The ski industry has changed significantly in recent years: ski conglomerates Vail Resorts and the Alterra Mountain Company have gobbled up resorts across the country, and now offer competing “mega passes” that provide skiing and riding across dozens of properties for one historically low price. The proposition has been simple: commit to buying a mega pass in the spring, and you’ll receive countless ski days across North America the following winter.
Unfortunately, that simple proposition becomes increasingly complicated each year, as these passes have expanded and diversified to offer a wide variety of options. Vail offers the Epic Pass while Alterra offers the Ikon Pass, but each pass comes in different variants and at different price points.
And while Epic and Ikon are the two heavyweight passes in the industry, they’re not the only games in town. There are still plenty of independent ski resorts across the country that offer their own season passes, which will generally cost less than the megapasses. This past winter, independent and family-owned ski resorts teamed up to offer their own $199 Indy Pass, which provided two lift tickets each at several dozen independently-owned ski resorts. Other ski areas — including Jackson Hole, Alta, Arapahoe Basin, and Aspen Snowmass — also joined forces to offer the Mountain Collective pass, which provided two days of skiing each at participating properties, with discounts on subsequent tickets.
But Epic and Ikon attract the most attention as they offer the most comprehensive options for skiing. And the two passes directly compete with each other. In early March, Alterra announced that they would begin selling the Ikon passes on March 5, 2020. Not to be outdone, with little warning, Vail Resorts began selling the Epic Pass on March 3, 2020. Game on!
Mid-Atlantic skiers now have a decision to make: should they put money down now on an Epic or Ikon pass, and if so, which one? Or should they hold out and wait for other options?
There’s no simple or single answer to this question; every skier has to determine where and how often they plan on skiing next winter. In this story, DCSki takes a look at the Epic and Ikon passes from the perspective of a Mid-Atlantic skier to help guide your decision.
In general, if you plan on making multiple trips outside the Mid-Atlantic region next winter, Epic and Ikon present some compelling options, and your pick may depend on which destination resorts you plan to visit. If you only plan to ski in the Mid-Atlantic or only plan to ski a few days, you might find these passes to be less compelling.
Vail Resorts and Alterra have acquired ski properties across the country, expanding their geographic footprint. Last year, Peak Resorts — which owned local properties Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail — was purchased by Vail Resorts, increasing Vail’s footprint across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Alterra owns Snowshoe Mountain Resort, but that’s the only Mid-Atlantic resort represented on its pass. Epic and Ikon both offer a number of premier destination resorts across New England, the Rockies, and the West.
If you plan to ski a few days locally and also plan to make one or more destination trips outside this region, the Epic and Ikon passes offer a great value. For example, the $729 Epic Local Pass provides unlimited, unrestricted skiing at Liberty, Roundtop, Whitetail, and Jack Frost/Big Boulder, along with Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Okemo, and many other properties. You also get 10 holiday-restricted days to spread across Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler/Blackcomb. You don’t need to ski many days before the pass pays for itself, especially with daily lift tickets at Vail exceeding $200 per day. If you want to go all-in with unlimited, unrestricted skiing at all Vail properties and partner resorts, you can purchase the $979 Epic Pass. If you can take off enough days and easily travel across the country to ski, that’s a very compelling price point.
If Snowshoe is your favorite local resort, you’ll want to check out the Ikon Pass. The $699 Ikon Base Pass provides unlimited skiing and riding at 14 resorts (including Winter Park, Copper Mountain, and Tremblant), and up to 5 days at 24 additional properties (including Steamboat, Deer Valley, and Taos), but does have some blackout dates. The $999 Ikon Pass provides unlimited skiing at 15 properties and up to 7 days at 25 additional properties with no blackout dates.
Epic and Ikon passes offer an excellent value if you plan on racking up a lot of ski days across a wide range of ski resorts, but if you only plan to ski in the Mid-Atlantic region, the value proposition is less compelling.
New this year, Epic is offering the Northeast Value Pass. Pricing is $599 for adults, $449 for teens aged 13-17, $449 for Seniors 65-79, and $419 for college students 18-22. The pass provides unlimited, unrestricted access to Pennsylvania resorts including Jack Frost, Whitetail, Roundtop, and Liberty, as well as some New England properties such as Wildcat Mountain and Mount Sunapee. The pass has limited restrictions at Okemo, Hunter Mountain, and Mount Snow, and also offers 10 holiday-restricted days at Stowe. If you plan to ski mostly local, with a trip or two up to New England, this pass is a very good value. But if you only plan to ski at the Pennsylvania areas or have one favorite Mid-Atlantic resort you visit, the value proposition of this pass decreases.
