In The Spotlight
The initial price of $899 is the same, but there’s plenty to choose from as the major multi-resort players put their best face forward in the season pass wars.
One key to finding which pass works best for you is to scour the list of resorts under each pass, and decide which ones are on your favorites’ list. Both passes split out with unlimited access, local alternatives and short-term free access – plus a few side perks
Here’s a comparison narrative to help make a decision which to buy.
The Epic Pass, which is now 10 years old, offers unlimited skiing and riding at 15 resorts – 13 in the U.S., one in Canada (Whistler Blackcomb) and one in Australia (Perisher).
Debuting in 2018-2019, the Ikon Pass has unlimited access to 12 resorts that Alterra, which formed this past season, owns and/or operates. That includes eight in the West, three in the East and one in Canada (Tremblant).
While the adult unlimited price during spring sale is the same for both, Ikon cuts a better deal for kids: $199 versus $469 for children 12 and under. With both, the deal comes only if accompanied by an adult purchase.
The two passes also compete for short-term business. Each offers free skiing and snowboarding at so-called “partner resorts” for limited periods. The Epic Pass gives seven days at newly added Telluride and six Canadian resorts, while Ikon has five in the U.S. and Revelstoke in Canada.
Because of its headstart, the Epic Pass has corralled a cadre of foreign resorts under its Epic. It has 30 partner-resorts in Europe and nine in Japan that accept the Epic Pass for up to six days free skiing and riding, depending upon the resort – and how much money you’re willing to spend to get there.
Local passes that apply only to resorts in a particular area also go head-to-head. The Ikon Base Pass has nine with unlimited skiing and riding – four each in Colorado and California -- five with holiday blackouts and a dozen where you can go for a total of five days at any of them.
Vail offers its Local Pass for three in Colorado, three in the Midwest and now Stowe in the east. Three Lake Tahoe resorts and Park City in Utah fall under the Local Pass, but with holiday restrictions.
Each pass has some non-mountain savings, such as retail, lodging and food discounts. Epic has Kids Pass for certain locales. Ikon Pass has perks with CMH Heli-Skiing in western Canada.
Though less than an hour from the glitz and glamor of South Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood Mountain Resort couldn’t be a more unlikely neighbor. Stuffed up at the head of a box canyon, the mountain known as “The Wood” retains an old-school, bare-bones flavor that, despite ownership by Vail, emphasizes good skiing and riding over amenities (i.e., cell service is iffy).
Terrain. Kirkwood sits in a large cirque that gets steeper the closer you get to the 9,800-foot summit – one of the highest in Tahoe area with the driest snow. Nearly 70 percent of the trails are rated at least advanced. The only beginner trails pack around the Snowkirk and Bunny chairs at the base. Blue runs scatter about, with a half-dozen or so starting on the ridge. But it’s the extreme steeps that set The Wood apart -- be it the wide plunges into Sentinel Bowl, the nasty chutes and trees off Wagon Wheel Bowl, the cliffy chutes into Devil’s Corral, or the deep tracks on The Wall. The long ridge line develops cornices for leaping into the powder. Or, work your way into the Sunrise area on the southernmost side to get plenty of room for long leisurely powder turns. Lift lines are rare, especially once you get out of the base areas. Looking for a challenge? Join the Expedition: Kirkwood to get into the most extreme, remote areas.
Play. Lean into the Banked Slalom course in Snow Snake Gully, or go huck in two terrain parks. For non-downhillers, hop on the skinny skis for a loop or two on Kirkwood Meadow’s prepared X-C trails at the base. Stop by Red Cliff Day Lodge to check out new children’s game center. Or join the Kirkwood Community Association to get into the community center with workout, game room, tennis and socializing. And, of course, South Lake Tahoe casinos are but 35 miles away.
Eat/Drink. You won’t find much exotic cuisine in Kirkwood. Its two base areas serve up standard mountain fare, with The Wall Bar & Grill stepping it up a bit. The lone on-hill eatery is lunch-only Sunrise Grill at base of Sunrise lift. Aprés-ski centers on The Wall and The Cornice, the outdoor K-Bar or venerable Kirkwood Inn. Condo dwellers should shop down below, as general store is limited. More culinary options can be found down below in town of Kirkwood and along Rte. 88.
