Take a pass

Next year’s Epic and Ikon passes are now on sale. Here’s a primer for Boulder skiers and snowboarders on how they line up against each other

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Justin Michael ripping through the bounty of a recent spring storm on Eldora’s West Ridge. This year Boulder County skiers can get an Ikon Pass that will give them access to not only Eldora but a variety of other ski areas across the state and Rocky Mountain region.
Tom Winter

With the 2017-18 season winding down, it’s time to reboot for 2019. Sure, this winter wasn’t the greatest, as multiple storms drifted north of the Centennial State, but with ski and snowboard season passes at their lowest prices, it’s worth putting on some shades (the future always looks brighter when you’re wearing sunglasses) and saving some money on your season pass purchase for next winter.

The big news for the 2018-2019 season is the emergence of a new mega-pass, the Ikon Pass ($899 for adults). This pass is the result of a massive merger and collaboration between Alterra Mountain Company, Aspen Skiing Company, Alta Ski Area, Boyne Resorts, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, POWDR and Snowbird, and will provide Colorado skiers and riders a legitimate option that goes head-to-head with Vail Resort’s venerable Epic Pass ($899 for adults) as far as the number of destinations and terrain that you can access. There are also a variety of other pass options, including single-area passes, ticket packs and other deals that should, given the emergence of the Ikon Pass, make next year the most affordable season ever for locals who head to the slopes on a regular basis.

All of this makes getting to the slopes the real crux. With increased traffic on Interstate 70 that is guaranteed to get snarled during snowstorms, along with the sometimes-challenging drive up 119 to Boulder Canyon, we’ve broken down your pass options by travel time. It’s great that the Icon Pass has seven days at Canada’s Mont Tremblant and the Epic Pass gives you five days at Japan’s Hakuba Valley, but if you’re only planning on skiing close to home, then perhaps a different option (Ikon Base Pass or Epic Local Pass) where you save a couple hundred bucks could serve you better.

But for those who want more than just laps on their local hill, the Ikon and Epic passes’ extensive regional, national and international partnerships give skiers and snowboarders the opportunity to escape the Rockies for some impressive international destinations in addition to a few road trips to the far-flung corners of our state. If you’re thinking of trying something different and exploring new mountain ranges far from home, choosing a destination where your pass is already valid gets you more bang for your buck and saves you cash toward that economy-class ticket to Tokyo or Frankfurt.

Because there are variations on both the Ikon Pass (a “base” option includes unlimited skiing at Eldora and Copper with some holiday blackout dates) and the Epic Pass (the “local” option is great for fans of Arapahoe Basin) our breakdown includes both the full and “light” options. It’s worth remembering that the “light” or discounted options (the Ikon Base and Epic Local passes) are anything but. They offer a plethora of choices, especially for those who don’t mind skipping the skiing when the holiday crowds roll into town.

Finally, remember that some great Colorado ski resorts, such as Loveland, aren’t part of the Epic or Ikon ecosystems at all and only offer their stand-alone pass (which in Loveland’s case is a bargain at under $500 bucks for a season that normally runs from October through May and includes free snowcat skiing on The Ridge). And even ski areas that are part of the Ikon or Epic ecosystems can also offer a great stand-alone deal. Copper Mountain’s stand-alone Copper Pass, for example, includes three free days at Taos, Purgatory and Monarch along with Utah’s Powder Mountain. The season pass that’s the best for you will depend upon both your budget and where you and yours plan on skiing and riding next winter. The good news is that no matter which pass you choose, you can’t make a bad choice because the deals are better than ever when it comes to skiing and snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains.

Travel Time: 1 Hour

Ski Areas: Eldora

Pass options:

Ikon — Unrestricted;

Ikon Base — Unrestricted

Eldora will always be Boulder County’s hometown hill and the mountain packs a pretty sweet punch into a small package. This year’s new Alpenglow six-pack lift has vastly improved the skiing experience and there’s something for everyone here, from kids learning on Little Hawk to experts chasing the steeps off of West Ridge. Pick up an Ikon pass if you’re going to ski here, but also plan on hitting some of the larger mountains across the state. Otherwise, Eldora’s stand-alone pass, at $449 for an adult, is a great deal.

Don’t be fooled by Keystone’s family-friendly image. While it’s deserved and the ski area is great for the kiddos there’s plenty of fun terrain for powder hounds, too. Mo Summer making the most of a late February day in the resort’s Outback zone.

Travel Time: 1.5 hours

Ski Areas: Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone

Pass options:

Epic — Unrestricted at Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone;

Epic Local — Unrestricted at Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Keystone

Less than two hours from Boulder you’ll find a wide variety of skiing experiences. Breckenridge has a world-class park scene that blows up when the pros roll into town to compete at events like the Dew Tour. Keystone is known as a family-friendly spot, but for the more aggressive types, there’s hidden powder stashes and tree runs along with some snowcat skiing. Arapahoe Basin has its own old-school Colorado vibe, with plenty of passionate locals and fun, playful terrain, including plenty of steeps for the rippers.

Tom Winter
Vail Resort’s jewel in the crown, Vail’s best asset is the back bowls, massive open terrain that swallows up the crowds and which is full of interesting nooks and crannies like this cliff band that Rip Thompson is dropping off of.

