Which 2020-2021 Season Pass is Right for You?

Uncertainty has defined 2020. To help you decide which season pass is right for you this year, snowboard expert Bobby Chadderton breaks down the options.

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If you’ve had trouble committing to a season pass in the past, you’re probably on the verge of snapping your board/skis in half and dropping into the fetal position right now. With an abrupt end to the 2019-2020 season, anxiety about missing out on fresh lines and powder days is at an all-time high among snowboarders and skiers. Perhaps the only thing that we can all count on when it comes to snowboarding this year is that passholders will be prioritized across the board. If you were the day-pass type last year, I highly recommend looking into pass options for the 2020-2021 season!

Clouds descend on a snowy mountain range
Photo by Nick Carter

Don’t freak out—We’re all in this together!

The good news? The entire industry is taking an extremely positive approach to the upcoming season and promising mountain access to those who want it. That means that you should stay positive as well! Sure, the chance that we might not be able to ride quite as many days as we’d like certainly sucks. But, try to remember the sheer amount of STOKE you’ll feel on your first run of the season! I feel fortunate to still have the opportunity to escape to the mountains this yea,r and I encourage you to remain optimistic as well!

Covid-19—How will it affect my season?

We’ve all had our lives uprooted, flipped, spun, and shaken by the pandemic. Unsurprisingly, the 2020-2021 winter season will also look different. Thus, there’s a lot more to consider when it comes to purchasing a pass this year. As of October 27th, Vail Resorts has fully implemented a reservation system required for both passholders and day-pass purchasers. Alterra Mountain Company (Ikon) has so far implemented a reservation system at 10 of their more popular locations. Personally, I don’t mind the idea of a reservation system. It removes the anxiety and worry of being turned away at the parking lot when your favorite mountain inevitably reaches maximum capacity.

Here’s a general idea of where you can expect to see some of the biggest changes when it comes to hitting the slopes, no matter what season pass you commit to.

Accomodations

You shouldn’t have to worry too much about booking your lodging far in advance for resorts with a reservation system in place. Since there will be a limited number of guests on the mountain, there will also be a limited number of lodging reservations at any given time.

On-Mountain Lodging

Expect lodges to have very limited capacity. Heated outdoor seating will likely become more commonplace along with contactless payment and grab-and-go food options.

Bars / Restaurants

If you’re someone who appreciates a cold beverage after a day on the slopes and always arrives at the apres scene early, you might face some sobering disappointment this year. Expect very limited capacity for bars and sit-in dining. Outdoor heated seating is plausible, but expect full capacity at lunch/Apres hours.

Lifts

You’ll be wearing a mask at all times (yes, even outside), which shouldn’t be a change to your current habits. Personally, I don’t like chapped and frostbitten lips, so this shouldn’t bring about many issues for most. You’ll also be required to ride the lift with your party and be expected to practice social distancing from other parties. That means that if your party of two is paired with another party of two on a six-person chair lift, you’ll all have to slither to opposite ends of the chair.

You might be in a sheer PANIC about the thought of lift lines—especially if you fell victim to the apocalyptic late season lines at Vail last year. Relax, take a deep breath, and smile! Long lift should be a thing of the past since the overall capacity at resorts will be limited with or without a reservation system. Admit it, there are positives to these changes!

Lift Tickets / Day Passes

Don’t expect to roll up to any mountain and be able to snag a day pass from the ticket window. Not only will you be taking a chance with a limit on capacity, but you’ll likely be encouraged to purchase a day pass on your mobile device to avoid long lines. Print-out passes are possible, but QR code scanning via your mobile device at the lift lines could also prove to be a shortcut!

A person in a helmet, goggles, and a facecovering looks at the camera while leaning on their snowboard
Don’t forget to mask up this season! Consider picking up some new goggles or anti-fog coating for your old ones if you’re not used to wearing a face covering on the mountain. Photo by Max Kukurudziak

Passes: What are my options?

To decide which pass you should lock in this year, there are a few questions you’ll wanna ask yourself:

  • Where will I be riding?
  • How many days will I be riding?
  • Am I actually capable of planning ahead and committing to a reservation system?

Epic

Epic Pass: There are 37 fully accessible resorts on the Epic Pass for $999 USD. This is not including an exhaustive list of additional partner resorts.

  • Seven total days at Telluride, Colo., Sun Valley, Idaho, Snowbasin, Utah, and all of the Canadian Rockies.
  • Five total days in Japan at Hakuba Valley at Rusutsu.
  • Access to 26 European partner resorts.
  • Included holiday access at all resorts.

Epic Local Pass: There are 26 fully accessible resorts on the Epic Local Pass for $749 USD, along with limited access to many others:

  • 10 days total at Vail, Colo., Beaver Creek, Colo., and Whistler Blackcomb, B.C..
  • Two days each at Sun Valleyand Snowbasin.
  • Five days each in Japan at Hakuba Valley and Rusutsu
  • Holiday access is excluded at: Park City, Utah, Vail, Beaver Creek, Heavenly, Calif., Northstar, Calif., Kirkwood, Calif., and Stowe, Vt.

Epic Day Pass: One to seven days of access at 34 resorts on the Epic Day Pass for $112 USD per day. If you choose to purchase multiple days at once, you’ll receive discounts. Ex. An Epic 7 Day Pass costs $667 USD or $96 USD per day. If you purchase an Epic 4-7 Day Pass, you’ll also have access to Telluride, Snowbasin, Sun Valley, and all of the Canadian Rockies.

Vail Resorts also offers a number of location-specific passes that may benefit you. If you plan on spending most of your time at one resort exclusively, be sure to check the available options here.

