For outdoor winter activity lovers, the coldest part of the year is also the best. Around Thanksgiving, ski resorts across North America open their winter season, which typically lasts well into the spring.
Buying a ski pass maximizes your fun on the slopes without making your bank account shiver. They 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 numerous locations without having to pay separate lift ticket fees at each.
Additionally, some passes include international ski resorts, enabling you to explore global skiing in countries like Canada or Japan. Many also offer perks like merchandise discounts, lodging deals, 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.
The Impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 – 2021 Ski Season
In March 2020, ski resorts across the world hastily closed their seasons early as coronavirus cases exploded. Entering the 2020 – 2021 season, plenty of uncertainty remains about the extent of the winter pandemic.
Still, skiing seems tailor-made for the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a solo sport that takes place outdoors, and skiers already wear masks and rarely cluster together aside from lines at the lift or rental shop. But that doesn’t mean skiing will look normal this year.
Some resorts plan to open at reduced capacity, and others plan to require reservations to scrap in-person sales and lines. Many resorts will limit or eliminate dining and apres-ski experiences. The traditional up-tempo nightlife won’t look the same, even where bars and restaurants are open. At all resorts, skiers should expect social distancing and density rules enforced in areas where people congregate, such as lift lines, rental shops, and bathrooms.
The situation will evolve week to week and even day to day based on local outbreaks and local restrictions on businesses.
Prepare for last-minute changes to your travel plans, and stick to resorts within driving distance to reduce the advance commitment.
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. Some resorts charge $200 or more for a single-day pass.
To help ease this sticker shock, many ski resort companies now sell passes that allow season-long access for a single price, often to multiple resorts. These prove especially useful for those who plan to travel around the United States 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 grown increasingly competitive in the past few years, with companies adding more resorts and bonuses for winter sport enthusiasts who have the flexibility to hit the slopes at multiple resorts. That means skiers get more value from ski passes for less money.
But season passes aren’t for everyone. If you’re just planning a weekend getaway, buying a ski pass likely isn’t economical. Instead, try shopping ahead online, as most resorts offer discounted lift tickets in multiday blocks.
Also, most mom-and-pop resorts sell their own single-resort season passes. If you do the bulk of your skiing at one local resort, check their pricing rather than coughing up big money for a multi-resort ski pass.
But note 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 don’t 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’re traveling by plane for this year’s ski vacation, sign up for a free two-month trial of Clear. It allows you to breeze right through airport security and get to your gate faster.
The Best Ski Passes This Winter
A few major ski passes dominate the market and compete for the country’s most enthusiastic skiers. The five best ski passes include access to resorts within driving distance of many 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 snatching up properties continues, the number of destinations you’ll have access to via the Epic Pass will increase in coming years.
The Epic Pass costs $999 for adults and $509 for children between the ages of 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 in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It also includes limited access to many other mountains across North America, Europe, and the rest of the world.
Notable U.S. resorts on the Epic Pass include Breckenridge in Colorado, Afton Alps in Minnesota, Stevens Pass in Washington, Stowe in Vermont, 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 that, 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, Canada — 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.
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 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 saves you all money — and should earn you a free beer in the lodge at the end of the day.
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.
During the 2020 – 2021 ski season, Epic Pass also expanded its Epic Coverage guarantee to include resort closures from COVID-19. The policy provides full or prorated refunds based on closures, job loss, injury or illness, pregnancy, military transfer, and even jury duty.
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 daily cost of skiing goes down the more days you buy, from $133 for a single day to $789 for seven days (or $113 per day).
Overall, the Epic Pass is ideal for serious skiers and snowboarders who plan to resort-hop and don’t mind paying a premium for the privilege. No other pass matches its sheer scale of locations, both within the U.S. and elsewhere. However, casual skiers may find it hard to get their money’s worth.
2. Ikon Pass
The Ikon Pass makes a worthy competitor to the Epic Pass, offering unlimited access to 41 resorts worldwide and limited access to 26 destinations.
The Ikon Pass comes in two main variants: the Ikon Pass and the Ikon Base Pass. The primary difference lies in their pricing, with the Ikon Pass costing $1,149 compared to the Base Pass’ price of $849. Both offer over 40 total destinations, with the Ikon Pass including unlimited days at 15 resorts, while the Ikon Base Pass includes unlimited days at 14 resorts. But the full Ikon Pass has no blackout dates and includes seven ski days at 28 partner resorts versus the Ikon Base Pass’ five days at 27 partner resorts. You can also add five days of skiing at Aspen Snowmass in Colorado and Jackson Hole in Wyoming to the Base Pass for an extra $150.
For an entry-level pass option, you can prepay for four days at $499. The Ikon Session Pass does include blackout dates and doesn’t seem like the greatest deal ever offered, but it exists.
