The Vail Resorts consortium came up with a seemingly simple idea in 2008. What if instead of buying a season’s pass to just Vail, snowsports devotees could get Vail and its corporate siblings like Beaver Creek and Breckenridge — all for the bargain-basement price of $579?
“At that point the price for a season pass at Vail alone was about $1,800,” said Rob Katz, Vail Resorts’ chief executive officer. “We hoped we would expand the pass program so dramatically that it would eventually be transformative of the business itself.”
That is exactly what happened. Vail Resorts estimates it has nearly a million Epic pass holders this ski season. As other alliances have joined the fray, the way people plan their ski or snowboard trips has drastically changed.
These multi-resort passes go on sale in the spring for the following winter and offer access — ranging from a few days with blackouts to unlimited and unrestricted skiing or snowboarding — to multiple worldwide destinations.
Here’s is a handy guide to the three major national passes offered for the 2019-2020 season.
The Epic Pass costs $939 ($489 for children ages 5 to 12), with unlimited, unrestricted access to 20 Vail-owned destinations. The other destinations participating have restrictions.
SPINOFF The Epic Local Pass is $699 ($569 for teens, $369 for children ages 5 to 12), with more restrictions and fewer unlimited destinations.:
NORTH AMERICA Afton Alps, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Heavenly, Keystone, Kirkwood, Mt. Brighton, Mt. Sunapee, Northstar, Okemo, Park City, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (six, including Fernie and Kicking Horse), Snowbasin, Stevens Pass, Stowe, Sun Valley, Telluride, Vail, Whistler Blackcomb, Wilmot
REST OF THE WORLD Falls Creek (expected), Hotham (expected) and Perisher (Australia); Arlberg (Austria); Les 3 Vallées, Paradiski and Tignes-Val d’Isère (France); Skirama Dolomiti (Italy); Hakuba Valley, Rusutsu (Japan) and 4 Vallées (Switzerland)
NEW THIS YEAR Another spinoff: The Epic Day Pass, with which you can buy day tickets ahead of time to 17 North American resorts at nearly 50 percent off window rates. Pass prices start at $125 and $106 with restrictions, but average prices decrease when you buy more days, up to seven of them. Child pricing starts at $65 and $55 a day.
NICE TO KNOW Both the Epic pass and the Epic Local pass allow the pass holder to purchase a total of 16 discounted tickets for family and friends.
FINE PRINT All plans are on sale now; expect prices to increase in April.
The IKON Pass costs $949 for adults ages 23 and up, $699 for ages 13 to 22 and $299 for children ages 5 to 12. This buys unlimited access to 14 resorts, including Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Mammoth in California. Access to other resorts comes with restrictions.
SPINOFF The IKON Base Pass costs $649 for adults, $499 for ages 13 to 22, and $259 for children ages 5 to 12. It features the same list of resorts but with more restrictions, including holiday blackout periods and unlimited access to just eight resorts.
NORTH AMERICA Alta, Aspen, Big Bear, Big Sky, Blue Mountain,, Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain, Brighton, Copper Mountain, Crystal Mountain, Cypress, Deer Valley, Eldora, Jackson Hole, June Mountain, Killington-Pico, Loon, Mammoth, Revelstoke, SkiBig3 (Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, Mt. Norquay), Snowbird, Snowmass, Snowshoe, Solitude, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, Steamboat, Stratton, Sugarbush, Sugarloaf, Taos, The Summit at Snoqualmie, Sunday River, Tremblant, Winter Park.
REST OF THE WORLD Thredbo (Australia); Valle Nevado (Chile); Niseko United (Japan), and Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt. Hutt (New Zealand).
NEW THIS YEAR Customers this season have the option to spread out their payments until September if they buy before the price increase.
NICE TO KNOW One pass holder perk is the possibility to buy friends and family tickets at a 25 percent discount from the window rate; customers with the main IKON can purchase 10, while IKON Base passholders can buy eight, with blackout dates.
FINE PRINT All plans are on sale now; expect prices to increase April 24.
The Mountain Collective goes on sale at $449 for adults, and $99 for children ages 12 and under when bought with an adult pass. The pass allows for two days at almost 20 resorts; any extra days are 50 percent off the window price. It has no blackout dates.
NORTH AMERICA Alta, Aspen Snowmass, Banff Sunshine, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, Mammoth, Revelstoke, Snowbird, Snowmass, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows, Sugarbush, Taos
REST OF THE WORLD Thredbo (Australia); Valle Nevado (Chile); Chamonix (France); Niseko United (Japan); and Coronet Peak and The Remarkables (New Zealand).
NEW THIS YEAR The children’s pass, which used to be an incredible $1, is now $99. But the passes for both the young and not-so-young remain the least expensive of the three national passes.
NICE TO KNOW Among the early-bird incentives is an additional third day at the destination of your choice. This must be selected at the time of purchase.
FINE PRINT This pass is on sale almost year-round and does not have a preset date for its price hike.