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Multi-Resort Passes: Ikon Pass, Epic Pass, Mountain Collective, and Indy Pass are Passports to Powder

by John Buckley
November 11, 2023

Multi-resort ski passes can take you further than ever before.

Another ski season is upon us, and hard choices need to be made.

Did you know that your chosen pass may also allow you to pack your boards for resorts in Asia, Oceania, Europe, and South America?

Well strap in. This is your Passport to Powder: a comparison of the Ikon Pass, Epic Pass, the Mountain Collective, and Indy Pass.

Introduction

The Perks of Being a Local

I grew up the son of a ski patrolman. From the time my feet were big enough to fit into a pair of ski boots, I was a Vail season pass holder.

During my childhood, Vail employees were subjected to generally low pay but also privy to a free ski pass. This also extended to include a smoking deal on passes for their immediate family as well.

Every fall, my mother would dutifully take me, my brother, and my sister to get our new ski passes.

She would pay somewhere between $5 and $25 each new season. The price gradually increased by a few bucks every year throughout my childhood.

Nothing may out me as “an old guy” on the Internet quicker than the below picture, but here’s your proof:

As the son of ski patrolman, this is one of my many childhood ski passes for Vail that cost about $20.
As the son of a ski patrolman, this is one of my many childhood ski passes for Vail that cost around $20.

This benefit continued throughout my college years until I returned home and got a resort job for myself—one that included a free ski pass! Life was good as a Vail local with all the sweet hookups.

However, in 2003 (we’ve already established my lack of youth here), I discovered life on the other side. Literally.

We’re Not in Vail Anymore, Dorothy

That year, I moved to New Zealand on a working holiday visa with the intent to “ski bum” for a season. With another successful Vail ski season in the books, I decided to pursue an endless winter by heading to the Southern Hemisphere.

The catch: I had to leave an amazing PR job in Vail to basically become an international ski bum.

As alluring as that may seem, there is an inherent problem with being a ski bum in any country. As the very name implies, it’s a rather low-paying endeavor.

However, I’d saved up all of my money for the six-month adventure in New Zealand, so off I went. I’d also saved enough for what I’d hoped to be a further six months to backpack around the world.

In doing so, I somehow failed to account for the price of a ski pass in New Zealand. Ski-bumming does not require an economics degree.

None-the-less, I eventually settled into Queenstown and got a job at a local restaurant. Getting settled, I met a ragtag group of fellow travelers who would become my ski bum companions for the ski season.

I was also fortunate enough to meet a nice English fellow who hadn’t been as irresponsible in his financial planning. Or perhaps even more so, depending on your outlook.

Having purchased a season pass at Coronet Peak, he decided to leave quite early in the season. I guess he had bigger gap-year adventures to pursue and decided to move on.

Whatever the case, he offered to leave his ski pass with me. Score one for the American!

The rub was that we looked remarkably different. However, a hat, goggles, and a bit of moxy were usually enough to get me onto the base lifts.

Once I cleared that hurdle, I could stay on top for the remainder of the day. Or, at least until the known time that they stopped checking passes in the afternoon.

“I doubt they’ll kick up any fuss. Not for an old ski bum like me.”

On more than one occasion, though, I had to make a run for it. You see, the lifties received $50 for every scoundrel that they caught. Apparently money trumps “being a really cool bloke”.

For the first and only time in my life, I devoted myself to a life of crime: international ski pass fraud.

Hopefully, the statute of limitations has passed. If not, I’d like to defend myself like every old person with a checkered past.

“It was just a different time back then.”

If only ski passes like the Ikon Pass, Epic Pass, Indy Pass or Mountain Collective had existed back then, I might not still be on the run in Asia!

Please read About Me to understand that joke.

Overview

Ikon Pass includes over 50 global destinations with no blackout dates. Has additional customizable options at various price points.

Epic Pass the namesake pass, gives unlimited skiing at 41 premier resorts with no blackout dates. Also has more customized options at various price points. The pass includes resort deals of 20% off lodging, lessons, rentals, food, and more.

The Mountain Collective grants two days at each of its 24 distinctive resorts, plus half-off additional days.

Indy Pass will get you two all-day or night (some resorts have night skiing) lift passes and 25% off a third at 180+ smaller, independent resorts.

Keep in Mind

Which Multi-Resort Pass is the Best Option?

I’m actually not here to answer that question.

The decision about which pass is best suited for you will largely come down to your preferred “home resort” and a number of other personal factors.

