Best annual ski pass: Epic vs. Ikon vs. Mountain Collective

Oct 9, 2019

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With ski season just on the horizon, it’s almost time to strap on those boots and head to the mountains. Although no ski resorts have declared a definitive opening date just yet for those early-season days, it’s not unusual for some to open as early as mid-October. This means it’s the perfect time to scoop up passes or deals that can last you all season long. Ski passes start to go up in price as winter approaches, and we’re on the cusp of another wave of price increases quite soon.

Though there are an endless number of region- and mountain-specific passes out there, there are three main ski-pass families for North American skiers and snowboarders: the Epic Pass, Ikon Pass and the Mountain Collective. If your family only takes one or two trips to the mountains in a season, you may reasonably think a season pass isn’t for you, but in many cases, you might be wrong.

(Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Telluride is included with some Epic passes. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

With single-day lift tickets costing $200 at major mountains and annual passes starting at around $400 (or less) for the whole year, a great many snow-loving families will do better strategically selecting the best pass rather than paying individual lift-ticket prices.

The price for an Epic Pass increases on Oct. 13, Ikon Pass prices increase on Oct. 17, and the Mountain Collective Pass increase depends on when the current rate sells out.

Admittedly, choosing the right ski pass is tough, especially because there’s some overlap, with certain mountains appearing on the lists for multiple passes. It’s always going to depend on your particular situation, but here’s our rule-of-thumb guide to help you choose the best ski pass for your family so you can make your plans for next season before prices creep upward.

Related: Best Credit Card to Use for Purchasing Ski Passes

Ski Breckenridge with the Epic Pass (Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
Ski Breckenridge with the Epic Pass. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

In This Post

Mountain Collective

Prices

  • $509 for adults, children 12 and under are $199

Pass Basics

Mountain Collective has a family of 18 resorts where you get two included days of skiing/boarding at each resort with no blackout dates, and then 50% off additional days.

The above Mountain Collective prices are valid for a limited number of passes, as opposed to the rates ending on a set date. The website says that supplies at those prices are still in stock at the moment, but that could change at any point.

If you planned to ski two days at Aspen/Snowmass, two days at Mammoth and two days at Snowbird next season, buying the Mountain Collective now for $509 means you’d be paying about $85 per lift ticket per day for those six days of skiing. Your child, up to age 12, would pay just $33 per day on the slopes. Obviously, the more you ski, the less your daily cost. Typically, the Mountain Collective pass pays off after five or six days of skiing at the current rates.

Mountain Collective Resorts

  • Alta Ski Area
  • Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
  • Aspen Snowmass
  • Banff Sunshine
  • Big Sky Resort
  • Coronet Peak and The Remarkables
  • Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
  • Lake Louise
  • Mammoth
  • Mount Buller
  • Niseko United
  • Revelstoke Mountain Resort
  • Snowbird
  • Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
  • Sugarbush Resort
  • Taos Ski Valley
  • Thredbo Alpine Village
  • Valle Nevado

Related: Look inside the new W Aspen

Ikon Pass

Prices

  • Ikon Base Pass is $749 for an adult pass, $559 for 13- to 22-year-olds, $359 for children 5 to 12 and $49 for children 4 and under. Also, if you’re active or retired military or a college student, you can get a discount at $539.
  • The full Ikon Pass is $1,049 for an adult pass, $779 for 13- to 22-year-olds, $399 for children 5 to 12 and $49 for children 4 and under. This pass also comes with a discount for military personal or college students at $719.

Pass Basics

There are two types of Ikon passes. The full Ikon Pass has no holiday restrictions, a longer list of unlimited resorts and more days at resorts that offer the maximum number of ski days. The Ikon Base Pass comes with date restrictions, a shorter list of mountains with unlimited skiing and fewer included days at additional resorts. With that said, it still includes a ton of skiing at a fixed price.

The pass also comes with 10 friends-and-family discount lift tickets, which is 25% off the regular window rate price. This can be used at all Ikon Pass mountains during the season. (Note: This benefit does not come with the child pass or the 4-and-under pass.)

