If you’ve been skiing or snowboarding lately, you’ve probably noticed the walkup prices are, in a word, insane. Want to hit the slopes at, say, Vermont’s mid-size Stratton Mountain this weekend? It’ll cost you $167 per day. That’s a far cry from yesteryear, when this writer used to catch a roundtrip bus from NYC to Stratton and the price, lift ticket included, was less than a hundred bucks.
What’s a disgruntled powder hound to do? The only reasonable way to go these days is to buy in advance and buy in bulk, investing in a ski resort mega pass. Going by names like Ikon and Epic, these season passes are package deals that provide access to dozens of different resorts across the country and even the globe. If you sk’ride more than a couple weekends a year, they will save you considerable money over the day pass approach.
It should be said that, big picture, there are pretty mixed feelings about the mega pass movement. Depending whom you ask, it’s either saving skiing or killing ski towns and exploiting the workers who keep the resorts running. That being said, we sure don’t want GP readers spending upwards of $200 for one day of turns. So our advice is to be nice and considerate as hell to the locals and lifties — and check out the following breakdown of the four major mega passes (plus one kinda underground one) to decide which option is best for you.
Three other points worth noting: First, timing is everything. The 2023/24 Epic and Ikon passes recently went on sale, and in general the best prices and benefits are available early — like within the next month or so. One sweet bonus for new customers is, you can typically use new passes for spring skiing this season in addition to all of next season. For example, spring skiing availability on the Ikon Pass starts April 10th for Mammoth Mountain: considering the massive California resort kept the lifts spinning till June 4th last season, that’s a pretty nice perk.
Second, it pays to read the fine print, because many of these passes do have blackout dates for certain resorts or require reservations ahead of time (you don't have to pay any more, but you do need to put your name in). On the upside, most passes allow you to score discounts for non-pass-holding friends.
Third, there’s more to the shopping process than pure numbers. We’re giving you the key ones here — for adult passes, there are often cheaper ones for kids — but it pays to explore the links and think about how you and your crew sk’ride. One thing I’ve realized after a few years of using mega passes is, they make it very hard to go anywhere that’s not on your pass — because once you’ve chunked out a thousand bucks or more, you really don’t want to add to the tab. So your decision may be as simple as, which pass covers the resort my friends and I hit most regularly?
Epic offers three main passes, depending how much you want to ski and how much you want to spend. The Epic Day Pass (starting at $101) lets you pre-purchase 1 to 7 total ski days you can use at roughly 40 resorts, including Vail, Heavenly, Park City, Whistler, Stowe and a number of other mountains.
The Epic Local Pass ($676) provides unlimited access to a smaller number of resorts (around 30), plus limited access to a bunch of other mountains in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan.
Finally the full Epic Pass ($909), offers unlimited access to 40-something resorts, plus 7 days at Telluride, 7 days in the Canadian Rockies, 5 days in Japan and access to 26 European partner resorts. Epic also offers a number of regional passes for resorts in the Northeast and out West. In that way, it provides a unique opportunity to seek out just the right package for you.
The other heavy hitter, Ikon, also offers three main passes — they cost a bit more than Epic's but in turn boast access to a greater number of resorts. The Ikon Session Pass (starting at $259) lets you pre-purchase 2, 3 or 4 ski days at 39 resorts, including Steamboat, Mammoth, Big Sky, and Stratton, plus international resorts such as Revelstoke (Canada), Valle Nevado (Chile) and Niseko (Japan).
The Ikon Base Pass ($829, or $779 to renew) offers unlimited sk'riding at 14 resorts and up to five days at another 33 resorts, with some blackout dates. It includes the aforementioned mountains plus a bunch of other renowned ones, such as Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Snowbasin and Sun Valley.
Then there's the full Ikon Pass ($1,159, or $1,059 to renew), which offers unlimited access to 15 resorts, plus up to 7 days each at another 39 resorts, including all the previously mentioned ones as well as legendary places like Chamonix (France), Zermatt (Switzerland) and Dolomiti Superski (Italy). Unlike with the other two passes, there are no blackout dates. If you truly want to go big next season, this option's tough to beat.
Introduced in 2019, the relatively new Indy Pass is a unique proposition. For just $279, you get 2 days each at more than 120 different (often smaller) resorts, including Oregon's Mt. Hood Meadows, Vermont's Jay Peak and Utah's (not small at all) Powder Mountain. It also hooks you up at five resorts in Japan's Tohoku region, which Indy refers to as "the next front of the Japow scene."
Indy also offers the Indy+ Pass ($379), which accesses all the same resorts but with no blackout dates, and the Indy XC Pass ($69), which gives you 2 days each at 12 cross-country skiing locations from Maine to California, plus a few in Canada.
To be honest, I have not heard of probably 80 percent of the resorts on the Indy Pass, but it's definitely worth checking out if you adore small local mountains — and amazing deals. Just doing the math, you could basically road trip and ski every damn day for less than $400. It's currently at capacity for newbies, but you have until this Friday to put your name on the waitlist.
The Mountain Collective Pass is probably the most straightforward of the bunch. For $570, you get two days each at 24 resorts on five continents, plus a bonus day at one resort and 50 percent off additional days. (For kids 12 and under, the price is $155, and for teens 13-18, it's $460.)
Interestingly, Mountain Collective offers access to a lot of legendary resorts available with other passes, including Aspen Snowmass, Big Sky, Chamonix, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Revelstoke and Niseko. Other notable mountains on the pass include A-Basin, Grand Targhee, Lake Louise (Canada), Snowbird and Sugarloaf.
So, if you fancy traipsing around the world and spending memorable weekends at big-name resorts, it's worth a look.
Perhaps the most surprising option, Ski Cooper is the kinda underground pass I referenced earlier. A 480-skiable-acre mountain in Leadville, Colorado, Ski Cooper offers a $529 Season Pass that not only lets you sk'ride Cooper every day but also hooks you up with three days of access to some 60 other resorts across the country, plus a mountain called Masella in Spain. Kids aged 6-14 get the pass for $249, and for anyone over 75, it's $199.
Like with the Indy Pass, most of the mountains are smaller ones. The only ones I have even heard of are Loveland and Monarch in Colorado, Sundance in Utah and Plattekill in New York.
Still, what Cooper's doing seems kinda cool — and a great incentive to check out lesser-known but probably pretty damn fun slopes in places like New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa. Yes, Iowa.