I’m sure these include price, restrictions, and where each pass can take you. Though it can get complicated, I’ll attempt to delve into those factors.

The stated intent of my Colorado Saram blog is to encourage people to pursue the Colorado lifestyle across the globe. So, I’d be remiss not to mention all of the amazing international resorts that these passes allow you to ride at.

I’ll leave your favorite Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, or (insert home area) up to you.

I hope to explain the ins and outs of these passes and help you understand where they can take you beyond your local hill.

If you stick around, I’ll offer my opinion on which is the best of the bunch. The answer may surprise you!

Consider it my community service to steer people away from falling into a life of international ski pass fraud.

Or an act of penance to the Kiwi lifties who missed out on their 50 bucks 20 years ago.

The Ski Industry Landscape

The days of buying a single resort season pass at your favorite ski hill may have passed, pun intended. Whether you view this as good or bad is not my topic for today.

For the purposes of my research, I just checked out the price of a single-day, mid-January lift ticket at Vail.

If you just walk up to the counter on a January ski day in 2024, it will cost you $289. For one day!

That’s a far cry from the $20-season pass of my youth. However, this is our frame of reference for the 2023–24 season.

Resorts today make their season pass offerings (compared to the ticket counter) attractive for a reason. They want you to ski or ride for more than one day at a time. They also want you to pay in advance.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing!

Here’s my look at what these four multi-resort passes offer and where each can take you.

Pack your bags and, possibly, your passport too!

Though my parents raised their family in Vail, Colorado, they moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, once we moved out.

The Ikon Pass was put on my radar when I read an article that mentioned Schweitzer had joined its partnership. This piqued my curiosity and served as the impetus for this article.

I’m an American expat in South Korea who just proclaimed himself to be “an international ski bum” with a semi-straight face. With friends and family spread across Colorado and the world at large, I was quite intrigued by the Ikon Pass.

Pricing

Of the four multi-resort ski passes, the Ikon Pass is the most expensive. Don’t let that discourage you, though. It will also take you the furthest if you plan to rack up frequent flyer miles.

There are a lot of intricacies involved with choosing the best option (see below). I recommend that you click directly on the links provided for complete information.

Here are the basics for the 23/24 season:

Ikon Pass: $1,309 USD (age 23+)

Ikon Base Pass: $979 USD (age 23+)

Ikon Session Pass: 4-Day $539 USD, 3-Day $449 USD, 2-Day $319 USD (age 23+)

Where Can Ikon Pass Take You?

For our purposes, I’m just going to focus on the highest price point.

Here’s the answer: Ikon Pass Resorts

It gives you unlimited season access (no blackout dates) at 16 resorts, including a few of my favorites: Steamboat, Copper Mountain, Schweitzer, Big Bear and Solitude Mountain Resort.

Colorado Saram, in the Steamboat backcountry.
Colorado Saram, in the Steamboat backcountry.

Not to mention, up to 7 days each at 41 other resorts that include heavy-hitters such as:

North America: Aspen Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Revelstoke, Taos, Alta and Snowbird, Big Sky, and the list goes on.

International: Niseko United (Hokkaido, Japan); Coronet Peak, The Remarkables and Mt Hutt (New Zealand); Thredbo and Mt Buller (Australia); Kitzbühel (Austria); Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley (France); Zermatt Matterhorn (Switzerland); Dolomiti Superski and more.

Check out this really cool interactive global map of all of the Ikon Pass Destinations.

Ikon Pass Pros

  • Access to a large number of high-quality international and North American resorts.
  • If you plan to check out multiple high-profile resorts in one season, this pass is for you.
  • Multiple pass options are available for different levels of access and affordability.
  • Discounted passes are available for various ages and demographics.
  • Summer access at specific resorts (check the website for information).

Ikon Pass Cons

  • Higher price points compared to the Epic Pass and Mountain Collective.
  • If your favorite resort doesn’t fall into one of the 16 resorts with unlimited access, you may want to choose a different option.
  • May include some date restrictions at certain resorts, especially at the lower price points.

If you reside in the Rocky Mountains, or if they are your destination of choice, you’re probably familiar with the Epic Pass.

The Epic Pass grants you access to Vail's famous Back Bowls and much more!
The Epic Pass grants you access to Vail’s famous Back Bowls and much more!

It is the crown jewel of the Vail Resorts vacation experience. It even has a rewards program that offers 20% off food, lodging, rentals, lessons, and more.

