Epic, Ikon, Peak, etc The Debate on Multi-Resort Passes


Epic, Ikon, Peak, etc The Debate on Multi-Resort Passes -- a prison wall with barbed wire

The online debate rages on whether or not the trend in big resort marketing is good for skiing or not. That is, does Vail’s Epic Pass, Alterra’s Ikon Pass, and the new Peak Pass from Peak Resorts help or hinder skiing?

The Idea

The idea is you pay a relatively major lump of cash to the Corporation and you get to ski at all of their resorts and possibly other partnering resorts. There are variations on the them which include less cost for limited days and blackout periods. The idea is you pay up front for a ton of skiing. Then it is up to you to go and get it.

This tactic must be working because now there are four competing mega-passes on the market. Vail Resorts offered the first one and then Alterra entered with the MAX Pass (now rebranded the Ikon Pass), we have the Mountain Collective pass, and new for the next season is Peak Resort’s Peak Pass (FYI, my wife and I own a small stake in Peak Resorts). This tactic is leading Vail to buy up resorts in key market regions. For example, the small resort Wilmot Mountain between Milwaukee and Chicago is now owned by Vail and on the Epic Pass. The idea obviously is to offer a ski pass residents of the area can use around home as well as at the destination resorts in the Vail portfolio.

Alterra isn’t buying (it owns quite a few as it is) up resorts but partnering with other resorts and resort groups. For example, they partner with Boyne which owns resorts in Michigan as well as Big Sky in Montana.  In addition, the former incarnation of the Ikon Pass offered skiing on their pass to independent resorts in Minnesota and Granite Peak here in Wisconsin. I was thinking about picking up the pass and I would have been able to make it pay with one trip to Big Sky and a few days at Granite Peak. Alas, when the MAX Pass rebranded to Ikon Granite Peak was no longer included and I decided Big Sky was a bit to swank for me.

The Problems

People have with these deals isn’t necessarily the pass themselves, but as we know Vail is buying up resorts to feed their Epic Pass program. While I don’t recall ever being asked to sign a political pledge when I became a skier, my feel is most of the hardcore skier community tilt to the left and the word “corporation” is anathema to the most of them. They trot out words like “soulless” to describe what becomes of resorts bought out by Vail or another corporation. However, not everyone feels that way. This article brings up some very good points about corporate ski ownership! The upshot is the ills many blame on corporate ski resort acquisitions were well underway before the buying spree.

The other common complaint is a noticeable increase in the crowds and lift-lines at the resorts. However, preliminary reports indicate solid snowfall and local participation (in the form of day passes and resort specific season’s pass holders) was the primary driver of the crowds at ski resorts.

Day Pass Prices Skyrocket

But look at the prices of day passes! Yeah there is no doubt single days passes are getting crazy high. The reason for that is the corporations want to discourage you from buying those day passes. They want you to commit early and they want you to take on more of the weather risk. I’m not talking about the risk a given day may be -20°F.  On my last trip to Montana I did not make reservations until it was obvious good snow was present and falling. With a pass like Epic, Ikon, or Peak — the resort is offloading a portion of their weather risk to the end-customer. I buy the pass in the spring based on last season’s bountiful snow and then next winter turns out to be a dud. The ski resorts are not in the same trouble they would have been without that multi-pass sale.

This also makes it more likely I will travel regardless of the snow. It is a bad feeling to pay for skiing and not ski, even if the skiing isn’t good.


My parents own a place in Northern Wisconsin. When we were prospecting we stopped in at a local tavern and talked with some of the patrons in the tavern. We were warned the weather was cold even in the summer and the lake was full of worms. Obviously, someone was trying to scare us off from the locale. The ironic thing is one local has a sign saying “Keep Wisconsin Green  — Bring Money!”, can’t have both now can we?

This is a common thing, people search far and wide for their paradise and then when they land somewhere (inevitably crapping on someone else’s paradise) they then get “selfish” and want to shut others out. Before they wanted open access and now they want to build a wall!



Good Stuff!

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