Epic is also offering a Midweek version of the Northeast Pass, which drops the price (for adults) from $599 to $449. If your schedule allows, midweek is always a better time to ski, with fewer crowds. The midweek option offers unlimited weekday skiing at Jack Frost/Big Boulder, Liberty, Roundtop, and Whitetail, as well as Mount Sunapee, Attitash, Wildcat, and a few other properties. Limited access is provided to Okemo, Mount Snow, and Hunter Mountain, and 5 holiday-restricted days are provided at Stowe.
On the Ikon side, the Ikon Base Pass is the least expensive option, but it leaves you with precisely one Mid-Atlantic resort you can visit: West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort. At $699 for adults, the pass gives you unlimited access to 14 resorts including Winter Park, Mammoth Mountain, Sugarbush, Stratton, and Tremblant, but if you only plan to visit Snowshoe it might be hard to stomach the $699 price tag.
Depending on how many days you plan on skiing, if you are only able to ski at Mid-Atlantic resorts, you may be better off purchasing daily lift tickets in advance or looking at other options. For example, last winter, resorts such as Whitetail offered 3-packs of lift tickets for a discounted price. And, don’t forget that there are a wide range of excellent ski resorts in the Mid-Atlantic that are not covered by the Epic or Ikon passes. These resorts are likely to offer compelling lift ticket and season pass prices.
Both Epic and Ikon offer two general classes of passes: a top-of-the-line pass that includes unlimited, unrestricted skiing, and a lower-cost option that introduces some restrictions.
The top-of-the-line passes can be used an unlimited number of times, holiday or non-holiday, at a specified number of resorts. The lower-cost options might be restricted to unlimited skiing at a subset of the resorts, and also have date restrictions — blackout dates include the period between Christmas and New Year’s, President’s Day weekend, and MLK Weekend.
While the passes offer unlimited skiing at certain resorts — generally those owned by Vail Resorts or Alterra — they may also offer a fixed number of days at partner resorts. For example, the top-of-the-line $999 Ikon Pass can be used an unlimited number of days at Steamboat, but only up to 7 days at Deer Valley. You also get a total of 7 combined days to spread across some other properties, such as Aspen/Snowmass and Alta.
The top-of-the-line $979 Epic Pass offers unlimited days at many properties including Vail and Beaver Creek, but only offers 7 total days at Telluride. It also offers 7 days each at Sun Valley and Snowbasin.
All of these restrictions can get a little complicated, so be sure to read the fine print for any pass you’re considering. Even with the restrictions, you’ll be facing a grand buffet of ski resort options. But, if there’s a particular property — such as Sun Valley — that you plan to ski at for dozens of days, these passes might not help. A season pass at Sun Valley still runs close to $1,800, and is the only way to get unlimited skiing at the Idaho resort.
The less expensive pass options — Epic’s Local or Regional Passes and Ikon’s Base Passes — will be better choices for many skiers. Although they introduce some restrictions — such as the inability to ski during peak holiday periods — that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The popularity of these passes has caused some member resorts to become absolutely swamped during holiday periods, so unless that’s the only time you can ski, you probably wouldn’t want to be anywhere near these resorts during those crowded times. If you’re not going to ski during those periods, consider saving a couple hundred bucks by purchasing one of the cheaper pass options.
If you’re Active Duty Military, you won’t find a deal better than the Epic Military Pass Active. For $169, it provides unlimited, unrestricted acces to dozens of Vail’s properties across the Rockies, West, Midwest, East, and Canada. That includes Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler Blackcomb. If you’re a Veteran, you can purchase a similar unrestricted pass for $559. Note, however, that Epic’s Military passes are not valid at partner resorts, such as Telluride and Sun Valley.
Ikon offers a combined College/Military pass that provides a modest discount off of regular pricing, although nowhere near the value of the Epic Military passes. College students and military service members can purchase an Ikon Pass for $709 instead of $999, an Ikon Base Pass for $529 instead of $699, and an Ikon Session Pass 4-Day for $339 instead of $399.
Historically, pricing for the Epic and Ikon passes starts low in the spring and then begins to rise throughout the year, until pass sales are suspended altogether. The passes go off the market before the winter season begins, usually sometime in the Fall. So if you plan on purchasing a pass, it’s better to do it earlier than later. Ikon also offers a discount for individuals renewing a previous pass.