I don’t want to speak for Vail Resorts (or their lawyers). However, it’s clear that they want you to funnel your vacation experiences through the Epic Pass.

Did I mention that a single-day ticket at Vail at the counter costs about 1/3 that of an unlimited Epic Pass?

Yeah, they want you to buy this pass. Again, that’s not a bad thing!

Learn this from me today: don’t buy a single-day lift ticket at the mountain base. You can buy a 1-day Epic Pass online for a fraction of the price.

Let’s take a closer look at the Epic Pass:

Pricing

Epic Pass: $969 (ages 13+); $494 (ages 5–12)

Epic Local Pass: $719 (19+); $585 (ages 13–18); $377 (ages 5–12)

Epic 1-7 Day Pass: starting at $110 (ages 13+); $58 (ages 5–12). You can customize your days and resorts, and prices will rise accordingly.

There are also many options for regional and specialty passes. These include special pricing for seniors, veterans, and college students.

Where Can Epic Pass Take You?

Like the Ikon Pass, the answer is farther than you may think.

I will do my best to summarize, but you can start here: Where Can Epic Pass Take You?

As someone who grew up in Vail, I’ll start there.

Epic Pass is the key to unlocking Vail Resorts, which, in my day, meant Vail and Beaver Creek.

It now extends, however, to a portfolio of 41 resort destinations in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Australia. Here’s a summary of some of the most notable (IMO):

North America: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Crested Butte, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Stevens Pass and Whistler Blackcomb.

The Epic Pass also grants unlimited access to an extensive list of resorts across the Northeast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic states.

However, I’m what’s known as a “powder snob”. Thus, I’ll just encourage you to visit the Epic Pass website for the complete list of those areas.

Switzerland: Andermatt-Sedrun-Disentis

Australia: Perisher, Falls Creek and Hotham.

7-Day Passes: Telluride, Fernie, Kicking Horse, Kimberley and more.

Japan: 5-day access to Hakuba Valley (10 resorts) and Rusutu Resort.

Rusutu on Hokkaido, Japan, is where to head if you want to experience the famous bottomless Hokkaido powder.

Additional Access to 26 European Partner Resorts: find out more.

Skiing at Niseko United on Hokkaido offers deep powder and spectacular views.
Skiing in Hokkaido, Japan, offers deep powder and spectacular views.

Epic Pass Pros

  • Unlimited access to a vast collection of some of the world’s most elite mountain destinations
  • There are no blackout dates or restrictions on the top-level Epic Pass
  • A variety of options to suit different travel and budget needs
  • Huge discounts at participating resorts on food, lodging, lessons and more
  • Special discounts for military, college students, and pass holders from previous seasons

Epic Pass Cons

  • Only the most expensive flagship Epic Pass is unrestricted, with no blackout dates
  • Some pass tiers have limitations on resort access and the number of ski days allowed
  • Australia is nice, but what about New Zealand, guys?

While Ikon and Epic passes may cover a full season at your preferred resort, the Mountain Collective serves a different purpose.

It doesn’t provide season-long access to any specific resorts. Instead, Mountain Collective includes just two days at an impressive collection of resorts.

It also includes an unlimited number of half-priced days beyond those first two days.

Additionally, there are no blackout dates or restrictions.

This is the perfect pass for individuals or families who perhaps don’t want to be tied to one ski vacation.

Pricing

The pricing is a little more straight-forward than the other two passes.

Keep in mind that prices may differ from those posted at the time of research.

Mountain Collective Adult (19+): $650 USD

Mountain Collective Teen (13–18): $530 USD

Mountain Collective Child (12 and under):$210 USD

Where Can Mountain Collective Take You?

12 United States, 7 Canadian, and 5 multi-national resort destinations

United States: Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Snowmass, Big Sky Resort, Grand Targhee, Jackson Hole, Sugarloaf, Snowbasin, Snowbird, Sugar Bowl, Sun Valley, Taos Ski Valley, and Alta.

Canada: Banff Sunshine, Lake Louise, Le Massif de Charlevoix, Marmot Basin, Panorama Resort, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and Sun Peaks Resort.

Japan: Niseko United

France: Mount Blanc Chamonix Valley . Mountain Collective includes the following Chamonix Valley resorts: Grands-Montets, Flégère, Brévent, Les Houches, Montenvers Train, Aiguille du Midi, and Tramway du Mont Blanc.

Australia: Mt Buller

New Zealand: Coronet Peak and The Remarkables.