What we do know: If you plan on visiting any of Vail’s major resorts for any of the winter holidays or wanna get some laps in during peak season weekends, you’ll need to hold some form of an Epic Pass. Without it, you won’t be able to reserve those dates which will inevitably be booked. Buy an Epic Pass ASAP if you’ll be spending any holidays or weekends at the following resorts:

Epic’s Reservation System: The largest and most discussed change for the 2020-2021 winter season is Vail Resort’s implementation of a reservation system. Vail has split the season into pre-season and core-season segments—read along for an explanation and visit Vail Resorts website for further clarification on the nitty-gritty specifics.

Pre-Season: If you’re like me, you’re more than willing to risk absolutely destroying your snowboard/skis to get some preseason season turns in. If this is you, you must purchase any version of the Epic Pass to have lift access. The pre-season at all Vail Resorts is pass-holder exclusive from November 6th through December 7th.

Core-Season: Beginning November 6th, you’ll be able to reserve seven days through Epic’s pass exclusive Priority Reservation System. You can keep up to seven rolling days booked at a time as the season progresses. If you won’t be purchasing a pass and want to visit any Vail Resort this season, you can begin reserving day tickets on the first day of the core-season through the last (anticipated) date: December 8th through April 4th. These tickets will include a reservation for a specific resort and a specific date.

Insurance: For the 2020-2021 season, Epic Coverage is included for free in every Epic purchase. If a resort closes or a stay-at-home order is enforced, you’ll be eligible for a full or prorated refund.

A ski resort sits at the foothills of some mountains
Photo by Toa Heftiba

Ikon

Alterra Mountain Group, aka Ikon has been a bit more relaxed in regards to the 2020-2021 season. Their reservation system isn’t as much of a focal point when compared to Vail Resorts’. The majority of locations on the Ikon Pass are, on average, smaller than Vail’s Flagship Resorts and don’t attract the same crowds. Still, there is a reservation system in place that may or may not affect you.

Ikon Pass: There are 44 locations included on the Ikon Pass for $1149 USD. There are no blackout dates for the Ikon Pass, and unlimited riding is offered at the 15 resorts owned by Alterra Mountain Company. You’ll be able to ride up to seven days at the other 28 partner resorts.

Ikon Base Pass: There are 42 locations on the Ikon Base Pass for $849 USD. Blackout dates will apply to the Base Pass, but you’ll still have unlimited riding access to 14 Resorts. You’ll be able to ride five days at the other 27 partner resorts.

Ikon Session 4-Day Pass: There are 30 locations on the Ikon Session 4-Day Pass for $499 USD. Blackout dates apply, and you can ride four days at any of the 30 locations.

Ikon Pass Reservations: As of October 27th, lift access reservations will be required for the following resorts on the Ikon Pass:

Passholders will be able to begin making reservations on November 9th. This list is constantly evolving, and you can stay up to date by visiting Ikon’s website and by visiting each mountain’s 2021 FAQ by clicking the links above. Keep in mind that even at resorts without reservation protocols in place, parking reservations may be required.

Ikon also offers a number of local passes that may benefit you if you plan on riding one resort exclusively. Browse options here.

Insurance: Ikon offers Adventure Assurance with all pass purchases for the 2020-2021 season. If you don’t use your 2020-2021 pass, you can roll the purchase price over towards a 2021-2022 season pass. If any resort included in your pass closes or is affected by Covid-19 between December 10, 2020 and April 11, 2021, passholders will receive a proportional credit towards a 2021-2022 season pass.

Mountain Collective Pass

Mountain Collective takes an entirely different approach to the passholder mentality when compared to Epic and Ikon. Instead of offering unlimited riding at a number of resorts, the Mountain Collective Pass allows you two free days of riding at any of their 23 resorts, for a total of 46 free riding days for $589 USD. Once you’ve used your two days at any given resort, you can purchase a day pass for 50% off the window price for additional days.

As of now, there is no information regarding a reservation system implemented by Mountain Collective. You’ll likely need to plan ahead and reference each individual resort's availability for using your pass. Arapahoe Basin, for example, has stated that Mountain Collective passholders do not need a reservation to ride, while Ikon passholders do. Reference their website for links to individual resort policies.

Insurance: Mountain Collective has a “no questions asked” return policy on their passes prior to November 16, 2020. They maintain their policy of a non-refundable pass after the 16th, but will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation and make adjustments if their member resorts are significantly affected. Use the link above and scroll to the bottom of their website for their FAQ section on their written insurance policy specifics.

People ride a chairlift along a tree-filled mountain while clouds descend
Photo by Ellie Frost

So, which pass?

Personally, I purchased an Epic Local Pass this year. I live in Colorado, and while I typically purchase an Ikon Pass, I actually appreciate the organization and implementation of the reservation system that Vail Resorts has put in place. While I don’t exactly anticipate any issues with Ikon resorts, there is a bit of ambiguity and uncertainty as to exactly how they’ll proceed if capacity peaks. I have a deep-rooted dread of being turned around in the parking lot at any resort once I’m in full-stoke and ready-to-send mode. If you’re willing to do a bit of extra planning this season, I personally believe Vail Resorts offers the safest options with either the Epic Pass, Epic Local Pass, or Epic 1-7 Day Pass.

If you’re not willing to pre-plan and the thought of missing out on an impromptu powder day because you don’t have a reservation keeps you up at night, go with an Ikon or Mountain Collective pass, with Ikon being the slightly safer option. But, Mountain Collective offers a unique and entirely different season pass experience that might be best for you! If you go with them, be sure to do your due-diligence in making sure that the resort you’re planning to visit will have availability.

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Written By
As a Canadian living in the Rocky Mountains, chasing winter is in my blood. ​ I joined the snowboard industry in college when I helped lead Temple University's Snowboard Club and caught a glimpse of turning my passion into a career. I’m a snowboard writer, gear junkie, and a self-proclaimed spreader...

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