Why It’s The Best Time To Buy Next Year’s Ski Pass

The economics of the ski industry have gotten to the point where just about every skier or snowboarder who gets in 5-7 days a winter or more or takes at least one weeklong trip can benefit financially from one of the global multi-mountain season passes that have changed the face of skiing.

There are some smaller regional passes for local markets, but two national/international passes dominate the market, the Ikon Pass and the Epic Pass. Epic Passes for next winter, 2023-2024, went on sale earlier this month, and Ikon went on sale today. Both begin pre-season sales at the lowest price they are ever going to be and will get more expensive at certain deadlines and eventually will no longer offered for sale at all, much to the chagrin of procrastinators. For early buyers, both passes offer some form of zero down, 0{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} interest option.

If you are going to buy one – and many skiers/snowboarders should – you might as well do it at the lowest price. Each one has pros and cons and benefit particular types of skiers and riders more, and this is such a complex decision that I just did an entire separate article on how to choose which one is for you, which you should read here. The most fundamental difference is that the Ikon Pass is more of a sampler, offering a set number of free days, 5 or 7 (depending which level you buy) at most of its participating mountains, as well as unlimited access to about a third of them.

The Epic Pass reverses this model and is more of a surrogate season pass at most of its mountains. Owned by publicly traded ski operator Vail Resorts, Epic has unlimited skiing at all the many Vail Resorts-owned properties worldwide, along with limited days at partner resorts. This difference does not matter to most ski travelers in terms of vacations, which rarely include more than 7 days of skiing in one spot, it more affects those who live in or have second homes in ski towns, explained more thoroughly in my companion story. The other big difference, of course, is which mountains are covered on each – there is no overlap.

These are the brand-new details for next winter.

Ikon Passes: There are four levels, the top tier being the Ikon Pass followed by the Ikon Base Pass Plus. To keep things manageable, I am going to focus on the flagship product from each company in order compare apples to apples.

Highlights: Ski Magazine has the industry’s most important resort rankings, and just picked Sun Valley as Number One in North America – again. It’s on Ikon, as are the Top 3 and 7 of the Top 10. According to leading site Zrankings.com it also has 7 of Top 10 U.S. ski resorts (including Number One Jackson Hole, WY) and the Number One ranked resort in key states and territories including California, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Maine and Quebec. The Ikon Pass includes the largest resorts in several of the key states it covers, including Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, New Mexico, Vermont and Maine.

Big Sky, MT is the nation’s second largest resort (lift served terrain), is remarkably uncrowded, and after a decade of massive infrastructure investment, state of the art lift network and high-profile new hotels, is probably the single hottest ski destination in North America right now, a standout that I have written about in depth here at Forbes. Jackson Hole, WY is on every better skier’s Bucket List, and other world-class destination resorts include Alta, Snowbird and Sun Valley. With the sole (but notable) exception of Park City Resort, Ikon dominates Utah and its famous – and famously accessible – powder with half a dozen options. Idaho’s Schweitzer is the biggest hidden gem resort in the country, which I also wrote about here in detail recently.

While it gets overshadowed by Whistler/Blackcomb, I think Ski Big 3 is Canada’s premier all-around ski vacation destination, with two gigantic resorts, one of the world’s best ski towns (Banff), jaw dropping scenery, bargain pricing and an array of exquisite lodging and dining (read more here). For modern day ski bums road tripping in their Sprinter Vans, the marquee place to go right now is Canada’s “Powder Highway,” and Ikon includes heavy hitters Revelstoke, RED Mountain and Panorama. Globally, Japan is the hottest Bucket List spot on earth with the most snow, and Niseko is its most popular resort, while there may be no better (or bigger) ski vacation destination anywhere than Italy’s Dolomites, also profiled by me here at Forbes.

Details: The Ikon Pass covers 54 destinations, 15 with unlimited skiing and 39 with 7 days each. There are no blackout dates (though Deer Valley limits the number of daily skiers and requires advance reservations).

Unlimited skiing resorts are Colorado’s Steamboat, Winter Park Resort, Copper Mountain and Eldora; Utah’s Solitude; California’s Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley), Mammoth Mountain, Big Bear, June Mountain, and Snow Valley; Vermont’s Stratton and Sugarbush; West Virginia’s Snowshoe; and Canada’s Tremblant and Blue Mountain.

7-day locations are: Colorado’s Aspen/Snowmass and Arapahoe Basin; Montana’s Big Sky; Utah’s Brighton, Deer Valley, Snowbasin, Alta and Snowbird; Vermont’s Killington/Pico; New York’s Windham Mountain; Michigan’s The Highlands and Boyne Mountain; Washington’s The Summit at Snoqualmie and Crystal Mountain; Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor; Idaho’s Sun Valley and Schweitzer; Maine’s Sunday River and Sugarloaf; New Hampshire’s Loon Mountain; Canada’s SkiBig3 (Banff/Lake Louise), Revelstoke, RED Mountain, Cypress Mountain, Panorama and Sun Peaks; France’s Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley; Italy’s Dolomiti Superski; Andorra’s Grandvalira Resorts; Austria’s Kitzbühel; Switzerland’s Zermatt; Japan’s Niseko United and Lotte Arai Resort; and for skiing in the U.S. summer months, Chile’s Valle Nevado; Australia’s Thredbo and Mt Buller; and New Zealand’s Coronet Peak/The Remarkables/ Mt Hutt.

Lower tier passes reduce access to some marquee resorts, drop the 7-days to 5-days and add blackout periods. The Ikon Pass is now on sale for an introductory price of $1,159, and existing Ikon Pass holders can renew for a discounted $1,059. Ikon has not announced the date when prices will increase, but last year it was in the fall.

