By Eileen Ogintz

Sharon Jones couldn’t care less about Epic or Ikon season passes for snow resorts.

A Floridian, she, her husband and son were visiting Winter Park, CO in March “to see the snow,” she said, and give her 15-year-old a chance to try skiing.

“I really don’t know the difference between the passes,” she said.

But to industry insiders and those who ski and ride often, the recent announcements about next season’s Epic and Ikon passes are a BIG DEAL!

For the uninitiated, Epic Passes are for the 34 Vail Resorts, including smaller mountains like Hunter in New York and Wilmot in Illinois, and major resorts including Stowe in Vermont, Vail and Breckinridge in CO; Park City Mountain Resort in Utah and Heavenly and Northstar in California.

IKON passes are a collaboration of industry leaders – Alterra Mountain Company, Aspen Skiing Company, Boyne Resorts, POWDR, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Alta Ski Area, Snowbird, Arapahoe Basin Ski , Taos Ski Valley and more.

With the snow sports season being extended in many places, a plus for new pass buyers is access to spring slopes. For Epic Pass holders and buyers, there are also discounts on lodging and activities over the summer at certain mountain resorts.

For those who want the option to visit some of the most iconic resorts including Alta in Utah, Taos in New Mexico, Aspen/Snowmass in Colorado and Jackson Hole in Wyoming — but for fewer days — there’s a Mountain Collective pass.

And for those who are happy with smaller, local (and less expensive) resorts – like Bolton Valley near Burlington, VT (one of our longtime favs) there’s the Indy Pass.

For those who only ski at one area (like second homeowners) there are also individual resort passes for them. Popular Arapahoe Basin in Colorado, for one, has announced it will limit the number of passes sold to enhance the mountain experience with fewer crowds.

Wherever you want to ski and ride and whether you plan just one week a year or every weekend, passes are a far better deal. This season, in fact, reservations were required in advance as well as many COVID-19 related accommodations.

Season pass products now account for a bigger share of skier visits than single or multi day tickets, said Adrienne Isaac, a spokesman for the National Ski Areas Association, noting that as a result, it seems snow lovers are using the passes to explore more ski resorts. “It’s not only fun to explore new places,” she said, “But also provides a little insulation against varying weather (so you can powder chase).”

There are discounts for renewals, for kids (just $219 up to May 5 for a child’s Ikon passes with purchase of an adult one) and all variety of options where you want unlimited access for the season, seven-day passes, passes with blackout dates, passes with inclusion to the biggest resorts and others without them.

Ikon Pass Mobile App

It takes research to determine which is the right pass—if any—for your family.

All 2021/22 Epic pass products will come with Epic Coverage, at no additional cost, which provides refunds for personal events like job loss, injury or illness, as well as for certain resort closures, including closures due to COVID-19. Ikon Pass includes free Adventure Assurance, the industry’s first free program that offers options to Ikon Pass holders that help provide flexibility.

Vail Resorts stunned the ski industry when it announced it in March that it was dropping the price across the board of 20 percent. The price reduction applies to the entire portfolio of the Company’s North American pass lineup, including Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass and Epic Day Pass; Whistler Blackcomb Unlimited, Whistler Blackcomb Day Pass and EDGE Cards; Summit Value Pass, Tahoe Local and Value Pass, and Northeast Value and Midweek Pass; Military Epic Pass and Adaptive Pass; and many more.

“As we double down on our pass strategy by dramatically reducing our pass prices, we are excited to make it easier for everyone to move into a pass, and we remain fully committed to ensuring continuous improvements in the guest experience.” Rob Katz, chairman and CEO of Vail Resorts.

New for the 2021/22 season, the Epic Day Pass will offer two levels of resort access that starts at only $67 for a 1-day pass. 

Some ski industry insiders suggest that lowering the price, which makes the Epic Pass more than $100 cheaper than comparable Ikon passes, is designed to sell more passes, some or many of which will go unused.

“That’s what they are really up to,” said one long time industry professional. Others worry there will be bigger crowds that will diminish the mountain experience.

Denverite Joe Richman, a happy Ikon Pass holder, said even with a cheaper pass prices, there seem to be more upcharges at Vail Resorts—from parking to food to lodging. His dad and stepmom, visiting Winter Park from Wisconsin added that they found lodging far cheaper than at Vail.

“I have friends who say this is their last season for Epic Passes,” Richman said while taking an outdoor lunch break at Winter Park. “And if the lower Epic Pass price means Winter Park is quieter, all the better.”

Others see it as a good move for ski country businesses as well as consumers.

“As a town that can be visited using both passes, I am grateful because I think both are powerful products and will play a major role in the future of the ski/snowboard industry,” said Dan Howard, a spokesman for Visit Park City. “As a businessperson, I am in favor of the Vail decision, as it creates an incentive to get people on the slopes and addresses a criticism that skiing has a high barrier to entry.”

“The crowds are one thing, especially on weekends, at Vail Resorts,” said Al Jackson, from Wisconsin, who was skiing at Winter Park. “But when I retire, I’ll get both passes.”