Ikon Resorts

The Ikon Base Pass gets you unlimited ski days at:

  • Steamboat
  • Winter Park Resort
  • Copper Mountain Resort
  • Eldora Mountain Resort
  • Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
  • Mammoth Mountain
  • June Mountain
  • Big Bear Mountain Resort
  • Stratton
  • Snowshoe
  • Crystal Mountain
  • Tremblant
  • Blue Mountain
  • Solitude

You then get five days at each of these resorts (with holiday restrictions):

  • Steamboat
  • Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
  • Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
  • Big Sky Resort
  • Stratton
  • Sugarbush Resort
  • Boyne Highlands
  • Boyne Mountain
  • The Summit at Snoqualmie
  • Revelstoke Mountain Resort
  • Cypress
  • Sunday River
  • Sugarloaf
  • Loon Mountain
  • Taos
  • Deer Valley Resort
  • Brighton
  • Zermatt Matterhorn
  • Thredbo (access begins in the 2020 season)
  • Mount Buller (five days in the 2019 season and five days in the 2020 season)
  • Niseko United
  • Valle Nevado (access begins in the 2020 season)

You also get five combined days at each of these families of mountains (with holiday restrictions):

  • Aspen Snowmass: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk
  • AltaSnowbird: Alta Ski Area and Snowbird
  • SkiBig3: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mount Norquay
  • Killington-Pico: Killington and Pico Mountain
  • Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Mount Hutt (access begins in the 2020 season)

The holiday restrictions on this pass are reasonable, as they are just the most peak ski dates.

  • Northern hemisphere: Dec. 26 to 31, 2019; Jan. 18 to 19, 2020; Feb. 15 to 16, 2020
  • Southern hemisphere: July 4 to 19, 2020 (Thredbo only)

Remember that the holiday restrictions won’t affect your skiing at some of the resorts, such as Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Tremblant, Big Bear, etc. If you are on a school schedule, you could ski those resorts during the peak holiday dates and then hit some of the other mountains the rest of the time.

Related: Review of The St. Regis Deer Valley

Image of Steamboat courtesy of Ikon Pass
(Image of Steamboat courtesy of Ikon Pass.)

The pricier full Ikon Pass gets you unlimited ski days with no holiday restrictions at:

  • Steamboat
  • Winter Park Resort
  • Copper Mountain Resort
  • Eldora Mountain Resort
  • Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
  • Mammoth Mountain
  • Big Bear Mountain Resort
  • June Mountain
  • Stratton
  • Snowshoe Mountain
  • Tremblant
  • Blue Mountain
  • Crystal Mountain
  • Solitude

You then get seven days at each of these resorts:

  • Arapahoe Basin Ski Area
  • Jackson Hole Mountain Resort
  • Big Sky Resort
  • Sugarbush Resort
  • Boyne Highlands
  • Boyne Mountain
  • The Summit at Snoqualmie
  • Revelstoke Mountain Resort
  • Cypress
  • Sunday River
  • Sugarloaf
  • Loon Mountain
  • Taos
  • Deer Valley Resort
  • Brighton
  • Zermatt Matterhorn
  • Thredbo (access begins in the 2020 season)
  • Mt Buller (five days in the 2019 season and five days in the 2020 season)
  • Niseko United
  • Valle Nevado (access begins in the 2020 season)

You also get seven days combined at each of these families of mountains:

  • Aspen Snowmass: Aspen Mountain, Snowmass, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk
  • AltaSnowbird: Alta Ski Area and Snowbird
  • SkiBig3: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise Ski Resort and Mount Norquay
  • Killington-Pico: Killington and Pico Mountain
  • Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Mount Hutt (Access begins in the 2020 season)

Related: Points-friendly hotels near Ikon Pass resorts

Use Marriott points at the Sheraton Steamboat Villas (image courtesy of hotel)
Use Marriott points at the Sheraton Steamboat Villas. (Image courtesy of hotel.)

Epic Pass

Prices

  • Unlimited Epic Pass is $969 for an adult pass, $509 for children 5 to 12
  • Epic Local Pass is $719 for adults, $647 for college students, $579 for teens 13 to 18, and $379 for children 5 to 12
  • Epic 1 to 7 Day Passes range from $92 to $129 per day for adults, $48 to $67 per day for children.

Pass Basics

Like with Ikon, there are two main levels of the Epic Pass (the juggernaut of ski passes): the full Epic Pass that has no date restrictions and the Epic Local Pass that does have some peak holiday restrictions and access to a slightly shorter list of resorts. Just don’t let the “local” distinction fool you, as it simply means you have some peak-date restrictions around the busiest dates. If you are skiing a total of seven days or fewer in the season, the Epic 1 to 7 day passes can be personalized for your trip with the exact number of lift-ticket days you need and whether or not you are traveling on a holiday.