Stay. Lodging options center on condos around the base. The town of Kirkwood is tiny, and not much until South Lake Tahoe. Drive is under an hour to the slopes, weather permitting.
Travel. From South Lake Tahoe, head south. Or come in from Sacramento. But know that when you get into Eldorado National forest, there’s not much until the ski resort. Fly into Sacramento, Reno or South Lake Tahoe airports, then search out bus, shuttle or rental car. From Sacramento, take three-hour Amtrak ride to mountain turnoff. The Bay Area Ski Bus runs from San Francisco area. North American Charter Ski buses route out of S.F. and Sacramento.
Deals. Kirkwood is in the Epic Pass system; both global and local options apply. Stay at slopes and get discounts on tickets, rentals and lessons. Some South Lake Tahoe lodging includes Kirkwood tickets.
Winter Park Resort has announced that it will replace the mountain’s workhorse Zephyr Express chairlift with a gondola – a move aimed to upgrade the mountain’s infrastructure and to shorten weekend and holiday lines.
The $16 million project is the first salvo fired by new operator Alterra Mountain Company, based in Denver, which has committed to pouring cash into the 12 resorts it controls to upgrade them over the next five years – including operations at Winter Park that it bought from Intrawest.
The City and County of Denver still owns the resort, but Intrawest operated the lift and facilities until 2017, when Alterra bought those rights.
The new 10-seat gondola cars will load at the base and drop off at the 10,700-foot summit at the Sunspot Mountaintop Lodge. Officials say lift lines should reduce by about 15 minutes – a welcome relief to Winter Park regulars who have been frustrated at times by the morning bottleneck at the mountain’s base.
From the top of the new gondola, skiers and riders can spread out on any of Winter Park’s seven distinct “territories” over more than 3,000 acres within the ropes.
Along with the first on-mountain lift project since 2007, the resort’s owners plan to begin a massive overhauling of the mountain’s 42-year-old snowmaking system, purchasing new snowcats and cutting 21 acres of glade skiing in the Eagle Wind area on the backside.
The Winter Park upgrades are a part of Alterra’s five-year plan to spend $555 million on the 12 resorts it acquired in the last year. Financed by the Crown Family -- owners of Aspen-Snowmass – and equity fund KSL Capital Partners, Alterra is stepping right into its multi-resort competition with Vail Resorts, which owns 15 resorts around the globe. The most visible is the head-to-head battle for season pass sales with Vail’s Epic Pass and Alterra’s Ikon Pass.
Mount Sunapee, New Hampshire, Okemo, Vermont and Crested Butte, Colorado have entered into a multi-year season pass partnership with Vail Resorts and the Epic Pass, bringing the total number of Epic Pass mountain resorts to 64 in eight countries.
Pass holders who purchase Epic, Epic Local and Epic Australia will receive seven days of skiing and snowboarding with no blackout dates at each of the three resorts. Epic 7-Day pass holders can use any, or all seven, of their total days, and Epic 4-Day pass holders can use any, or all four, of their total days of skiing and snowboarding with no blackout dates at the three resorts.
“We are proud to join the Epic Pass in a long-term season pass alliance with Okemo, Mount Sunapee and Crested Butte. Our focus on guest service, reinvestment in our resorts and outstanding ski experiences both in New England and the Rocky Mountains aligns well with the Epic Pass and Vail’s remarkable line-up of resorts. We expect this partnership will be a significant benefit to our guests and skiers and riders around the world for years to come,” said Tim Mueller, president of Triple Peaks, LLC, owner of Crested Butte, Okemo and Mount Sunapee mountain resorts.
Okemo is a four-season playground that developed a reputation for quality and superior guest service. Okemo consistently receives accolades and wins awards for snow quality, grooming, terrain parks, family programs, slopeside lodging, resort dining and its friendly employees.
Mount Sunapee is a four-season ski area located in southern New Hampshire. A 90-minute drive from Boston, the resort offers skiing and snowboarding in the winter and ziplines, mountain biking, aerial challenge courses and more in the summer.
Crested Butte is located in southwest Colorado, within the Gunnison National Forest and the Elk Mountain Range and is known for its great skiing and snowboarding and historic mountain town.