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Ikon Pass vs Epic Pass
BY Christopher Steiner

Updated March 21, 2018

An extraordinary past year in the ski industry has reshaped the landscape of season pass options for skiers. Where before there was one ski pass that granted skiers unlimited access to a wide selection of flagship resorts across North America—Vail Resorts' Epic Pass—there now is another: the Ikon Pass from Alterra Mountain Co.

The Ikon Pass, on sale now (first day: March 6, 2018), brings the added punch of major independent resorts, including ZRankings No. 1 ranked ski resort, Jackson Hole.

It's a fascinating turn for the industry. Whether it makes things better or worse for skiers, in the long run, is a subject that's debatable. What's not debatable, however, is the presence of two behemoths both offering ski passes that grant skiers access on levels not seen before. We're here to dissect both options and compare their strengths, and help skiers decide which option is right for them.

The Ikon Pass offers similar pricing to that of Vail Resort's Epic Pass, with a full-fledged $899 version that offers unlimited skiing, with no black-out dates, across 12 ski resorts, including three destination resorts in Colorado—Winter Park, Copper Mountain, and Steamboat, plus Eldora, which is more of a local's mountain on the Denver side of range.

In addition, the $899 Ikon Pass will grant skiers unlimited access to eight other ski resorts, from California to Vermont, including the headliners of Mammoth and Squaw Valley/Apline Meadows. Holders of this pass get the significant added benefit of seven days at: Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Killington, Sugarbush, Revelstoke, Deer Valley, Alta/Snowbird, and seven total days at the four Aspen area resorts owned by Aspen Ski Company.

Ikon skiers can road trip to Canada, as well, as the full pass offers seven days total at three ski resorts in the Banff area: Mt. Norquay, Lake Louise and Banff Sunshine, plus unlimited skiing at Quebec's Tremblant.

Families can pick up kids' Ikon passes for $199, with the purchase of an adult pass.

For those not interested in the $899 pass and its wealth of unlimited skiing options, Alterra offers the Ikon Base Pass for $599, similar in benefits and price to the Epic Local Pass. The Base Pass grants skiers unlimited access to Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, plus six other ski resorts, and five days, rather than seven, to the same resorts as the $899 Ikon Pass. The five-day ski privileges, as well as those at Squaw/Alpine, come with black-out dates around Christmas and New Year's, Martin Luther King Day in January, and President's Day in February.

For skiers, the right pass depends on preferences, of course, as well as where a given skier or family lives. A head-to-head matchup depends on the areas on which a skier might be focused that season, so we've broken down Ikon Pass vs. Epic Pass according to geography:

Colorado

Colorado remains the most concentrated stretch of major ski resorts in North America. Most people look to this state first for ski vacations, and Colorado itself is home to millions of native skiers in the Denver area who buy a season pass every year.

Inside the official state of the Rockies, the Ikon Pass gets skiers into 8 total mountains, a total that includes the four Aspen resorts. If we start grouping these resorts into true destinations, there are four: Aspen, Steamboat, Winter Park and Copper Mountain. Eldora is on the pass as well, but it's a hill that doesn't handle destination skiers for the most part.

The full Ikon pass grants skiers seven days at the Aspen properties, with unlimited everywhere else. So that's enough for week-long trip to Aspen, or two shorter long-weekend trips.

In Colorado, the Epic Pass includes these Vail-owned stalwarts: Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge and A-Basin.

A big addition to the Epic Pass for next winter, and the first destination resort that is not owned by Vail: Telluride. Landing Telluride is a major coup for Vail, as it had tried similar gambits with Jackson Hole and not found success.

In addition, Vail announced on March 14 that Crested Butte will be joining the Epic Pass for 2018-2019. Crested Butte adds another additional Colorado destination resort on the Epic Pass, the second such spot that is not owned by Vail Resorts.

How Epic Access will work for Telluride: Holders of the full-blown $899 Epic Pass can use their Epic Pass for up to seven days of skiing at the mountain. There will be no Telluride access for Epic Local Pass holders. Epic 7-day, and 4-day pass holders will be eligible to use those days at Telluride. The arrangements are similar to those between the Ikon Pass and partner resorts such as Jackson Hole and Snowbird, with the notable difference that the cheaper Ikon Pass still grants access to partner resorts—five days with blackouts.

How the Epic Pass will work for Crested Butte: All Epic Passes, the full and Local, will receive seven days of skiing at Crested Butte. After those days have been used, Epic pass holders can buy Crested Butte lift tickets at half price.

Telluride CEO Bill Jensen told ZRankings that he was pitched by both Vail and Alterra, but felt that the best deal for Telluride was to go with Epic because of the demographics of its pass holders. Telluride will not be a part of the Mountain Collective for 2018-2019, but that pass will retain the resorts that are now also part of the Ikon Pass.

So in Colorado, that's six resorts on the Epic Pass, but really five major destinations. A-Basin is a great place to ski, but it's usually not skiers' main destination.

