For many outdoor lovers, the coldest part of the year is also the best. Around Thanksgiving, ski resorts across North America begin their winter season, which lasts until March or April.
Buying a ski pass maximizes your fun on the slopes without making your bank account shiver. Ski passes grant you access to multiple ski resorts for a one-time charge of approximately $700 to $1,000. If fully utilized, they save you money by letting you ski multiple locations without having to pay separate lift ticket fees at each.
Additionally, some ski passes are international, enabling you to visit resorts in other countries, like Canada or Japan. They also offer perks like merchandise deals, lodging discounts, and buddy passes, which allow your friends or family to purchase lift tickets at a reduced cost.
There are many different ski passes on the market, each providing access to a group of resorts and a range of benefits. Regardless of your location, travel plans, or budget, there’s a ski pass tailored to your needs.
What Is a Ski Pass?
Ski resorts charge you lift fees to use their accommodations. These fees add up quickly if you’re planning to hit multiple resorts over the season. The average cost of a full-day lift ticket in the U.S. during the 2017 to 2018 season was $94, according to Snow-Online. Some resorts cost as much as $200 or more.
To help ease this sticker shock, many ski resort companies now sell passes that allow access to multiple resorts for a single price. This is especially helpful for those who plan to travel around the U.S. or the world since it shaves a big chunk off your expenses. Depending on how often you ski or ride, a pass can lower daily lift ticket prices by half or more. And even if you’re not planning an around-the-country or around-the-world ski adventure, a pass saves you money at any individual resort you visit frequently.
Ski pass sales have become incredibly competitive in the past few years, with companies continually adding more resorts and bonuses. That means skiers get more value from ski passes for less money.
But ski passes aren’t for everyone. If you’re just planning a weekend getaway with your family, buying a ski pass likely isn’t economical. Instead, you should shop ahead online, as most resorts offer discounted lift tickets in multiday blocks. A ski pass also isn’t for you if you do the bulk of your skiing at one local resort – in that case, a season pass to that resort makes more sense. Ski passes are best-suited for winter sport enthusiasts who have the flexibility to hit the slopes at multiple resorts.
Also, keep in mind that ski passes typically have restrictions. These include blackout dates – specific dates when the passes aren’t valid – and maximum day usage, which restricts how many hours you’re allowed to spend at a resort each day. Always read the fine print before purchasing a ski pass so you know when, where, and for what you can use it.
Finally, ski passes do not cover travel expenses, so you still need to factor in the cost of getting to the ski resort. While some ski passes offer discounts on accommodation, this offer is generally only valid with participating hotels and lodges.
Fine print aside, ski passes offer tremendous value for those willing and able to take full advantage of them. The purchase of a ski pass sets up avid skiers for the winter of a lifetime.
Pro tip: If you’ll be traveling by plane for this year’s ski vacation, make sure you sign up for a free two month trial of CLEAR. This will allow you to breeze right through airport security and get to your gate faster.
The Best Ski Passes This Winter
There are several major ski passes on the market geared toward different types of skiers and travelers. Most of the resorts covered by the five best passes are within driving distance of major cities, and some offer public transportation options.
1. Epic Pass
The suitably named Epic Pass from Vail Resorts bills itself as the most expansive ski pass out there, offering access to 76 resorts in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia, and Europe. And if the trend of Vail Resorts purchasing new properties continues, the number of destinations you’ll have access to via the Epic Pass will increase in coming years.
The Epic Pass costs $989 for adults and $509 for children between ages 5 and 12, though there are discounts available if you purchase earlier in the season. The pass grants unlimited access to 37 Vail-owned resorts and limited access to many other mountains across North American and the world.
Notable U.S. resorts on the Epic Pass include Afton Alps in Minnesota, Stevens Pass in Washington, Breckenridge in Colorado, and Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire. Daily lift tickets at these resorts can be expensive – Breckenridge lift tickets cost $143 per day. The Epic Pass saves you a lot of money if you plan to visit many of Vail’s resorts. The Epic Pass costs about the same as seven single days at Breckenridge or five days at Vail.
On top of this, the Epic Pass gives you access to Telluride in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho, Snowbasin in Utah, and six resorts in Western Canada – including Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia – for seven days with no blackout dates. You can also buy additional lift tickets for these resorts at a 50% discount if you exhaust the seven-day access feature.
Also, the conditions for the 19 resorts in Europe are much more restrictive. For example, to receive free lift tickets for the Verbier resort in Switzerland, you must purchase your pass through Epic’s U.S. website and book accommodation at a participating hotel or lodge. If you buy your Epic Pass any other way, you can’t access the European resorts. But Epic Pass-holders who do book that way receive one free day of skiing for each day of lodging booked at the participating lodge or hotel.
