Ikon Pass vs. Epic Pass
Season ski passes are pretty common at the resort level, but in past years the broader resort passes have really picked up steam. They allow skiers to visit many resorts on the same pass. If used often, they are a win/win. A way for skiers and boarders to save money on skiing, and a way for the ski resort operators to lock in customers even before snow conditions are known.
Let’s look at a few key factors you may want to consider in your season pass.
The full, unrestricted Ikon Pass retails for $899, with the teen pass going for $719 and a child add-on pass going for $200. Not inexpensive, but a full week at a premium resort and it will pay for itself. The full, unrestricted Epic pass is an identical $899 for adults, but they don’t offer a teen option. Instead, anyone above 13 pays the adult price, and under 13 the price is $469.
Both the Ikon and the Epic passes offer other options as, which is great. Ikon’s $599 “Base Pass” resembles the Max Pass, offering 5 days at each resort with a few very good resorts (Winter Park, Copper, etc.) having full access. This is going to be the choice for many skiers who travel in for one or two ski trips per year – but it does have blackout dates during the three major holiday periods – Christmas, MLK, and Presidents Day.
Epic’s Local pass is about $670, and provides unlimited access at a few resorts (including Keystone and Breckenridge) but restricted access to most others. The restrictions typically involve holiday period blackouts, especially the Christmas holiday for which the blackout normally goes through 12/31. If you are booking your ski trips around holidays, do your homework on blackout dates before buying a pass.
There are other pass choices, including Epic’s 7 and 4-day passes which simply resemble a multi-day pass at most resorts. But for most people, the choices above are going to be the main ones you consider.
For the skiing family who is traveling-in to ski, we like the value of the Ikon Pass just a bit better.
Resorts and Ski Areas
This is where personal preference really comes into play. We all have our favorite spots, and for different reasons. Like big skiing without many crowds? Go for Big Sky. Like great skiing with plenty of restaurant options? Go for Vail or Park City. Like snowboarding? Don’t choose Deer Valley. Dislike snowboarders? Choose Deer Valley.
You get the point, this is highly subjective.
We did our list of the best family ski resorts, but if you are an experienced skier it is highly likely that you have your own list.
The Ikon Pass covers some special places, some of the best places we’ve ever skied. Big Sky, Deer Valley, Squaw Alpine, Revelstoke, Steamboat, Jackson Hole, Alta, Aspen, and the list goes on. Are you kidding us? There are others, too. Killington, Winter Park, Copper, Banff. To be clear, some of the places are not unlimited….. Big Sky and Deer Valley, for example, are 7 day privileges – but you don’t have to use the days consecutively.
Let’s just say that the Ikon pass has some heavy hitters in their lineup – a lifetime of bucket list ski resorts, really.
The Epic pass also offers a star-studded lineup, focused on (but not exclusive to) the ski areas owned and operated by Vail Resorts. Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, Beaver Creek, A-Basin, all in Colorado, are part of the pass. Heavenly and Northstar in the Tahoe area, and Park City / Canyons in Utah area as well. The kicker is Whistler – Blackcomb, which when added a couple years ago, caused everyone to do a double take. Nice add.
There are several other resorts on the passes as well, but these tend to be the headliners. If you live away from the Rockies, you might find a local resort on the pass which would give you access to that ski area as well as a “bonus” trip to the mountains, all on the same pass. For example, the folks in the Twin Cities can ski Afton Alps on the Epic Pass, but also any mountain resort that they might plan a trip to as well.
The verdict? We think the lineup on the Ikon pass is just a bit more – well – iconic. But like we said, it is a total judgment call. This is like trying to decide between two different designs of a gold medal. If you are mainly a Colorado I-70 skier, you might enjoy the Epic pass more. If you want to explore the less-traveled places like Big Sky or Steamboat, you might like the Ikon.
The real gamechanger is if you have the time and budget to ski abroad. In that case, the Epic pass is the way to go. Included on the Epic pass are some of the great ski regions in the world, including several of our favorite Alps resorts (we love Val D‘Isere), Australia, and even Japan.
Our recommendation is to buy the pass that allows you to ski locally, and then leverage that for one or two ski trips if your budget allows. Or, if you are a travelling skier, buy a pass that covers the resort on your A-list for next winter, and then try to tuck in another few days somewhere to get full value from the pass.
Both the Epic and Ikon passes come with other benefits, including a rewards program, but the one to take a good look at is the discount program available.
The Epic pass extends some nice discounts at its member resorts, something it can do because many of the places on the Epic pass are owned by Vail resorts. It is a little like going to a casino – if they know you are going to be spending money with them for a few days, they can give you some price breaks.
The most appealing breaks are on lodging, where you can save up to 20% on lodging at certain places like Vail and Breckenridge, based on availability. You can also get 15% off on on-resort meals (after lunch) as well as discounts on ski rentals through a partner. If you are not going the VRBO or AirBnB route, and want to get the benefits of booking lodging through the resort, this could be a significant savings.
The Ikon Pass offers a similar 15% discount on food and on-mountain purchases at most of its covered resorts, without the lunchtime limitation. However, because these resorts are independent, the Ikon pass is less specific (as of this writing) regarding other discounts, especially those on lodging.
Both passes off a discount-for-friends system, where you can get several discounts a year for your friends’ one-day lift tickets (typically a discount of about 25%). Epic offers 5 such discount days. Ikon offers 8 or 10, depending on which pass you buy.
Our conclusion is that you can’t go wrong with either pass! These are the heavy hitter passes on the market today, and we love both of them. We suggest you base your pass purchase around the resort that you plan to ski the most in the upcoming season, and then use the heck out of it to get as much value as possible from it!