Winter is coming to the Northern Hemisphere (hooray), and historically, skiers and snowboarders who like to hit the slopes more than a weekend or two a year buy a ski pass at their home hill. It’s a matter of practicality.
However, what about those folks who don’t have a home hill, but want to explore snowy slopes anyway? Lift tickets can get pricey quick. Enter the muli-resort pass, which allows access to slopes worldwide for the price of a single ski pass.
The run-down on the major passes
There are three major players when it comes to multi-mountain passes: Epic Pass, Ikon Pass and the Mountain Collective. All have additional benefits ranging from discount days after you’ve used up your allotted slope time to discounts for friends, as well as deals on food and lodging.
With day tickets costing $200 at popular mountains and annual passes starting as low as $400 for the whole season, a great many snow sliders, from students to families will score by strategically selecting a pass instead of buying individual lift tickets.
Proper prior planning will get you the best deals – you can purchase a pass at the lowest possible rate in spring, and prices typically go up again in September and November.
The best part is that multi-mountain passes allow for spontaneity. Three years ago, when France was getting hammered with storms, my husband and I made an impromptu trip and skied on our Epic Passes for a week without opening our wallets once to pay for a lift ticket. In 2018, I extended a work trip to Colorado with three days at Aspen/Snowmass and a half-day at Copper on the way back to the Denver airport.
What do the ski passes offer?
The most affordable of the big three passes, currently $489 for adults and $149 for kids 12 and under, the Mountain Collective Pass covers two days each at 23 resorts with no blackout dates. Additional days are 50% off.
There are just a few East Coast resorts covered by Mountain Collective (namely, Sugarbrush Resort in Vermont and Sugarloaf in Maine), but if you plan to do a Utah or Canadian Rockies trip with the family, this pass can save you hundreds on tickets.
Ikon Pass gives skiers and riders options based on how much they want to ski this winter, and where. The Base Pass, which currently costs $749, has holiday blackout periods, but unlimited skiing at 14 resorts, with limited days at an additional 28 resorts, bringing the total to over 40 resorts you can access with your pass. Blackout days are minimal, and heads up parents, these may not overlap with your kids’ school vacations (bonus).
The full Ikon Pass – which is totally unrestricted at all 40 resorts, currently $1049 with more affordable young adult and child passes also available, is totally unrestricted.
Ikon offers military and student discounts, and one of our favorite pass benefits is that your membership to Protect Our Winters, a non-profit focused on mobilizing the snowsports industry towards positive climate action, is included whatever pass you buy.
The unrestricted full Epic Pass, $999 adults, $509 for 5-12 years old, gives unlimited skiing and unrestricted access at a long list of the most desirable resorts, as well as five to seven days of skiing at partner resorts around the world.
The Local Pass, $749 for adults, and less for children and teens, blacks out holiday days at 11 resorts, but gives pass holders unrestricted access to 26 resorts.
Local Pass holders who do decide to ski on blackout dates can buy days at a discounted rate, which in some cases is 50% off. The Epic Pass also encourages skiers to bring a friend, with another pass benefit: 40% off buddy tickets and "Ski with a Friend" tickets. Prices for "Ski with a Friend" tickets vary by resort.
Which ski pass is right for you?
Of course, the best pass to have is the one you'll use the most. So, if you do most of your skiing and riding at your home hill, which for me is Stowe, Vermont, then the pass that gives you all winter access to that resort will give you best bang for the buck. So for me, it's the Epic pass.
If you’re planning a ski vacation to Big Sky, Montana, Aspen, Colorado, or Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the best pass will give you the most days at that resort. In this case, it's the Ikon.
And, if you dream of long weekends exploring the snowy west, the Mountain Collective can’t be beat.
Depending on your ski budget and where the winter will take you, in some cases, it might be worth buying more than one pass. All three passes have overlap. If you’re on a quest for extra days in a region or at a particular hill, see if Mountain Collective saves you money while getting you more time on snow.
Buy your pass soon, before prices go up. Then scrape off the summer wax, and get excited for cool temps and the first frozen flakes falling from the winter sky.
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This article was originally published August 2019. It was updated September 2020.