Ikon passes go on sale March 5, 2020. Ikon offers an Easy Payment Plan on its Ikon Pass and Ikon Base Pass. With this plan, you can pay $199 down now and then spread the remaining cost across four monthly payments in June, July, August, and September.
Epic began selling its passes on March 3, 2020. Epic has a $49 down payment option on its passes. You can pay $49 now to reserve your pass, and the remaining balance will be charged automatically in mid-September. Note that the $49 down payment as well as the remaining balance are non-refundable; if you purchase a pass now, you’re committing to paying the full price.
Epic and Ikon Passes offer some additional benefits beyond lift privileges. New for the 2020-2021 winter season, Epic Passholders will get 20% off of food, lodging, lessons, rentals, and more with the Epic Mountain Rewards program. Passes also include Ski with a Friend and Buddy Tickets, providing a limited number of discounted tickets when you purchase them for your friends.
Ikon passholders will also get a limited number of discounted lift tickets for family and friends and other discounts on lodging, retail, and food.
This article provides some food for thought as you consider pass options, but ultimately you’ll need to dive into the details for each pass before making a decision. Epic and Ikon have published extensive details on their web sites; you can learn more about Epic Passes and Ikon Passes.
You can also discuss options with other DCSki readers in the DCSki Forums.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Thanks Scott. You are brave to take a stab at this increasingly crazy and complex world of mega passes. The terrific $169 Epic Military Pass has special appeal for the many military members assigned to the Wash DC area.
Thanks Scott. This is a great article. One thing to add for this year's Ikon Pass is Ikon Base PLUS pass which charges for $150 on top of Ikon Base pase. That gives you 5 days each at Jackson Hole and Aspen/Snowmass with holiday restrictions.
Nice article Scott. Epic also offers a bunch of rewards, including "20% OFF FOOD, LODGING, LESSONS, RENTALS AND MORE." That includes a discount on the Epic Mountain Express shuttle. Also, it offers 6 buddy tickets at up to a 40% discount. These perks can really add up.
I did the math for families of four, so you don't have to!
Epic Local Family of Four:
Parent 1: $729
Parent 2: $729
Child 1 (5-12): $379
Child 2 (5-12): $379
Ikon Base Pass Family of Four:
Parent 1: $699
Parent 2: $699
Child 1 (5-12): $169 (discounted from $269)
Child 2 (5-12): $169 (discounted from $269)
Ikon Base Pass=$480 Cheaper than Epic Local for Family of Four with children aged 5-12.
Epic Northeast Value Pass (No Destinations Out West) Family of Four:
Parent 1: $599
Parent 2: $599
Child 1: $379 (Must purchase Epic Local Child Pass as there is no Northeast Value Pass for Children 7-12)***
Child 2: $379 (Must purchase Epic Local Child Pass as there is no Northeast Value Pass for Children 7-12)***
Ikon Base Pass, which includes Western destinations, is still $220 cheaper than the Northeast Epic Value Pass for a Family of Four.
***Epic has said that it will include a young child Northeast Value Pass for Young Children, 6 and Under, for $49. However, as of 3/5/2020, it is not on their website.
Unfortunately, for many of us, my family included, the better deal the Ikon offers is offset by the local skiing we do (we ski primarily at Whitetail, but hit Snowshoe and Killington this year (Ikon destinations) and will head out west next year). So we will be getting the Epic Local, as we plan on skiing CO next season, which sadly is over $400 more for us as a family vs. the Ikon Base Pass (good at Snowshoe).
As far as opinion goes,over the past couple of years from what I've read and seen, it's mine that Alterra is trying to be a good ski industry steward, by offering discounts for kids (future income) and not changing much in terms of pricing or plans from year to year, while Vail/Epic is nearing the end of its consolidation/monopolization spree and has decided to make it confusing and more costly for families and college students, with the notable exception of their military pass pricing.
Notes on Military pricing: the extremely generous Epic Military Pass pricing of $169 is for Active/Retired (and dependents) only. If you are non-active Veteran and not yet retired, it is $559. The Ikon pass also has military discounts: $709 for the Ikon Pass ($999 is retail); $529 Ikon Base Pass ($699 retail). It is unclear from the Ikon website whether that applies to only active military or to veterans/retired as well.
Hope this is helpful.
Two other differences I will note: Ikon lets you pay $199 down and then charges you in four installments. Epic charges $49 down, then charges you in full on September 15.
Also, Ikon gives you $100 off the Ikon Pass ($899 vs. $999) and $50 off the Ikon Base Pass ($649 vs. $699 if you are renewing your pass. I did not see a renewal discount for Epic.