As for who wins inside Colorado, it's just about a draw, with a slight edge, perhaps, to the Epic Pass. But for skiers who prefer Copper, Steamboat and Aspen, that could flipped.

Colorado Edge: Epic, barely

Utah

After Colorado, skiers normally look to Utah, and both the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass have strong offerings in the Wasatch state.

The Epic Pass grants skiers unfettered access to Park City Mountain, the largest ski resort in the state, also the largest in the United States. Park City has charms that few other resorts can match, with ski runs tumbling into a charming Main Street, and a town lift that takes skiers straight up from premium drinking holes to high quality terrain. Park City has terrain worthy of true experts off of its Jupiter and Ninety Nine Ninety lifts.

For skiers wanting to base their trip out of Park City, the $899 Ikon Pass gives skiers seven days at Deer Valley, which is owned by Alterra. Deer Valley is focused on luxury and higher-spending clientele, but the mountain does have interesting terrain, and its snow profile is similar to that of Park City's as it is simply on the other side of Daly Canyon from town. In addition, Deer Valley is ZRankings' undisputed king of slopeside food. Even the baked goods rival that of a five-star Yelp bakery at sea level.

Whereas the Epic Pass gives skiers access to just one Utah resort, the Ikon pass gets skiers a total of seven days access to two of the best ski resorts in North America—Alta and Snowbird—which are both rankined the top 5 at ZRankings, and live in what is the most hospitable place for good skiing snow on the continent in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Alta and Snowbird are on the other side of the Wasatch from Park City, so a quick trip from the Salt Lake Airport, or about an hour from Park City.

With two of the best ski resorts in the world, plus the Park City-located Deer Valley, the edge in sheer locations goes to Ikon. But with a total 14 skiing days available, the Ikon Pass is trumped by the Epic Pass on quantity, which gets skiers into Park City, perhaps the preeminent town-mountain combination in North America, every day of the season.

That makes things a draw in our eyes

Utah Edge: Draw

California

For Californians, the matchup is worth examining from a north-south standpoint.

Southern California skiers will likely favor the Ikon Pass, whose full-fledged version gets skiers unlimited access to Mammoth Mountain, which is owned by Alterra, and is the alpha destination for those driving from the Los Angeles area north through the state to the Sierra. The Ikon pass also grants skiers unlimited access to Big Bear and June Mountain, both ski resorts favored by Southern Californians.

For Northern Californians and those in the Bay Area, both passes offer good options. Alterra owns Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, which offer some of the best terrain in the Tahoe area, and for which both the full version and the Base version of the Ikon Pass offer full access, the latter with blackout dates.

The Epic Pass, however, includes full access to Northstar in the Northern Tahoe area, and Heavenly and Kirkwood further south in the region. Kirkwood is the most dependable resort for snow in the Tahoe region, and Heavenly rules South Lake Tahoe alone, while the upscale Northstar gives Epic skiers an anchor closer to I-80. In northern California, the edge goes to the Epic Pass.

Northern California Edge: Epic Pass
Southern California Edge: Ikon Pass

Whistler, Jackson, Big Sky, Revelstoke

Three of the four wildcard resorts in none of the regions yet discussed are heavyweights: the Epic Pass has Whistler-Blackcomb, and the Ikon Pass will give skiers seven or five days each at Jackson Hole and Big Sky, depending if skiers hold the full Ikon Pass or the Base version. All three ski resorts are ranked highly by ZRankings, but especially Whistler and Jackson Hole, which has been our No. 1 ranked resort for several years.

Whistler, however, appeals to a larger cross-section of skiers and has created the most unique and interesting mountain village in the business, which gives its mountain, a stalwart that spans more acreage than any other on the continent, an appeal that leads most skiers to this place at least once. For that reason, we'll call the wildcard Western portion of the comparison a draw.

The Ikon Pass also includes Revelstoke, a vast resort on the western side of the Canadian Rockies in central British Columbia. Revelstoke is worth going to, if just for the views of the Selkirks looming above the clear waters of the Columbia River, which, even though it is more than 1,000 miles from where it empties into the Pacific in Oregon, is broad and formidable here. The skiing is good, too, with a vertical drop from top to bottom—5,620 feet—that is unmatched by any other mountain in North America. Revelstoke is harder to get to than any other resort on this list. It requires a commitment, with a flight and a long drive from Calgary, or a flight into Kelowna, which is still a 2.5-hour drive from Revelstoke.

The one important difference is that Ikon skiers will be limited on their days at these resorts, whereas Epic Pass skiers can log as many days at Whistler, considered by many to be the ultimate destination resort, as they wish.

Edge in Wildcard Western Resorts: Draw

The East

This comparison is interesting, with the edge going to the Ikon Pass, which grants skiers access to eight mountains in the eastern half of the continent, with five in New England, including Killington, Sugarloaf and Sunday River, along with one each in Ontario, Quebec (Tremblant)and West Virginia Snowshoe.