There are some additional fairly minor benefits including 25{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} discounts on friends and family lift tickets, subject to numerous restrictions, 15{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} off food, beverage and retail at some resorts, First Tracks at select destinations and discounts on some brands of ski gear.

Epic Passes: There are two main versions, the top tier full-blown Epic Pass and the Epic Local Pass, which is not regional but rather has less resorts but still covers coast to coast so there’s something local for most skiers. It also reduces some of the marquee destinations including Vail and Whistler from unlimited to a set number of days. There are also regional U.S. versions, one for Australia, one for seniors and one for college students, while the very best buy in skiing remains the Epic Military Pass, with almost all the same benefits as the full-blown Epic Pass for a sixth of the price, available to active and retired military and their dependents. A version for veterans and their dependents is not as deeply discounted but still about half the price of the regular Epic Pass. Again, for a comparison purposes, I will focus on the regular full Epic Pass.

Highlights: The Epic Pass includes the three most popular ski resorts in North America, Vail and Breckenridge, CO and Whistler/Blackcomb, BC. Vail is the also the largest in Colorado while Whistler/Blackcomb is the largest in all of North America. According to ZRankings, Epic has 3 of Top 10 in the U.S., and the Number One resort in Colorado, Vermont, New Hampshire and Canada. It is especially strong in Colorado where it has most of the most desirable resorts including the biggest (Vail), the most luxurious (Beaver Creek) and ZRankings’ Number One pick, Telluride, also my favorite U.S ski resort – read more here (it is a partner so passholders get 7-days). Epic includes the nation’s (and Utah’s) largest ski resort (lift served terrain), Park City, Tahoe’s biggest, Heavenly CA/NV, France’s biggest (Les 3 Vallees), Japan’s biggest (Rusutsu), Australia’s biggest (Perisher) and the closest top drive market resorts for the densely populated New York City tri-state region, Hunter Mountain, NY and Mt. Snow and Okemo, VT.

Epic is also especially strong overseas, and dominates Europe aside from Italy and Austria. Vail Resorts actually owns notable properties including the largest ski resort in Australia, Perisher, and a Swiss standout, Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis. Like Ikon, partners include several major Canadian “Powder Highway” resorts, Fernie, Kimberly and Kicking Horse. While Niseko is Japan’s most famous and popular resort, Rusutsu just down the road is its largest, and on Epic. France’s Les Trois Vallees is by some estimates the largest ski resort on earth and this is a major highlight, with 7 interconnected resorts including famed Courchevel, Meribel and Val Thorens. The pass also covers Switzerland’s Verbier resorts and Austria’s Arlberg. While Ikon has the bigger and highly desirable Dolomiti Super Ski, Epic has Italy’s Skirama Dolomiti, a collection of eight resorts which include stunning hidden gem Madonna di Campiglio, which I featured in depth here at Forbes.

Details: The Epic Pass covers about 86 destinations, 42 with unlimited skiing and 44 with 5-7 days each. However, the latter count is a bit convoluted because this includes multiple interconnected resorts that essentially function as one, such as the 10 resorts comprising Japan’s Hakuba. There are no blackout dates (though Telluride requires advance reservations).

Unlimited skiing resorts are: Colorado’s Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte; California’s Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood; Utah’s Park City; Washington’s Stevens Pass; Vermont’s Stowe, Mt. Snow and Okemo; New Hampshire’s Sunapee, Attitash, Wildcat and Crotched; New York’s Hunter; Pennsylvania’s Jack Frost, Liberty, Roundtop, Whitetail, Big Boulder, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley and Laurel Mountain; Michigan’s Mt. Brighton; Minnesota’s Afton Alps; Wisconsin’s Wilmot; Ohio’s Alpine Valley, Boston Mills, Brandywine and Mad River Mountain; Missouri’s Hidden Valley and Snow Creek; and Indiana’s Paoli Peaks. Internationally unlimited skiing includes Whistler/Blackcomb, BC; Switzerland’s Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis; and Australia’s Perisher, Falls Creek and Hotham.

7-Day access includes Telluride, CO; The Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (six resorts); Italy’s Skirama Dolomiti (eight resorts); and France’s Les Trois Vallees. 5-Day access includes Switzerland’s Verbier (six resorts); Japan’s Hakuba Valley (10 resorts) and Japan’s Rusutsu. 3-Day access includes Austria’s Ski Arlberg (5 resorts).

The full Epic Pass is now $909. The scaled down Epic Local is $676 with less resorts, some daily limits and blackout dates. The Epic Military Pass for active and retired military and their dependents is just $159 and the version for veterans and their dependents is $519.

The additional benefits are more substantial with Epic, including the ability to buy discounted Buddy Tickets for companions, often over 40{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} off rack rates, and when these are used up, Ski With A Friend tickets at 20{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} or more off. Epic Coverage allows you to get unused cash back from your pass in the event of injury or sickness, job loss/furlough, jury duty and other covered events. Passholders typically get 20{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} off food, beverage, lessons, lodging, rentals and Colorado airport transfers with Vail’s Mountain Express shuttle service (formerly Colorado Mountain Express, or CME). An annual ski tune up is 50{5a5867cc9cca71cf546db38f42fbf171004839e3542174405390d177276b4f49} off along with one annual free wax.

Finally, Vail has the most advanced ski app out there, EpicMix, which it has been perfecting and updating for years. It tracks stats, show lift lines in real time, has weather, grooming reports, interactive maps and much more. New for 2023-2024 is My Epic, which stores your pass on the phone and allows you to charge purchase at resorts.

See my companion piece on how to choose the right pass for you and your needs.

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