Are you considering buying a season pass?
I remember when I got my first pass.
It was way back when at Squaw Valley, and when I picked up the 2×5-inch piece of plastic with my name and photo on it, I knew then I was a full-fledged skier.
I had become part of a smallish fraternity of Squaw rats who had a culture all their own. There was a sense of belonging. I was one of “Them”.
No more ticket windows for me. No more wickets through the belt loop, either.
Having a season pass gave you a certain cachet and meant you felt so strongly about the ski hill that you would lay out a good chunk of change in the summer on the premise that you would ski at least 20 days the following winter to pay off the cost of the pass.
It was the best money I ever spent.
Flick ahead to a new century and the feeling is much the same. Walking out of the pass office with a full-season ticket to ride still fills me with a great sense of well-being and a giddy anticipation of the winter to come.
However, that is where the similarities stop.
Nowadays, season passes are much more prolific for the simple reason that they are much more economical. A rule of thumb back in the day was that a season pass was roughly the price of 20 single-day lift tickets; today, some pass programs can get you riding for free in as few as four or five days. And many pass programs come with other perks, such as discounts on food and beverage, lodging and cheaper day passes for your friends.
And there are a plethora of pass programs.
The Big Two
Two of the more well-known and extensive programs are the Vail-based Epic pass and the Aspen–Squaw Valley conglomerate known as the Ikon pass.
With the former, for $949 (I’m using full-price adult options here and below) you get access to 65 resorts in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and Europe; with the latter, it costs $1,049 to ride at 38 resorts in the U.S., Canada, Japan, Australia and, next summer, Chile.
With single-day lift-ticket rack rates at many of these resorts surpassing the $120 mark, you’re looking at 10 days at the most before you’re skiing or snowboarding for free.
Other pass programs include the Mountain Collective ($469 for two days at 17 resorts in North America, Japan and Down Under) and the Powder Alliance (buy a season pass at one of the 19 participating resorts and get up to 54 days’ access at the 18 others).
And with these four programs, you’re looking at most of the major players in the North American ski and snowboard industry — Whistler, Jackson Hole, Stowe, Big Sky, Snowbird, Mt. Bachelor, Sun Valley, Mammoth Mountain et al.
Of course, season passes aren’t for everybody.
They can be expensive; for instance, an unrestricted full season pass at Sun Valley is more than $2,000. They can limit where and, and in the case of cheaper restricted passes, when you can ride. If you plan to ride only a couple or three days per season it doesn’t make sense to get one. If you’re thinking about a winter holiday at a resort not covered by your pass, you’re looking at a lot of added costs on top of your initial outlay. And in many cases, if can’t get to the hill that winter due to health, economic or whatever reason, you’re stuck with useless piece of plastic (although many passes have an extra “insurance” cost to help you recoup the loss.)