Chile: Valle Nevado

Mountain Collective Pros

  • Two days included at each of the above resorts, with no blackout dates
  • Unlimited half-price tickets thereafter (is this a pro or con?)
  • Impressive list of international resort destinations
  • Lodging deals

Mountain Collective Cons

  • Some of the premier destinations require advance reservations to use the pass (check site for details)
  • Only two days at each resort before needing to pay half-price retail
  • It may not be a great value for those who intend to ride extensively at one location

The Indy Pass is an interesting alternative for dedicated skiers and riders who don’t give a darn about wooing their social media followers.

As the name implies, it’s another multi-resort ski pass partnership with an impressive collection of “authentic, independent resorts”.

Most of the names in the partnership won’t knock your socks off, but depending on where you live, this could be the perfect pass for you or your family.

The pass will get you two all-day or night (some resorts have night skiing) lift passes and 25% off a third.

Pricing

Indy + Pass: Adults: $499; Kids: $249 (no blackout dates)

Indy Base Pass: Adults: $399; Kids: $199 (subject to blackout dates)

Indy XC Pass: Adults: $99; Kids: $49 (2 trail passes at 40+ XC Resorts with no blackout dates)

Be advised: The links provided will only put you on a wait list to purchase the pass. I guess this sucker is popular!

Where Can the Indy Pass Take You?

United States: The Indy Pass advertises a growing list of 180+ resorts spread across the following regions: the West, Rockies, Midwest, East, and Mid-Atlantic.

Europe: SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser-Brixental, Austria 

Japan: Explore unique independent resorts in Hokkaido, Nagano, and Tohoku.

Note: It’s a little unclear what the Indy Pass gets you at the international resort ticket windows, but it offers a unique partnership with Japan Ski Tours (keep reading).

Indy Pass Pros

  • You can’t argue with 180+ resort choices
  • A good option for those who choose value over prestige in resort destinations
  • Let’s be honest: skiing and snowboarding trips are expensive. This pass is more affordable to the masses
  • See next section on Japan Ski Tours

Indy Pass Cons

  • At the time of research, you can’t even purchase the pass. You will only be put on a waitlist
  • Let’s be honest again: the big resorts are more expensive for a reason
  • Though the drumbeat of this article has been to not purchase lift tickets at the ticket window, for these smaller resorts, I’m not so sure. DYOR

Japan Ski Tours

Perhaps most pertinent to this ski bum living in South Korea is that the Indy Pass is partnered with Japan Ski Tours. They offer custom “off-the-beaten-path” Japan ski trip planning.

Shoot, I was just throwing the Indy Pass in at the end of this post to tie a bow around it, but I’m glad I did.

As a result of my research, I’m now seriously considering a future trip with Japan Ski Tours to chase more of that epic Japanese powder!

It’s seriously the closest you’ll come to meeting or exceeding Rocky Mountain expectations in Asia.

Living in Korea, I know how daunting planning a ski trip can be with the language barrier. It’s also tough to get insider information when you can’t communicate with the locals.

Japan Ski Tours can help take you even “deeper” into the Japanese ski experience with knowledgeable English-speaking guides and trip planners.

For Indy Pass holders, they have specially designed 8 and 10-day trips that sound amazing.

For Epic Pass holders, they offer an Epic Pass Rusutsu Package.

The Verdict

I said in the beginning that I wasn’t going to answer: Which multi-resort ski pass is the absolute best?

There are simply too many personal factors to take into consideration.

I did, however, mention that I would offer my opinion coming from a fantasy perspective, where money is no object and I just want to ski as many awesome places as possible across the globe.

In that dream scenario, I would choose the Ikon Pass. It quite simply takes you the farthest and allows you to ski at some of the world’s best resorts, both at home and abroad.

Ikon Pass grants access to some of America’s best resorts, from California to Maine. It also allows you to pack your boards for top resorts in Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan.

It truly is a Passport to Powder.

If the Ikon Pass had existed 20 years ago, this international ski bum might not still be on the run today!

Teaching my wife how to ski for the first time at Vivaldi Park Resort, in South Korea.
Teaching my wife how to ski for the first time at Vivaldi Park Resort in South Korea.

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Border Collie Life in South Korea

John Buckley

Welcome to Colorado Saram! I'm from the ski resort town of Vail, but now I live in South Korea with my wife Lucy and dog, Winnie. I continue to live and value the Colorado lifestyle, but I do so while following my passion for international travel. I write about skiing, hiking, traveling, and more. I hope you'll find this helpful, and please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.