You must read the holiday and date-limit rules for each pass carefully, as there are nuances. For example, Telluride access is included in some passes but not others. The Epic Local Pass also has peak holiday restrictions at some resorts but not others.

See forever in Telluride (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
See forever in Telluride. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

If you purchase the passes now, both the Epic Pass and Epic Local include six Ski With a Friend tickets. These are tickets discounted off the window ticket price, which fluctuates throughout the season. (Note: These are different than Buddy passes, which only come with season passes purchased before May 27, 2019).

Epic Resorts

The Epic Pass gets you unlimited skiing at:

  • Vail
  • Whistler Blackcomb
  • Keystone
  • Northstar
  • Stowe
  • Afton Alps
  • Crested Butte
  • Beaver Creek
  • Breckenridge
  • Park City
  • Heavenly
  • Kirkwood
  • Wilmont
  • Mount Brighton
  • Stevens Pass
  • Okemo
  • Mount Sunapee
  • Mount Snow
  • Wildcat Mountain
  • Attitash Mountain Resort
  • Crotched Mountain
  • Hunter Mountain
  • Roundtop Mountain Resort
  • Big Boulder
  • Liberty Mountain Resort
  • Whitetail Resort
  • Jack Frost
  • Alpine Valley
  • Brandywine
  • Hidden Valley
  • Snow Creek
  • Boston Mills
  • Mad River Mountain
  • Paoli Peaks
  • Perisher
  • Hotham
  • Falls Creek

The unlimited will also get seven included days at each of these resorts:

  • Telluride
  • Sun Valley
  • Snowbasin

With the Epic unlimited pass, you also get seven total days at these resorts:

  • Fernie Alpine Resort
  • Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
  • Kimberley Alpine Resort
  • Nakiska Ski Area
  • Mont-Sainte Anne
  • Stoneham

The pass even includes some ski days at resorts in Europe and Japan.

Ski Beaver Creek with the Epic Pass (Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort)
Ski Beaver Creek with the Epic Pass. (Photo courtesy of Park Hyatt Beaver Creek Resort.)

The Epic Pass Local gets you almost the same as above, but with a few restrictions. You’ll still receive unlimited and unrestricted access to the following resorts:

  • Keystone
  • Afton Alps
  • Crested Butte
  • Breckenridge
  • Wilmont
  • Mount Brighton
  • Stevens Pass
  • Okemo
  • Mount Sunapee
  • Mount Snow
  • Wildcat Mountain
  • Attitash Mountain Resort
  • Crotched Mountain
  • Hunter Mountain
  • Roundtop Mountain Resort
  • Big Boulder
  • Liberty Mountain Resort
  • Whitetail Resort
  • Jack Frost
  • Alpine Valley
  • Brandywine
  • Hidden Valley
  • Snow Creek
  • Boston Mills
  • Mad River Mountain
  • Paoli Peaks

And for some of the resorts not on the above list, you’ll still receive unlimited access, but with restricted dates:

  • Park City
  • Northstar
  • Stowe
  • Heavenly
  • Kirkwood

For the rest of the resorts missing, you’ll receive 10 restricted dates at each of these resorts:

  • Vail
  • Whistler Blackcomb
  • Beaver Creek

The local will also give you two days at each of these resorts (Telluride is not included in this pass):

  • Sun Valley
  • Snowbasin

The holiday restrictions at select resorts with the Epic Local Pass and single day passes are: Nov. 29 to 30; Dec. 26 to 31, 2019; Jan. 18, 2020; Feb. 15 to 16, 2020. For Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood and Stowe, you can purchase half-price pass tickets on restricted dates. 

Related: Is the Hyatt Place Keystone the best lodging deal in skiing?

Which ski pass is best?

The $1 million (or $509 to $1,049) question is which major annual ski pass is best? From a pure resort-access standpoint, it’s hard to beat the Epic Pass, especially with the recent acquisition of the Peak Pass. However, the Ikon Pass can also get you unlimited skiing at many other desirable resorts. If a few shorter ski trips to different mountains is your game plan for next season, then the Mountain Collective has the lowest price point of the three and still gets you a good number of days on popular mountains.

The more restrictive tiers of passes in the Ikon and Epic families are also good considerations for saving money if you won’t be skiing during Christmas, Martin Luther King Day weekend and President’s Day weekend.