But free visits to ski resorts aren’t the only perk of buying an Epic Pass. The pass includes six share-with-a-friend tickets that allow your friends and family to save up to 40% on the cost of entry. If you plan to go skiing with your friends, it will save all of you money – and should earn you a free beer in the lodge at the end of the day.
Not only that, but Epic Pass-holders receive discounts at participating restaurants and retail stores, letting you eat or purchase ski equipment without paying full price. And some Epic Pass variants, most notably the Epic Australia Pass, offer discounts on both equipment rental and skiing lessons. If you don’t have equipment and want to brush up on your skills, you can save up to 25% on these services with a pass.
As an alternative to the Epic Pass, Vail sells a variant called the Epic Local Pass, which offers unlimited access to nine U.S. resorts – including Stevens Pass, Breckenridge, Afton Alps, and Mount Sunapee – for $719. The Epic Local still offers 10 unrestricted days at Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler Blackcomb, plus restricted days at over 20 resorts, including five-day access to the Hakuba Valley and Rusutsu resorts in Japan. The Epic Local Pass is an excellent choice for anyone living in Denver, Summit County, or Eagle County, Colorado. The 10 days at Vail and Beaver Creek alone are more than worth the price of the pass.
Finally, for economical skiers or those who aren’t planning to ski much during the season, Vail offers the Epic Day Pass. This budget pass grants one to seven days of access to most of the same U.S. resorts on the Epic Pass, depending on which option you buy. For example, Epic Day Passes of four to seven days include access to Telluride in Colorado, Snowbasin in Utah, Sun Valley in Idaho, and the six Canadian Rockies resorts. These destinations are not included on the shorter Epic Day Passes. The Epic Day Pass also doesn’t offer access to resorts outside North America.
A key feature of the Epic Day Pass is that it allows you to pay extra to remove holiday or blackout dates from your pass, giving you greater flexibility based on when you can hit the slopes. The cost of skiing per day goes down the more days you buy, from $132 for a single day to $775 for seven days (or $110 per day).
Overall, the Epic Pass is ideal for serious skiers and snowboarders who plan to resort-hop. No other pass matches its number of locations, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, making it a valuable option for travelers. However, casual skiers won’t get as much use out of it.
2. Ikon Pass
The Ikon Pass is a worthy competitor to the Epic Pass, offering unlimited access to 41 resorts around the world and limited access to 26 destinations.
The Ikon Pass comes in two variants: the Ikon Pass and the Ikon Base Pass. The key difference between them is that the Ikon Pass is more expensive – $1,049 compared to the Base Pass’ price of $749 – but it has no blackout dates and gives you more ski days. Both offer 41 total destinations, some unlimited and some limited. The Ikon Pass has unlimited days at 14 resorts, while the Ikon Base Pass has unlimited days at only 12 resorts.
Notable unlimited-access resorts on both the Ikon Pass and Ikon Base Pass are Solitude in Utah, Squaw Valley in California, and Winter Park in Colorado. Limited-access resorts on both passes include Aspen Snowmass in Colorado, Pico Mountain in Vermont, Coronet Peak in New Zealand, Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia, Zermatt Matterhorn in Switzerland, Niseko United in Japan, and Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Lift tickets at these individual resorts run anywhere from $100 to $200, making either iteration of the Ikon Pass an economical investment for frequent skiers. Some of these resorts sell an Ikon Pass in lieu of a season pass.
Additionally, the Ikon Pass offers 10 discount tickets to give to your friends and family, allowing them to save up to 25% on lift tickets. That’s more total buddy passes than the Epic Pass, although the Epic Pass offers more significant savings on buddy passes.
Like the Epic Pass, the Ikon Pass offers discounts at participating retailers and restaurants, saving you considerable money on the cost of equipment and food. Rather uniquely, the Ikon Pass also grants you access to several off-season benefits, including craft beer festivals, ticket discounts for lift-access mountain biking, and free gondola rides.
While the Ikon Pass doesn’t offer as many resorts as the Epic Pass, pass-holders still receive unbelievable value for the price, especially given Ikon’s increased number of buddy tickets and off-slope retail benefits.
Ikon makes the most sense for those who live close to one or more unlimited destinations and who can take a couple of trips to some of the limited destinations. For example, if you live in the Salt Lake City area, you get unlimited skiing at Solitude, with five or seven days each at nearby Alta, Brighton, and Deer Valley ski resorts as well as Jackson Hole, about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Likewise, skiers in central Colorado have unlimited access to Winter Park and Copper Mountain and limited access to Arapahoe Basin, which jumped the Epic Pass for the Ikon Pass this year.
