—Snowbird in Utah, Copper Mountain in Colorado, Mount Bachelor in Oregon, and Killington in Vermont—to pay an additional fee, $49 and higher, to escape lift lineups.

Epic: What You Need to Know

The Epic pass, which now allows full access to 34 North American mountains and will increase in price to $819 on Sunday, includes major resorts in Colorado and the Lake Tahoe region. Stowe, Vermont, and Hunter Mountain, New York, are two of the 14 Northeast destinations accessible with the pass.

Skiers and riders can also enjoy unlimited access to three Vail-owned slopes in Australia, four mountains in the Canadian Rockies, eleven resorts in Japan, and four resort areas in Europe (in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria) for five or seven days.

There are a few other versions of the Epic Pass; the Epic Local is $200 less expensive but has blackout dates during the busiest times of the year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays). Vail also offers regional and resort-specific Epic passes like the Tahoe Local and the Keystone Plus.

Skiers who are only planning on making one trip can save up to $40 per day by purchasing an Epic Day Pass, which is available in increments of one to seven days. Skiing at Telluride, Colorado, and Sun Valley, Idaho, may be done for as little as $78 per day with the help of multi-day passes from Epic, which are valid at any of their partner resorts.

The Essential Information About Ikon

The primary Ikon Pass costs $1,149 and provides unlimited access to 15 mountains in North America and seven days at 22 resorts in other parts of the continent.

A lot of people in the state of Colorado, the state of Utah, the state of California, and the northeast of the United States use Ikon. The Ikon Pass provides seven days of skiing at select resorts in the Swiss town of Zermatt, as well as in the Italian Dolomites and the Austrian region of Kitzbühel.

Skiers in the Northeast have ten mountains to choose from thanks to Ikon, and among them are Killington and Sugarbush in Vermont, two of the region’s most popular resorts. Skiers in the New York City area have two options, with Snowshoe in West Virginia being 4.5 hours away and Windham Mountain in New York being 3.5 hours away.

Like the Epic Local, the Ikon Base Pass costs $879 but only allows you to ski or ride at partner destinations for five days instead of seven on holidays. Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Aspen, Colorado, are both accessible with a Base Pass for an additional $150.

The Ikon Session Pass costs $499 and allows you to ski for four days at any of the 38 resorts. Blackout dates also apply here.

In no Way Ignore the Mountain Group

The Mountain Collective pass is a good option for skiers who want to take numerous short visits throughout the season because it provides two free days at each of the 23 resorts included in the pass, with days three and beyond discounted at a rate of fifty percent.

With only one version of The Collective available and a price tag of $589, the cost is often recouped in just two weekend getaways.

While the roster is comparable to Ikon’s, it is lacking certain key resorts including Colorado’s Steamboat and Winter Park and Utah’s Deer Valley. The Collective allows its members to hike three mountains in the Chamonix region of France.

And Here’s Some Advice for Doing it Without a Huge Line

Some residents reacted negatively to the influx of Epic and Ikon passholders at famous resorts before the pandemic closed them in 2020. Big ski regions that are easily accessible from major cities, such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and the San Francisco Bay Area, can get crowded on weekends during the winter.

On winter weekends, many Denverites leave bright and early to make their way to the slopes along the Front Range, which means that Interstate 70 is often at capacity.

To avoid the crowds, Denver locals should hit the slopes during the week at one of the resorts closest to the city, such as Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, or Beaver Creek on Epic, or Winter Park, Copper Mountain, or Arapahoe Basin on Ikon. Distances should be increased on weekends.

Steamboat and Aspen are the places to go for Ikon skiers.

Steamboat is quieter than the mountains closer to Denver, yet it still gets busy on the weekends. Skiers of both the Ikon and Collective brands will find Aspen to be a great deal for more than $2,000, as the resort offers one of the best ski experiences in the West by dispersing them across four mountains.

Epic skiers should check out Crested Butte and Telluride for their fewer crowds and beautiful historic districts.

Crested Butte is accessible to all expert skiers, but it is twice as far from Denver as Vail’s main mountains. Slopes at Telluride are notoriously challenging, but the town’s steep descent into the quaint, 143-year-old village means the lifts are rarely crowded.

Due to its distance from Denver, this mountain’s base area does not feature the same concentration of high-rise hotels as those at the mountains closer to the city. As a Telluride season pass will set you back around $2,000, using Epic in this case is a wonderful investment. There is no way to go to Telluride from the Epic Local.

Ski Park City, Alta, and Snowbird throughout the week to avoid the crowds caused by Salt Lake City’s expansion on the weekends. The later two Ikon resorts present an extra obstacle in the form of Little Cottonwood Canyon, a winding roadway that becomes a snarl of traffic every Saturday.

When the 7,000 skiable acres at Park City are used on the weekends, Epic passholders can head to Vail partner Snowbasin, located approximately an hour outside of Ogden.

Utah is a Great Destination for Ikon Skiers.

On Saturdays, skiers can find less crowds in Big Cottonwood Canyon resorts like Solitude and Brighton, which get just as much snow as Alta and Snowbird. Located on the opposite side of the Wasatch from Park City, Deer Valley is a popular weekend destination for skiers and snowboarders.

Deer Valley is the only Alterra-owned resort where Ikon passholders do not have full access; a season pass there costs over $3,000, and a day membership can cost up to $249, thus using Ikon here is a good deal.

There are seven million people living in the San Francisco Bay Area, all of whom contribute to the congestion on Interstate 80 and in the parking lots of nearby resorts by virtue of their high standard of living and disposable cash.

Palisades Tahoe, formerly known as Squaw Valley–Alpine Meadows, is the only Tahoe ski area that accepts Ikon and Collective ski passes. Legendary upper terrain is available, but weekends can see the mountain’s slopes completely packed. Tahoe offers three great options for expert skiers. Weekend skiers who don’t want to wait in line at Heavenly or Northstar should head further south to Kirkwood.

Skiers from Los Angeles can utilise their Ikon and Collective passes at Mammoth, which is further south in the Sierra. During the peak weekend periods, Mammoth, California’s finest snow-preserver, can get crowded, so Ikon skiers should choose June Mountain, which is just 30 minutes away and has 2,500 vertical feet of skiing.

Skiers from all over the world go to Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia, and those with an Epic Pass have unrestricted access to the resort. Sales of Ikon and Collective are boosted by the popularity of Jackson Hole as a tourist attraction in Wyoming.

Wyoming’s Grand Targhee, located on the opposite side of the Tetons and an hour from Jackson, was added to the area last season by Ikon and the Collective. Targhee provides a low-key alternative to Jackson for skiers, with shorter weekend lift lines and more snow.

Big Sky, Montana is just a few hours north of the Tetons, and it has vast ribbons of intermediate terrain and challenging fall lines off Lone Peak (the tram has a daily upcharge of $20 to $80 for Ikon and Collective members). Taos, New Mexico, provides a steep option for Ikon and Collective skiers with short lift lines. Unlike Taos, which does not see people outside of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Big Sky is livelier during holidays and throughout March Spring Break.