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The Best Ski Pass For Colorado – Ikon or Epic 2019-2020
BY Christopher Steiner

Article Updated August 3, 2019

A-Basin has joined the Ikon Pass for 2019-2020. In the first move of its kind, A-Basin has left one of the major passes for another. This comes after the resort announced it would be leaving the Epic Pass following the 2018-2019 season, citing overcrowded parking lots and lunch areas due to so many Epic Pass holders piling into the ski resort. The resort had said it would be independent for the upcoming season, but that stance didn't last long. Ikon skiers will get five or seven days at A-Basin, depending on the level of their pass. A-Basin will continue to sell its own season passes.

The Ikon Pass and Epic Pass are fairly evenly matched in Colorado, which can make picking one pass an agonizing decision for those who live in the state or those who plan to visit a few times a winter.

Some people buy both passes, which can be worth it provided a skier gets enough days on the snow.

But for those who prefer to buy just one pass, consider this the definitive guide.

The first question that should be asked of anybody in this position: what is your alpha resort? If a skier won't feel satisfied without skiing her favorite hill at least a few times, then buying the pass that features that resort becomes a straight-forward play.

Skiers who love Vail are going to buy the Epic Pass. Skiers who insist on getting some time at Aspen are going to buy the Ikon Pass. Skiers who need to log a few days at Telluride—the best ski town in North America—will go Epic.

True free agents, however, will consider both passes before picking one.

Map of Epic Pass Ski Resorts

Map of Ikon Pass Ski Resorts

A big group of these people will be Denver locals. The next two sections of this piece are for them (skip ahead if you're not a Coloradan).

Public Service Announcement: You can't get a discount on the going rates for Epic or Ikon Passes because they're simply not offered. But if you buy your Epic or Ikon Pass through ZRankings and Ski.com, you can get a free ZRankings beanie made by Cirque in Vail, Colorado. These hats aren't sold—this is the only way to get one, and they are awesome. Buy through these links, and we'll get you that hat:

Buy Your Epic Pass Here

Buy Your Ikon Pass Here

Questions on hats: hats@zrankings.com

For those choosing a pass based mostly on snowfall and powder chasing, see The best ski pass for Colorado powder chasers.

Denver locals who have flexible work schedules

This designation matters because, as any Denver-area skier knows, getting to and from the slopes on the weekends can be a gauntlet of four-plus hours in each direction.

Those who don't have to drive during peak times, however, can avoid these traffic deluges. That makes the selection of the Epic Pass more appealing, as getting to Vail and Beaver Creek, Epic's premier ski resorts, which both happen to sit on the far west side of the central Colorado ski area basin, becomes far easier.

Denver-area locals who have to drive on Saturday mornings because of more rigid job schedules should consider the Ikon Pass, as it grants access to Copper Mountain and Winter Park, whose commutes, especially that of the latter, are less high-stress than trekking all the way to Vail or Beaver Creek, and offer smaller weekend crowds than Breckenridge or Keystone.

Epic has I-70 covered.
The Epic Pass has I-70 covered.

Fighting to Vail on a Saturday morning in February is an ill-advised journey. For that reason, a lot of skiers with Epic Passes end up at Keystone or Breckenridge during these times, in addition to the fact that Epic Local Passes offer only a limited number of days at Vail and Beaver Creek. This can lead to some monster weekend crowds at Breck, and Keystone gets busy, too.

In short, Denver area skiers who have to ski on weekends are going to face some traffic and crowd pain if they go with the Epic Pass. That's also the case for the Ikon Pass, of course, but to a lesser degree. Crowds at Copper tend to be milder, and the drive to Winter Park avoids more of the intense I-70 corridor compared with the other resorts in the region.

For this reason, we recommend the Epic Pass for those who have the flexibility to drive on Friday mornings and Mondays, or other non-peak days for that matter. These skiers will get the best of Vail and Beaver Creek, when the crowds are sparse and I-70 is clear.

For this reason, we recommend the Epic Pass for those who have the flexibility to drive on Friday mornings and Mondays, or other non-peak days for that matter. These skiers will get the best of Vail and Beaver Creek, when the crowds are sparse and I-70 is clear.

Full Epic Pass holders can then make a long weekend—or longer—trip to Telluride, one of the true treats in all of skiing. Note: only the full Epic Pass offers days (seven) that can be used at Telluride.

Denver locals who work Monday to Friday

Denver-area locals who have to drive on Saturday mornings because of more rigid job schedules should consider the Ikon Pass, as it grants access to Copper Mountain and Winter Park, whose commutes, especially that of the latter, are less high-stress than trekking all the way to Vail or Beaver Creek, and offer smaller weekend crowds than Breckenridge or Keystone.

Breckenridge is a better bet during the week.
Breckenridge is a better bet during the week. Courtesy: Breckenridge

Ikon Pass holders then have the option to make long weekend trips to Aspen or Steamboat, which takes them out of the halo of Denver-area traffic and into a different mountain experience, with more room to breathe.

Destination Travelers

Most skiers coming from elsewhere to Colorado, and skiing with the Epic or Ikon Pass will be less limited by work schedules because they're likely going to ski more than two days at a time.

For that reason, destination skiers have the luxury of making a pass buying decision based more on the resorts they prefer than on potential travel on I-70.

Those who prefer the Vail-Beaver Creek tandem are going to lean that direction. Those who like the ambience and variety of Aspen are going to roll with the Ikon.

One thing that separates these passes for destination skiers is airports. The Epic Pass is better positioned for people who are primarily going to fly in and out of Denver International Airport. The drive can be arduous and stressful coming up from—and going back to—Denver, but the fares tend to be cheaper compared with directs into the ski town airports.

Those who are flying with points or simply have a little more in their budget to spend on plane tickets should examine the options that the Ikon Pass offers, as it features two resorts: Aspen and Steamboat, that are fairly far from Denver at 3.5 to 4.5 hours, and have airport with great service from a multitude of hubs across the country.

Two week-long trips to each resort, while flying into ASE (Aspen) and HDN (Hayden-Steamboat) offers skiers a great experience with far less rigmarole in travel.

That said, Vail and Beaver Creek also have a great airport in Vail Eagle (EGE), with large planes coming direct from hubs such as Chicago, Dallas, Newark, Atlanta and the West Coast. Skiers should always check rates into these non-Denver airports first, as they truly offer a superior experience.

In addition to Vail Eagle, holders of the full Epic Pass also have the option of flying to Montrose-Telluride (MTJ), which gets them to the doorstep of the San Juans, the most dramatic and scenic mountain range in the state best known for them.

In short, the decision isn't crystal clear for destination skiers. Epic has more resorts close to Denver, but Aspen and Steamboat, Ikon resorts, are destinations unto themselves, far from the roaring I-70 corridor.

This is something that will come down to resort preference. We recommend switching it up every other year or every third year. Colorado has so many iconic resorts, it would be a shame to not ski all of them.