Battle of the Ski Passes: Ikon V. Epic

On Wednesday morning, we got more information on the much-anticipated Ikon Pass.  The Ikon is seen as a competitor to Vail’s Epic Pass, which turned the industry on its ear when it debuted in 2008, offering unlimited access to a half-dozen world-class resorts for less than $600. It has since dominated the industry, buying up Park City and Whistler Blackcomb and prompting independent resorts to band together to offer passes through the Mountain Collective. Last year, Aspen Skiing Company joined KSL Capital Partners to buy ten resorts, including Mammoth, and Steamboat. Since then, skiers have been anxiously waiting for the pass that would gain them access to the company’s holdings.

We finally got those details. The Ikon pass grants access to 26 North American ski resorts. Pass holders will be able to access to 12 of them, including Mammoth, Steamboat, and Squaw Valley, without restrictions. They will also get a handful of days at another dozen including Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Killington. Revelstoke, Sugarbush, and Banff’s Lake Louise, Banff Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay trio—all of which were part of the Mountain Collective—are also joining the pass.

The Ikon will sell for $899 for a full pass, and $599 for a pass with holiday blackout dates and two fewer days at key partners like Jackson Hole, Killington, and Big Sky. While Vail hasn’t announced Epic Pass pricing for next season, we expect it to be fairly similar to this year’s $849 pass. Which means we can finally compare the two mega passes boot-to-boot with (almost) all the pieces in place.

Which pass gets me the most access?

The Ikon includes unlimited skiing at a dozen resorts including Steamboat, Copper, and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows (see the full list here), and seven days each at Deer Valley, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Killington, Revelstoke, and Sugarbush. Then there are four groups of mountains—the four Aspen/Snowmass peaks; Alta and Snowbird; Banff, Lake Louise, and Mt. Norquay; and a grouping of Sunday River, Sugarloaf, and Loon Mountain—that also offer seven days per group. That’s a total of 26 resorts at 63,709 acres.

Telluride has jumped ship from the Mountain Collective to the Epic Pass, giving holders seven days at the resort. It joins unlimited skiing at 15 resorts, including Vail, Breckenridge, Park City, and Whistler Blackcomb, for a total of 46,000 acres. The Epic Pass also includes a handful of days apiece at 30 different European resorts in Italy, France, Switzerland, and Austria, some of which require booking lodging. That adds more than 100,000 acres to the mix, which throws the Epic pass far into the lead if you take a European ski vacation.

How many days will I have to ski to make the passes pay for themselves?

With lift tickets pushing $199 a day during holidays at both Aspen and Vail, you’ll pay for either pass in five days of skiing at those resorts.

While most other resorts (hopefully) won’t hit those prices next season, you’ll still easily pay for the pass in a five-day trip to the Rockies or British Columbia plus a couple of local New England or California weekends (where it’s easy enough to score an $80 ticket on Liftopia).

If you are lucky enough to live near a resort with unlimited skiing, the Ikon and Epic passes are a no-brainer. And if you take more than one ski trip in a year, it makes just as much sense. The only reason that serious skiers wouldn’t want one of these is if they live in Aspen, Jackson, or Telluride and don’t plan on traveling to ski. Then the resort pass (which fall in the $1,400-$2,000 range) is a better deal.

Who is happiest today?

Skiers who live in metropolitan areas in the Rockies.

Denver skiers can now pick from Ikon’s unlimited skiing at, in order of driving distance from the front range, Eldora, Winter Park, Steamboat, and Copper. Or they can buy the Epic and instead ski Keystone, A-Basin, Breck, Vail, Beaver Creek, or Telluride. It’s hard to lose.

Salt Lakers can pick between Park City’s unlimited Epic Pass, or go with the Ikon’s seven days at Alta/Snowbird and Deer Valley, with an easy drive to a week in Jackson Hole.

Who is not as happy?

Anybody living in Aspen. We suspect that many in the Roaring Fork valley assumed that they’d get all access to the local hill plus all the others, since the owners of Aspen (the Crown family) are also members of the group that runs the Ikon Pass.

Steamboat residents have to be a little torn. On the one hand, their season pass just dropped from $1,400 (or $1,200 for the early bird) to $899. On the other hand, here comes everyone.

What’s the better pass if I live east of the Mississippi River?

With full time access to Stratton, Tremblant, Blue, and Snowshoe—and a week apiece at Killington, Sugarbush, and some combo of Sunday River, Sugarbush and Loon—the Ikon is the obvious choice for the Ice Coaster. (The Epic’s lone East Coast entry is Stowe.)

Midwesterners will probably want to go with the Epic, thanks to access to Afton Alps, Wilmot, and Mt. Brighton.

How about if I live in California?

Southern Californians are going to want the Ikon, with its access to Mammoth and Big Bear and the road-trippable Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and June Mountain. For northern Californians, the choice is tougher. Tahoe resorts Northstar, Heavenly, and Kirkwood are part of the Epic Pass, and Vail also offered a Tahoe Local pass last year for $549 with unrestricted riding at the California resorts and five days at the Rockies resorts.

Should I get one of the lower-priced passes?

The lower-tier Ikon Base pass ($599, if you’ve forgotten) is pretty similar to the Epic Local Pass, which came in at $449 last year. Both restrict access in exchange for the lower price. The Ikon Base blacks out Presidents Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekends, as well as the week after Christmas (December 26 to 31). It also gives passholders five days apiece at the partner resorts instead of seven.

Vail’s Epic Local Pass, on the other hand, didn’t restrict access at all to Breckenridge, Keystone, A-Basin, and the Midwestern hills last year, though it did black out peak periods at Park City and the Tahoe resorts, and allotted just ten days total at Vail, Beaver Creek, Stowe, and Whistler Blackcomb, with blackouts during Thanksgiving, Christmas week, Presidents Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekends. Even if Vail raises the price $100 on the Epic Local Pass to be in line with the Ikon Base, the lower-priced Epic is probably a better pass if you want to do some skiing somewhere holiday times.

What pass is better for families with kids?

Ikon, hands down. The Ikon pass for kids under 12 is $199 if you also buy an adult Ikon pass. Last year, the Epic Pass for kids under 12 was $449. (Though it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if Vail lowers their rate to compete with the Ikon.)

Which pass has better skiing?

This is like comparing Ford to Chevy. The Epic has some, well, epic skiing at Whistler, A-Basin, and Vail; Ikon has Squaw Valley, Mammoth, and days at Snowbird, Jackson, and Aspen.

If there’s one thing that differentiates the passes, it’s their respective mountains’ proximity to populated areas. The Epic Pass’s mountains are clustered near major cities—Denver, Salt Lake City, Vancouver, and the Bay Area—while the Ikon has farther flung partners like Jackson Hole, Revelstoke, and Aspen. If you want ease of access, go with the Epic; if you want to avoid the heavier lift lines, you’ll appreciate the Ikon.

Wait, what about Crested Butte, Sun Valley, and Taos?

As of today, each is un-aligned with either pass. Each are a part of the Mountain Collective, however, which will continue next season (with the subtraction of Telluride). After that, though, we’d expect all three to be fielding offers from both Ikon and Epic.

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