Ikon and Epic passes: why US skiing is suffering

8th March 2022, by James Paris

A Friday afternoon queue at a ski lift in Big Sky, Montana. Credit: James Paris

A Friday afternoon queue at a ski lift in Big Sky, Montana. Credit: James Paris

The news last week that Chamonix has joined the Ikon Pass was great for US skiers dreaming of a European vacation. But many US skiers have mixed feelings about the rise of the Epic and Ikon multi-resort passes: I certainly do. The US skiing world is now an oligopoly dominated by two companies which has led to seriously overcrowded slopes, poor snow quality and massive traffic issues on the roads.

The pricing of single day tickets is now so ridiculously high that anyone planning an American ski holiday has to buy either Epic Pass (from Vail Resorts) or Ikon Pass (from Alterra) and stick to that brand for the entire season. I was in Aspen last week and the walk up price is $190/day — in contrast, a Three Valleys pass is just €66, for the biggest ski area in the world with much better lifts, restaurants and facilities.

I have the Ikon and so far this year I’ve managed to ski Mammoth, Squaw (now Palisades), Snowbird/Alta, Big Sky and Aspen — and I hope to get to Zermatt if time permits.

Where to Ski & Snowboard reader James Paris on a ski holiday in Zermatt

For the avid skier like me, of course these passes are a bargain but there is a downside. Ski areas with unlimited days close to major metropolitan areas are now massively oversubscribed on weekends and holidays. I have personally observed the resorts close to Denver (Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper), Seattle (Crystal), Salt Lake City (Brighton) and San Francisco (Heavenly, Palisades, Northstar) suffer overcrowding.

Not only that, the skier traffic is now so high that the snow quality invariably suffers. For instance, you won’t now experience Rocky Mountain packed powder at Breck, Keystone and Copper unless there has been a recent snowfall of a substantial amount. Otherwise, the high level of skier traffic will quickly ski off the morning groom and leave a hard but skiable base of man-made snow. Good skiing, but not what you come to Colorado for….

There has been very little ski area expansion in the US for 40 years but skier numbers have increased. Old double chairs have been replaced by quads and six-mans, putting two or three times as many skiers on the same slopes. Again, all of this hurts the quality of the snow surface. Consequently, I tend to go to resorts fairly distant from major population centers (ie Aspen, Big Sky), or go to the close-in resorts on weekdays (Snowbird). But even those resorts have their issues (see picture, above).

The recent news from Ikon that Chamonix has been added to next year’s pass will definitely make a European vacation even more enticing. European skiing is really a bargain for Americans right now. The cost of daily lift tickets here is absurd (approaching $200) and the price for lodging at or near the resorts even worse. I just spent a long weekend skiing Aspen, but the lodging was so pricy I slept 55 miles away in Glenwood Springs at a Best Western motel….and even that cost $179 for each weekend night. For the same money I could have a room with breakfast in Zermatt itself (admittedly, that would be midweek).

A British skier heading over here would be well served to buy one or the other of these ski passes for a trip to the US, and use the European (Les 3 Vallées, for example is with Epic) benefits for shorter holidays.

Back to all blogs

Recent blogs

Share |