3. The Mountain Collective
The Mountain Collective is a ski pass sold by a consortium of independent resorts. At $529 per person – considerably less than an Ikon Pass or Epic Pass – the Mountain Collective gives you two days of skiing at each of its 18 resorts with no blackout dates.
Notable Mountain Collective member resorts include Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming, Aspen Snowmass in Colorado, Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, and Big Sky Resort in Montana. It also includes a few international destinations, such as Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada and Niseko United in Japan.
The Mountain Collective offers a 50% discount on lift tickets – perfect if you want to spend more than two days at a particular resort. It also offers a 25% discount on accommodation and lodging, though these features are subject to blackout dates.
The Mountain Collective is an appealing option for budget-conscious travelers and casual skiers. Its selection of resorts and benefits is slimmer than the Epic Pass and Ikon Pass, but a considerably lower price makes it a better option for those who don’t need too many bells and whistles. An added benefit is that the passes support independent ski resorts a giant resort company hasn’t yet gobbled up.
4. Power Pass
The Power Pass is a regional ski pass aimed at customers living in the Southwestern region of the U.S. For $849 or less, depending on your age, Power Pass-holders get unlimited skiing at six resorts in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, along with six 30%-off tickets for use at these resorts and three one-day lift tickets at 18 partner resorts.
Power Pass destinations include Purgatory and Hesperus in Colorado, Arizona Snowbowl, Nordic Valley in Utah, and Pajarito Mountain and Sipapu in New Mexico. Lift tickets at these resorts range from $55 to $200. The Power Pass also has no blackout dates for these resorts, though blackout dates do apply to select partner resorts.
In addition to unlimited access at these resorts, the Power Pass offers customers three free lift tickets to 18 partner resorts in the U.S. and internationally. These include Eldora Mountain in Colorado, Kiroro Ski Resort in Japan, and Masella Ski Resort in Spain.
Alternatively, the Local Power Pass is a more affordable option at $479 or less, depending on your age. It gives unlimited access to four resorts – Hesperus, Pajarito, Sipapu, and Nordic Valley – and three free lift tickets for Arizona Snowbowl.
The Power Pass is primarily for skiers who live in the Southwest, particularly the Four Corners area. If you plan to travel abroad – or even just to other parts of North America – to get your ski on, the Power Pass doesn’t offer nearly as much as the competition. But for those who want to stay close to home, it’s a low-cost option.
Local families with children benefit from Power Pass’ free Power Kids Passes. And if you’re a teen, young adult, or senior, the Power Pass is a strong choice because of its steep age-based discounts. For example, the Power Pass is only $549 for those between the ages of 19 and 24.
5. New England Pass
In contrast to other ski passes, the New England Pass offers four different tiers with different prices and perks. On the cheaper end, the Bronze tier costs $669 and offers unlimited Monday-through-Friday skiing – including holidays – as well as four 25%-off friend tickets and a 10% retail discount. The Silver tier costs $899 and offers eight 25%-off friend tickets in addition to the 10% retail discount.
The pricier Gold tier costs $1,419 and offers 10 25%-off friend tickets, a 15% retail discount, and 50% off early season equipment tuning. The best package, the Gold Plus tier, costs $1,689 and offers blackout-free skiing all winter long, 12 50%-off friend tickets, a 20% retail discount, and early lift access on Sundays and holidays. Gold and Gold Plus pass-holders get three free days of skiing at Boyne Resorts’ other mountains, which include Big Sky Resort in Montana and Brighton in Utah.
The New England Pass offers an Easy Pay Plan that allows customers to lock in discounted spring pass rates by paying a deposit of $50, with the remaining fees paid in installments over the summer.
While the New England Pass doesn’t offer nearly the number of resorts as other passes, it’s the ideal pass for many New England skiers who don’t travel outside the region often. The discounts on friend tickets, retail purchases, and equipment tuning add value. And if you’re able to make it out West for a ski trip, the three free days of skiing at Western resorts stretch that value even further.
Winter’s combination of cold weather and less sunlight lead many to feel stuck indoors and lethargic. Winter sports help you bust the winter slump. But skiing and snowboarding aren’t cheap. The cost of equipment, travel, lodging, and food can easily run thousands of dollars per season.
In one fell swoop, ski passes take care of resort access for the entire season. They not only lower per-ticket costs, but also help you save on gear, accommodation, and resort dining. A ski pass serves as your passport to adventure and could whet your appetite for the even bigger rush of heli-skiing. With any of the above passes in hand, there’s no telling where the winter will take you.
Have you ever purchased a ski pass? Which one did you use?