Ski culture has changed. One-time ski areas are now glitzy ski resorts, yesterday’s ski towns are now called resort towns and the broke, dirtbag ski bum has all but disappeared, but it doesn’t change the fact that people still want a good deal. Yes, even on expensive, gear-centric wintertime gravity sports.
And the resorts are picking up on that, teaming up to offer combo ski passes that allow visits to multiple mountains around the country, and saving skiers and snowboarders piles of cash along the way. The Epic Pass, which was launched by Vail Resorts in 2008, started the fad by offering a season of unlimited skiing at six of its resorts in Colorado and California. It was a hot seller, and the company continued rolling the pass out to every mountain it acquired. Now, other resorts are getting in the game, joining forces coopetition-style to release expansive combo passes—the Mountain Collective Pass, the Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus, the Powder Alliance Pass—to compete with the likes of Vail Resorts.
Besides the big combo passes, ski regions are also banding together in small ways to offer deals to local skiers. The White Mountain Superpass, for example, offers access to four New Hampshire mountains—Cranmore, Waterville Valley Resort, Bretton Woods and Cannon. In Utah, Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley and Park City have launched the Wasatch Shared Benefit, which gives season pass holders at any one resort three free lift tickets to each of the remaining three.
Here, we compare five of the biggest combo ski passes for 2013-14:
Vail Resorts set the bar high with the Epic. In addition to unlimited, no-blackout-dates skiing at a dozen domestic mountains, the pass was expanded this year to include free days at three European resort groups totaling 14 mountains. It’s pricey, but definitely worth it if you live in Colorado (where six of the resorts are located) or travel extensively to ski. Hurry, prices go up again Oct. 13!
Includes: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin, Eldora (Colorado), Canyons (Utah), Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood (Tahoe), Afton Alps (Minnesota), Mt. Brighton (Michigan)
Access: Unlimited to all resorts, and includes 5 free days at Verbier (Switzerland), 5 free consecutive days at Arlberg (Austria) and 5 free days at the Les 3 Vallées resort group (France)
Mountain Collective Pass
Offering 12 days of skiing (two each) at some of North America’s most legendary mountains—including Squaw/Alpine Meadows, Whistler Blackcomb, Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth and AltaSnowbird—for less than the price of four days at any one of them, the Mountain Collective Pass is a great deal for anyone looking to boast the most epic winter ever. And what’s more, you get 50 percent off any additional days at each mountain. There are no blackout dates, no BS. Just great snow, and extra change in your pocket.
Includes: Alta/Snowbird, Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Mammoth, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Whistler Blackcomb
Access: Two days free at each of the resorts/resort groups, up to 12 days total
Powder Alliance Pass
The brand-new Powder Alliance, a group of a dozen resorts spread across nearly every state from the Rockies west, offers one of the more straightforward options with its combo pass. When you buy a top-of-the-line season pass at one of the resorts (presumably your local one), you get three free lift tickets to each of the remaining 11. With no additional cost, it’s a nice added incentive for westerners to step out and try new mountains.
Price: Dependent on home resort’s top-tier price
Includes: Arizona Snowbowl, Angel Fire, Bridger Bowl, Crested Butte, China Peak, Mountain High, Mt. Hood Skibowl, Schweitzer, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Snowbasin, Stevens Pass, Timberline
Access: Pay for top-tier pass at your Powder Alliance resort and automatically get 3 free tickets to each of the remaining 11 resorts
Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus
This Colorado-centric combo pass offers unlimited access to Copper Mountain’s mind-blowing terrain park (Woodward at Copper) and Winter Park/Mary Jane, as well as six days on Steamboat’s legendary champagne powder and three at Monarch Mountain. Bonus points for making it to New Zealand’s Mount Ruapehu next summer, where you’ll ski free for five days. With this pass, you can also buy up to 20 $59/day buddy passes to hook up your less fortunate (and suddenly very close) friends.
Includes: Copper Mountain, Winter Park/Mary Jane
Access: Unlimited, with 6 free days at Steamboat and 3 at Monarch Mountain
Monarch Mountain’s One Planet Pass
Little Monarch Mountain near Salida, Colorado is expanding its reach with the One Planet Pass, which grants skiers unlimited days at Monarch, plus discounted or free tickets at a total of 33 other ski areas, including a handful in Spain and Canada. This is the little guy’s combo pass, which includes free days at local mountains all over the country (Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, Wyoming, New Mexico and California) that you’d otherwise never ski. Road trip, anyone? There
Includes: Monarch, Loveland, Sunlight, Ski Cooper, Devil’s Thumb Ranch, Durango, Granby Ranch, Silverton, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Steamboat and more
Access: Unlimited at Monarch; 3 free days at Loveland, Sunlight, Durango, Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Granby Ranch, and 1 at Silverton, Copper, Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado; 3 free days at the rest of the bunch, too