Multiple season pass products provide ski and ride options worldwide | VailDaily.com

Multiple season pass products provide ski and ride options worldwide

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

We're living in a golden age of skiing. Technology has advanced the sport in terms of gear and on-mountain improvements and apps let you stalk (erm, find) your friends anywhere on the mountain and track a wide variety of stats. But it's perhaps the multi-resort pass that has most recently — and definitively — changed the scene in skiing.

Vail Resorts, which now owns 12 ski resorts on two continents, introduced the Epic Pass for the 2008-'09 ski season. A pass that offered unlimited skiing and riding at all of Vail Resorts' mountains, with no blackout dates at a price that didn't require taking out a second mortgage, was unheard of at the time. Now, the Epic Pass, and its various iterations — ranging from an Epic Local Pass (with blackout dates at certain resorts) to the Epic 4-Day (for those who only plan to ski four days a season) — provides a more affordable, and customizable, option for those who want to enjoy the snow.

The beginning of an era

"When the Epic Pass debuted for the 2008-'09 ski and snowboard season, featuring unlimited, unrestricted access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, v Basin and Heavenly for just $579, guests flooded our website to purchase the passes because they believed we must have made a mistake on the price," said Russ Pecoraro, director of mountain communications at Vail Resorts Management Co.

While the price for the Epic Pass has risen — it started at $809 in the spring — it still remains a compelling option for many skiers and snowboarders. Now, 13 resorts in the United States and Australia are included on the pass, with access to resorts in France, Austria, Switzerland and Italy to boot.

It's this unlimited, unrestricted access and versatility that makes the Epic Pass the world's most popular ski pass, Pecoraro said. The Epic Pass is sold in all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries around the world.

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New this year is the addition of Park City — with its annexation of Canyons — adding even more acreage to the Epic Pass (total skiable acres on the pass in North America is 31,650), plus a Utah destination, increasing the options. Also new is Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin.

What's not included on the 2016-'17 pass? Whistler Blackcomb. Though Vail Resorts acquired Whistler Blackcomb in August, the resort will not be "epic" this year.

"Vail Resorts looks forward to integrating Whistler Blackcomb into its Epic Season Pass and other season pass products for the 2017-'18 winter season," Pecoraro said.

As the Epic Pass continues to grow, with different international options each year, it remains a compelling offer for those who want to wring every last drop of snow from their season.

"The value of the Epic Pass is giving skiers and snowboarders the flexibility to ski when they want, the choice to ski where they want and the variety of experiences our resorts offer, whether it's the iconic slopes of Vail or Park City or the grandeur and tradition of Europe," Pecoraro said. "Whether you ski five days or 100, no pass is tailored to the way skiers and snowboarders actually want to access the best mountains in the world like the Epic Pass."

Benefits of competition

The Epic Pass made a splash in its first year. Other resorts realized that offering options for intrepid skiers and riders was crucial. Products such as The Mountain Collective Pass and the M.A.X. Pass started to appear in the marketplace, offering a sampling of resorts at an attractive price point.

Not an unlimited pass, The Mountain Collective includes two lift tickets at 12 different resorts in three countries, with the option to purchase additional tickets at a discount with no blackout dates. For those who want to visit resorts in several different regions, it is the perfect way to visit favorites or find new gems.

"Passholders typically take one or more ski vacations over the course of the winter and prefer a variety of resorts that are both geographically close and diverse at the same time, to hedge on snow conditions," said Christian Knapp, vice president of marketing for Aspen Skiing Co. "They also tend to be more advanced and expert skiers and riders looking for quality destinations."

The four mountains in Aspen are part of The Mountain Collective, as are other well-known resorts such as Jackson Hole, Sun Valley and Taos. New additions this year are Telluride and Revelstoke. Whistler Blackcomb is also included on the 2016-'17 Mountain Collective pass.

Knapp said the folks behind The Mountain Collective carefully evaluate resorts and survey passholders on an annual basis to determine which resorts resonate.

"We also want to be very careful about not diluting the brand, so you could say it's a quality over quantity strategy," he said.

Knapp said the low out-of-pocket price and flexibility of adding days at 50 percent off remain two of the most important differentiators for The Mountain Collective Pass.

"However, we can't state enough the importance of being partnered with the highest quality and most renowned resorts on the planet, which is truly our competitive advantage," Knapp said.

For those who want a weekend of skiing and riding at resorts within driving distance of the Vail Valley, The Mountain Collective is a good option for sampling snow.

Amy Hoerter and her husband, Dusty, are both employees at Breckenridge Ski Resort; they both have the Epic Pass through work. However, she said that they purchased a Mountain Collective pass last year and have bought one this year, too. Their son, Jaxin, is a competitive freeskier, and they'll use the pass in tandem with his schedule, which includes the first Olympic qualifier in Mammoth.

"We are planning a northern tour this year," Hoerter said. "Jackson Hole to Sunshine Village to Lake Louise to Revelstoke to Whistler to Squaw to Alpine Meadows to Mammoth, sort of following Jaxin's comp schedule."

Purchasing day tickets at all eight resorts would be a pricey proposition. Even if the Hoerters only ski one day at each resort, having The Mountain Collective cuts the ticket price down to about $50 a day — a steal at any resort.

International turns

If you're itching for some neige, nieve, schnee or yuki, purchasing a pass such as the Epic or Mountain Collective can save you money. For those who feel like Europe is going to have a banner snow year, the Epic Pass will have you schussing down slopes in France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.

Looking to check Japan off your skiing and snowboarding dream destination list? Mountain Collective offers two days at two resorts in Japan, plus Canada, France and Australia; two days in Chile will round out your year. The Rocky Mountain Super Pass-Plus, which offers unlimited skiing at Winter Park, Copper and Eldora, also offers opportunity for a week's vacation at two resorts in New Zealand and three in Japan.

Though the Epic Pass may have started this multi-resort trend, it's clear the true winners are the skiers and riders.

"The Epic Pass has fundamentally changed the value proposition of a season pass and who buys one," Pecoraro said. "Now, virtually every ski resort is in some sort of multi-resort partnership, driving affordability and access for skiers and snowboarders no matter where they ski or ride."

Affordability, access and sweet new resorts to visit — now it's just time for the snow to fall.

Where to ski for less

There are 24 ski resorts in Colorado of varying sizes. Though some lift ticket prices are more than $100 per day, here are seven resorts where you can ski and ride for less than $65 per day. Note that these are walk-up rates. Most resorts offer discounts for pre-purchasing tickets or purchasing multi-day tickets.

• Loveland (Georgetown) — Early-season, one-day tickets are $59 for adults.

• Monarch Mountain (Salida) — Ski from 2 p.m. to close for $35.

• Powderhorn (Mesa) — Adult half-day morning (9 a.m. to noon) tickets are $43; afternoon (noon to 4 p.m.) are $54 and late afternoon (2 to 4 p.m.) are $35.

• Ski Cooper (Leadville) — Full-day adult tickets are $52 at the window; half-day tickets are $42 for skiing from noon to 4 p.m.

• Ski Granby Ranch (Granby) — Adult half-day tickets are $60; full day tickets are $68.

• Sunlight (Glenwood Springs) — Adult full-day tickets are $63.

• Wolf Creek (Pagosa Springs) — Half-day (12:30 p.m. to close) tickets are $51; full-day tickets are $66.