Certain groups qualify for discounted pass pricing. Nurses, military service members, and college students can buy the Ikon Pass for $839, the Ikon Base Pass for $639, and the Ikon Session Pass for $419.
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, Pico Mountain in Vermont, Coronet Peak in New Zealand, Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia (Canada), Zermatt Matterhorn in Switzerland, and Niseko United in Japan. 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. 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 unlimited resorts as the Epic Pass, ski bums still get their money’s worth, especially given Ikon’s increased number of buddy tickets and off-slope retail benefits.
Like the Epic Pass, the Ikon Pass offers a guarantee, particularly useful during the COVID-19 pandemic. But their Adventure Assurance program works differently, allowing you to roll your 2020 – 2021 season pass over to the following year if you don’t use it.
Ikon makes the most sense for those who live close to at least one unlimited destination and who can take several trips to 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 in Wyoming, about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Salt Lake City. Likewise, Central Colorado skiers 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. Mountain Collective
Unlike the giant corporate conglomerates represented in the Epic and Ikon Passes, Mountain Collective represents a consortium of independent resorts. At $589 per person ($199 for kids 12 and under), it costs considerably less than an Ikon Pass or Epic Pass.
It’s also not as generous, with no unlimited skiing. Instead, Mountain Collective gives you two days of skiing at each of its 23 resorts with no blackout dates. Notable Mountain Collective member resorts include Jackson Hole in Wyoming, Aspen Snowmass in Colorado, Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico, and Big Sky Resort in Montana. It also has a few international destinations, such as Lake Louise Ski Resort in Alberta, Canada, and Niseko United in Japan.
Beyond the two free days, Mountain Collective offers a 50% discount on lift tickets at participating resorts. It also offers a 25% discount on accommodation and lodging, though these features are subject to blackout dates.
Unfortunately, because it represents a true collective of independent companies, the pass doesn’t offer a unified COVID-19 policy. Instead, they link to each member resort’s policy on a single page so you can check the resorts you actually plan to visit.
The Mountain Collective offers 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. It also helps you support independent ski resorts not yet gobbled up by massive corporate conglomerates.
4. Power Pass
The Power Pass is a regional ski pass aimed at customers living in the Southwestern region of the U.S.
At the highest pricing tier, the Power Pass costs $949 for adults aged 37 to 64 and less for other age groups. Power Pass holders get unlimited skiing at seven resorts in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah along with six 30%-off tickets for family and friends at these resorts and three free one-day lift tickets each for Loveland, Monarch Mountain, and Copper Mountain, all in Colorado.
Power Pass unlimited 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 $60 to $200. The Power Pass also has no blackout dates for these resorts, though blackout dates apply to select partner resorts.
At the next price tier down, prices range from $325 to $699. That gets you unlimited skiing at five resorts, plus 12 restricted days at the other two partner resorts. You also get three free lift tickets for Monarch Mountain in Colorado and Beaver Mountain in Utah.
Alternatively, the Local Power Pass is a more affordable option at $499 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 Monarch Mountain.
The Power Pass offers value to 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 Southwesterners who want to stay close to home, it provides 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 full Power Pass costs only $575 for those between the ages of 19 and 24.
5. Maine Pass (Alternative to New England Pass in ’20 – ’21 Season)
At least it usually is. But they suspended the New England Pass for the 2020 – 2021 ski season and plan to offer it again in the 2021 – 2022 season.
So two of the three resorts, Sunday River and Sugarloaf, teamed up to offer a replacement called the Maine Pass. Depending on your age, student status, and whether you can live with blackout dates, prices range from $399 to $1,599. The Maine Pass includes discounts on friend tickets, retail purchases, and equipment tuning, which adds value. And if you’re able to make it out west, the pass includes 50% off at Mountain Collective Resorts and three free days of skiing at Western Boyne Resorts, which further stretch that value.
Loon Mountain set single-resort season ticket pricing at $589 ($449 for students). Given that it only gives you access Monday through Friday and comes with 10 blackout dates, it doesn’t qualify for deal of the year.
While the Maine and New England Passes don’t offer nearly the number of resorts as other passes, it makes sense for casual New England skiers who don’t travel outside the region often.
Winter’s combination of cold weather and less sunlight leave many feeling stuck indoors and lethargic. Winter sports add some jump to that winter slump — if you can afford them. The cost of food, equipment, travel, and lodging can easily run thousands of dollars per season.
In one fell swoop, ski passes take care of resort access for the entire season. They lower per-ticket costs and 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. And with some passes offering protections against COVID-19 closures, you can take at least some of the risk out of the 2020 – 2021 ski season.
With any of these passes in hand, there’s no telling where the winter will take you.