Tickets to ride: The most popular international ski passes
The local ski season is upon us, but before you buy your lift tickets you might want to think bigger. Two of the most popular international ski passes have been ramped up. Bronwen Gora explains the fine print.
By Bronwen Gora | Published #70, Winter 2017
If you’re the kind of person who plans their year around the freshest powder, an international ski pass should be on your radar. They give access to the world’s most prestigious international resorts with one easy swipe, are great value for money and offer a whole host of added extras. The Epic Australia Pass and Mountain Collective are two of the most sought-after passes available, and could well become even more popular after recently bolstering their offering.
Epic Australia Pass 2017/2018 – A$799
Skiing aside, this pass is regarded as one of the best value-for-money products in travel. It gives close to full-season access to almost a dozen international resorts for less than half the price of an average season pass sold by any major destination.
Most enticing is the full-season access to Perisher this winter season. Holders can then use their Epic Australia Pass for North America’s 2017/18 season to access world-class resorts Park City in Utah; Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; and Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in California/Nevada. Keep an eye on the blackout dates however, which tend to cover most major holidays.
As if that’s not enough, the pass also grants 10 days combined skiing at Whistler Blackcomb in Canada, and in Colorado, Vail and its neighbour Beaver Creek – all among the most prestigious on the continent. The pass carries discount deals for equipment hire and hotels, too.
To avoid the Epic Australia Pass holiday blackout periods (the lengthiest being 19-31 December), and for unrestricted access to Whistler, Vail and Beaver Creek (not just the 10 days combined), a A$402 upgrade to the Epic Australia Pass Plus is available, bringing the total to A$1,201.
But even without the add-on, the Epic Australia Pass represents exceptional value. It pays for itself in well under a week and carries other benefits including 15 per cent off lessons and equipment hire, accommodation deals, and night skiing, boarding, and First Tracks mornings (wonderful for fresh snow days).
As the first to enter the market, Epic Australia had first bite at the world’s most prestigious pistes. Vail and Beaver Creek are favoured destinations of billionaires, movie stars, presidents and royalty. Former US President Gerald Ford sold his long-time second home in Beaver Creek only recently. The Hyatt Hotel chain’s owners like to ski in Beaver Creek when staying at their property at the base of its slopes, and the ski-in ski-out Ritz Carlton in adjoining Bachelor Gulch also keeps the glamour factor high.
A 35-minute drive from Salt Lake City airport, Park City is the easiest resort to reach in North America. Hollywood’s A-list and more flock here for the annual Sundance Film Festival. Whistler is also popular with the famous, this year drawing Victoria and David Beckham to its slopes.
Mountain Collective – US$429 (about A$570)
The big difference between this pass and the Epic is that it offers two free days’ skiing at over a dozen top destinations, plus a third free day at a resort of choice, then 50 per cent off the ticket-window price of day passes thereafter. Another bonus is that there are no blackout dates. Mountain Collective passes for kids under-12 cost US$99 (about A$131) when bought with an adult pass.
Mountain Collective’s resorts comprise virtually every major competitor of the Epic family, starting with Thredbo. The collective then extends across the Tasman to New Zealand’s Coronet Peak and The Remarkables, and in North America to Aspen Snowmass and Telluride in Colorado; Jackson Hole in Wyoming; Snowbird, Alta and (new for 2017/18) Snowbasin in Utah; Revelstoke, Lake Louise and Sunshine in Canada; Sun Valley in Idaho; Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain in California; Sugarbush in Vermont (also new for 2017/2018); and Taos, New Mexico.
Don’t breathe out yet. Mountain Collective also covers two free days at its three ‘Global Affiliate Resorts’, an impressive trio comprising Chamonix in France, Hakuba Valley in Japan and the vast Chilean ski-field of Valle Nevado close to Santiago.
Mountain Collective entered the fray just after Epic, its recruitment strategy targeting the most impressive and popular resorts its forerunner had not yet acquired. Even non-skiers know Aspen’s name for its cache with the who’s who of Hollywood, Telluride’s part-time residents include Jerry Seinfeld, Tom Cruise and, until recently, Oprah Winfrey, while Chamonix is among the most revered of European alpine destinations.
Well worth examining alongside the Epic and Mountain Collective products are the several multi-day passes sold by Australian ski travel companies. Compare them closely as one of these could easily suit your plans.
Prestige ski wholesaler Travelplan offer two of the best multi-day options, especially for those with Aspen in their sights. The company books the majority of Australian travellers into Aspen (Australians are, in fact, Aspen’s largest international market over Christmas-New Year) and sells a multi-day Aspen Ski30 or Aspen Ski10 pass. As the names suggest, they’ll give you 30 or 10 consecutive days of skiing for a flat rate, perfect if you’re planning a longer trip.
Before August 31, the Aspen Ski30 costs A$904 for adults and A$509 for children (aged 7-17) and seniors. The Aspen Ski10 is A$759 for adults and A$477 for children and seniors. These passes must be used on consecutive days and are valid between January 1 and March 31, 2018. There are shorter promotional passes available, so check with your booking agent.
A word of warning: surfing the web for multi-destination passes can easily uncover international products only available to domestic markets.