The Epic Pass gives skiers access to one of the best ski resorts in the East, in Stowe, which is the strongest of all the eastern resorts on one of these two passes. In addition, Vail has struck agreements with Vermont's Okemo and New Hampshire's Mount Sunapee to grant all Epic passholders seven days of skiing at these resorts.

Even with those additions, the breadth of the Ikon offering in the east is tough to beat. Although skiers from the Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit metro areas might consider the Epic Pass first, as Vail owns regional hills near each of the cities, a strategy that has paid dividends for the company.

Edge in The East: Ikon Pass

Conclusion

It's remarkable how evenly the passes compare to each other, as they both offer good coverage and flagship resorts in Colorado, Utah and California. Skiers' decisions on what pass to buy will come down to where they live and what mountains they prefer year after year. We expect many destinations skiers to alternate from pass to pass in some form across multiple seasons.

Additional Notes:

The Rocky Mountain Superpass has been discontinued and will not be available for next season, 2018-2019.

Skiers will find most of the resorts from this pass have relocated over to the Ikon Pass in one form or another.

Also - the Max Pass has been discontinued and will not be available for next season, 2018-2019.

Skiers will find that some of the ski resorts, such as Big Sky, have moved over to the Ikon Pass. Others have been left out of the multi-resort pass musical chair game for now, but we expect them to find a new home at some point, just as Crested Butte did by migrating to Vail's Epic Pass.

Ikon Pass Ski Resorts:

   Resort True
Snow*
Vertical
Base & Top Elev.
Acreage
Steamboat Ski Resort
CO
371" 3,668 ft 6900'
to
10568'
2,965 more
Mammoth
CA
356" 3,100 ft 7953'
to
11053'
3,500 more
Aspen Mountain - Ajax
CO
252" 3,267 ft 7945'
to
11212'
675 more
Winter Park Ski Resort
CO
348" 3,060 ft 9000'
to
10700'
3,081 more
Copper Mountain
CO
280" 2,601 ft 9712'
to
12313'
2,465 more
Eldora Mountain Resort
CO
225" 1,600 ft 9200'
to
10800'
680 more
Squaw Valley
CA
368" 2,850 ft 6200'
to
9050'
3,600 more
Bear Mountain Resort - CA
CA
83" 1,665 ft 7140'
to
8805'
748 more
June Mountain
CA
266" 2,590 ft 7545'
to
10135'
500 more
Jackson Hole
WY
368" 4,139 ft 6311'
to
10450'
2,500 more
Sunshine Village
AB
257" 3,514 ft 5440'
to
8954'
3,358 more
Lake Louise Ski Area
AB
169" 3,250 ft 5400'
to
8650'
4,200 more
Big Sky Resort
MT
284" 3,666 ft 7500'
to
11166'
5,809 more
Stratton Mountain
VT
188" 2,003 ft 1872'
to
3875'
600 more
Killington
VT
240" 3,076 ft 1165'
to
4241'
752 more
Snowshoe Mountain
WV
156" 1,500 ft 3448'
to
4848'
235 more
Mont Tremblant
QC
156" 2,116 ft 755'
to
2871'
654 more
Blue Mountain
ON
110" 742 ft 740'
to
1482'
251 more
Sugarloaf
ME
173" 2,820 ft 1417'
to
4237'
1,056 more
Sunday River Ski Resort
ME
150" 2,340 ft 800'
to
3140'
743 more
Loon Mountain
NH
170" 2,100 ft 950'
to
3050'
370 more
Deer Valley Resort
UT
275" 3,000 ft 6570'
to
9570'
2,026 more
Alta Ski Area
UT
521" 2,020 ft 8530'
to
10550'
2,200 more
Snowbird
UT
466" 3,240 ft 7760'
to
11000'
2,500 more

Epic Pass Ski Resorts:

   Resort True
Snow*
Vertical
Base & Top Elev.
Acreage
Afton Alps
MN
55" 350 ft 1180'
to
1530'
300 more
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
CO
316" 1,692 ft 10780'
to
12472'
900 more
Beaver Creek Resort
CO
328" 3,340 ft 8100'
to
11440'
1,815 more
Breckenridge Ski Resort
CO
283" 3,240 ft 9600'
to
12840'
2,358 more
Heavenly
CA
322" 3,500 ft 6540'
to
10040'
4,800 more
Keystone Resort
CO
235" 2,718 ft 9280'
to
11998'
3,148 more
Kirkwood
CA
463" 2,000 ft 7800'
to
9800'
2,300 more
Northstar at Tahoe
CA
316" 2,280 ft 6330'
to
8610'
3,170 more
Park City Mountain Resort
UT
290" 3,100 ft 6900'
to
10000'
7,300 more
Vail Ski Resort
CO
357" 3,450 ft 8120'
to
11570'
5,289 more
Whistler
BC
417" 5,354 ft 2140'
to
7494'
8,171 more
Telluride Ski Resort
CO
279" 3,845 ft 8725'
to
12570'
2,000 more
Stowe Mountain Resort
VT
307" 2,160 ft 2235'
to
4395'
485 more