Travel Time: 2 hours

Ski Areas: Copper Mountain, Winter Park, Vail

Pass options:

Epic — Unrestricted at Vail;

Epic Local — Restricted at Vail on Nov. 23-24, 2018; Dec. 26-31, 2018; Jan. 19, 2019; Feb. 16-17, 2019;

Ikon — Unlimited, Copper Mountain and Winter Park;

Ikon Base — Unlimited, Copper Mountain and Winter Park

Within two hours you can end up at three very different mountains, all of which offer something unique. Vail is, of course, Vail. Drawing an international clientele and with a village scene that outshines both Copper and Winter Park, it’s a sophisticated and sometimes expensive destination that delivers on powder days thanks to the wide-open spaces of the Back Bowls. Copper, while not as large as Vail, is a sprawling mountain that features an excellent diversity of terrain from steep bump runs to bowls to gentle groomers. Finally, while Winter Park has seen some development in the base area, the mountain retains a home-grown feel that’s down-to-earth and unpretentious. For something different, catch the Winter Park ski train out of Denver’s Union Station and skip the drive altogether.

Travel Time: 3 hours

Ski Areas: Beaver Creek

Pass options:

Epic — Unrestricted;

Epic Local — Restricted at Beaver Creek on Nov. 23-24, 2018; Dec. 26-31, 2018; Jan. 19, 2019;  Feb. 16-17, 2019

If you want empty runs, powder all day and warm cookies in the morning, Beaver Creek is your spot. Its location is just far enough away from Boulder and Denver that weekend warriors tend to end up some place closer to home, which means that if you’re willing to put in a few extra miles, that effort will pay off in the form of no lines, no crowds and the chance to savor the Beav’s upscale vibe without distractions. Throw in impeccable grooming and plenty of steeps and trees and you have one of Colorado’s best-kept secrets.

Travel Time: 4 Hours

Ski Areas: Aspen, Aspen Highlands, Buttermilk, Snowmass, Steamboat

Pass options:

Ikon — Seven unrestricted days at Aspen Skiing Co. mountains, unrestricted at Steamboat;

Ikon Base — Five restricted days at Aspen Skiing Co. mountains, five restricted days at Steamboat

Four hours behind the wheel will get you deep into Colorado’s mountains, with options that range from simple local hills (Buttermilk) to authentic Western towns (Steamboat) to the world-class skiing and lifestyle experience that is Aspen. When you commit to making a four-hour road trip, the best bet is to watch the weather and do a little storm chasing. Steamboat is rightly famous for its powder and tree skiing, while Aspen is Aspen, quite simply the state’s best collection of four ski areas in close proximity (all connected by a free bus service).

Travel Time: 5 + hours

Ski Areas: Crested Butte, Telluride

Pass options:

Epic — Seven unrestricted days at Crested Butte, seven unrestricted days at Telluride;

Epic Local — Seven unrestricted days at Crested Butte

Crested Butte, the funky mining town with the legendary steep and jagged mountain looming above it, is one of the most storied destinations in Colorado skiing and snowboarding. The Butte hosted some of the first extreme competitions in the history of skiing and snowboarding, vaulting Colorado athletes such as Seth Morrison into the national consciousness. It’s here that Matchstick Productions launched a new style of ski film, with rowdy lines and an authenticity that inspired a generation of filmmakers such as Teton Gravity Research and Sweetgrass Productions. If you live in Colorado and you’ve not been to Crested Butte, make 2019 the year you go.

Telluride, like Crested Butte, is also a must-visit destination. One of the featured segments in Blizzard of AAHHH’s, Greg Stump’s seminal ski film that remains a must-watch masterpiece of the genre today, this Southern Colorado destination isn’t close enough to Boulder County for day trips, but rewards road trippers with a truly spectacular setting, well preserved authentic mining town base and a huge variety of terrain that caters to all levels, but will make experts salivate as there’s plenty of test-pieces including the hike to 13,320-foot Palmyra Peak.

European Vacation

Epic: 30 resorts across France, Italy, Switzerland and Austria including: Les 3 Vallees, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D’Isere in France; Skirama Dolomiti Adamello Brenta in Italy; 4 Vallees in Switzerland; and Arlberg in Austria. Lodging restrictions apply (accommodations must be booked with a partner hotel). Details at epicpass.com/info/europe-is-epic.aspx.

 

Tom Winter

Exotic Destinations (Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada)

Epic: Unrestricted at Perisher, Australia; five unrestricted days at Hakuba, Japan; seven unrestricted days at Resorts of the Canadian Rockies (Fernie, Kimberly, Stoneham, Kicking Horse, Nakisa, Monte-Sainte Anne);

Epic Local: Five unrestricted days at Hakuba, Japan

Ikon: Unlimited at Blue Mountain and Mont Tremblant, Canada; seven non-restricted days at Revelstoke and Ski Big 3 resorts (Ski Banff, Lake Louise, Sunshine), Canada

Ikon Base: Unlimited at Blue Mountain and Mont Tremblant, Canada; five restricted days at Revelstoke and Ski Big 3 resorts (Ski Banff, Lake Louise, Sunshine), Canada

More details, pricing — including deals such as the Epic Pass’ offering to buy before April 15 and get six buddy tickets — and how to purchase your pass can be found here:

Ikon Passes – ikonpass.com

Epic Passes – epicpass.com