Though I have gone with an Epic Pass of some flavor in the last couple of years, this year we changed our strategy. We opted for the Mountain Collective with two to three days of skiing planned at least at Aspen Snowmass and Mammoth. (Note: When we purchased our ski pass this past spring, one of the spring incentives was that you got three days of skiing at one resort of your choice and $99 kid passes). Even if all we ski the whole season is five days across those two resorts, we’d be doing well at $88 per ski day for me and $20 a day for my 9-year-old (based on spring pricing). If we’re lucky enough to squeeze in a couple more days at a mountain such as Jackson Hole or Taos, we’ll have scored an even better overall deal.

Skiing in Breckenridge (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Skiing in Breckenridge. (Summer Hull/The Points Guy.)

Bottom line

Choosing an annual ski pass is not an easy decision, as you have to factor in where you want to ski, when you want to ski and how frequently you want to hit the powder. I also like to consider which resorts have points-friendly hotels so we can stay near the mountain without spending a chunk of change on lodging. To make things tougher, some mountains are on more than one pass, so grab a cup of hot cocoa and map out all the details for this coming winter’s ski trips while comparing the specifics of each pass. (And here’s the best credit card to use when you make your ultimate decision — hint, get your Citi Premier card ready.)

List of Ski Resorts Across the Major Passes

Ski Resort Epic Pass Ikon Pass Mountain Collective
Alta 2 days + 50%
Aspen Snowmass 7 days (total between Aspen Mountain, Aspen Highlands, Snowmass and Buttermilk) 2 days + 50%
Banff 2 days + 50%
Big Sky 7 days 2 days + 50%
Deer Valley 7 days
Jackson Hole 7 days 2 days + 50%
Steamboat Yes
Telluride 7 days
Vail Yes
Whistler Yes
Mammoth Yes 2 days + 50%
Snowbird 7 days (total between Alta and Snowbird) 2 days + 50%
Squaw Yes 2 days + 50%
Sugarbush 7 days 2 days + 50%
Taos 7 days 2 days + 50%
Keystone Yes
Northstar Yes
Stowe Yes
Afton Alps Yes
Mount Sunapee Yes
Stevens Pass Yes
Beaver Creek Yes
Breckenridge Yes
Park City Yes
Heavenly Yes
Kirkwood Yes
Mount Brighton Yes
Falls Creek Yes
Okemo Yes
Crested Butte Yes
Sun Valley 7 days
Snow Basin 7 days
Killington 7 days (total between Killington and Pico)
Boyne Highlands 7 days
Boyne Mountain 7 days
Snoqualmie 7 days
SkiBig3 7 days (total between Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise and Mount Norquay)
Revelstoke 7 days 2 days + 50%
Cypress 7 days
Sunday River 7 days
Sugarloaf 7 days
Loon 7 days
Winter Park Yes
Copper Mountain Yes
Eldora Yes
June MT Yes
Big Bear Yes
Stratton Yes
Snowshoe Yes
Tremblant Yes
Blue MT Yes
Solitude Yes
Fernie 7 days
Kimberley 7 days
Stoneham 7 days
Kicking Horse 7 days
Nakiska 7 days
Mont-Sainte 7 days
Lake Louise 2 days + 50%
Arapahoe Basin 7 days 2 days + 50%
Coronet Peak and The Remarkables 7 days (total between Cornet Peak, The Remarkables and Mount Hutt) 2 days + 50%
Mount Buller 5 days in 2019 season + 5 days in 2020 season
Niseko United 7 days 2 days + 50%
Thredbo Alpine Village 7 days 2 days + 50%
Valle Nevado 7 days 2 days + 50%
Crystal Mountain Yes
Zermatt Matterhorn Yes
Wilmont Yes
Brighton 7 days
Mount Snow Yes
Wildcat Mountain Yes
Attitash Mountain Yes
Crotched Mountain Yes
Hunter Mountain Yes
Roundtop Mountain Yes
Big Boulder Yes
Liberty Mountain Resort Yes
Whitetail Resort Yes
Jack Frost Yes
Alpine Valley Yes
Brandywine Yes
Hidden Valley Yes
Snow Creek Yes
Boston Mills Yes
Mad River Mountain Yes
Paoli Peaks Yes
Perisher Yes
Hotham Yes

 

Read on for more ski trip planning tips:

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