It seems crazy that we’re here, high on the shoulder of Mont-Gelé, massive views of the Alps in front of us. Everything around us is strange: the huge trams that sweep skiers skyward, the babble of different and exotic languages in the lift lines, the vertical relief that eclipses anything in the Rockies. Yup, things are different in Verbier, Switzerland. But one thing has stayed the same — we’ve used our Vail Resorts Epic Passes to get on the lift, saving ourselves 65 euros a day. And 65 euros can buy a lot of après ski beers.
If you are a passionate skier or snowboarder, you’ve probably already dreamed of making turns in exotic locations. From the insane powder of Japan to steep spines in Alaska to the legendary expanses of the Alps to the wild and funky steeps of Taos, you’ve looked at the photos in the magazines, watched the latest Warren Miller release and thought to yourself, “One day I’ll do that myself.”
But, of course, life got in the way, the snow was pretty good here in Colorado and you haven’t been there and done that yet.
But “one day” might be here sooner than you think. And that’s because of the humble season pass.
Season passes used to be the badge of honor for a true local. You’d purchase it in the fall, committed to the fact that you were making a season-long decision about the ski area you’d make turns at all winter. Only tourists and gapers would actually stand in line at the ticket window. And that pass, along with the ski area you chose as your partner in snow, was integral to your skiing and riding identity.
Bumpers would ride Mary Jane at Winter Park, aficionados of the steeps, with their duct-taped Gore-Tex would end up at Arapahoe Basin, cruisers and park rats would hit Breck or Keystone, while those who had kids in the learning stage (or appreciation for value) would find themselves at Loveland or Eldora.
But times have changed. And your season pass has just gotten a whole lot more interesting.
Some of this can be traced back to the battles that erupted between Vail Resorts and Intrawest over the Front Range market. Winter Park fired the first salvo way back in 1999 when they introduced a pass that allowed four unrelated adults to purchase season passes together at what used to be “family” pricing. Vail Resorts quickly responded and the rest is history: Colorado skiers enjoyed a beneficial price war that has made skiing and riding in the state (for passholders) one of the best winter sports values in the world. Season passes don’t come much cheaper anywhere else on the planet and the variety and value for the dollar don’t get much better than right here in Colorado.
And it’s only getting better.
Vail Resorts’ recent announcement that they added Niseko, Japan, to the company’s Epic Pass is merely the punctuation mark on an evolutionary process that has seen season passes become much more than a local’s ticket to ride. Passes now offer a slew of options to go farther afield.
One of these, of course, is Europe.
If you have an Epic Pass next year, you’ll be able to use it at Niseko, Verbier as well as Les 3 Vallées, a massive French resort that features literally hundreds of lifts and endless powder skiing opportunities. Catch a deep day there and you’re not going to ever want to go home.
Closer to home, there’s the wild southwestern flavor of Taos. Steep, uncrowded and funky, Taos’ skiing culture is complimented by rich Native American and Latino influences, from the nearby pueblo to the jaw-dropping choices of salsa at the local grocery. Approximately five hours south of Boulder by car, Taos is one of the mountains you get to ski for free with a Monarch One Pass. The pass includes three days at Taos along with free days at Copper, Loveland, Steamboat, Winter Park, Silverton and Revelstoke, Canada. The latter is an intriguing destination, as the ski resort has received acclaim for a combination of deep, stable snow and steep terrain.
We aren’t thinking about Revelstoke or Loveland, though, when we catch the first lift ride at Verbier. At the top, the Alps smack us directly in the face, jagged and beautiful and bigger than anything we’ve seen before. For those of us who are experiencing Verbier for the first time, it’s a breathtaking sight, and one we will never forget.
The terrain is equally impressive. As trams reach impossible peaks, endless faces disappear below us and glaciers sparkle in the distance. We jump on the next lift and are suddenly looking into another valley, with impeccable groomed runs below us. A short traverse to our right takes us into an open bowl and we make our first run of the day, 7,000 vertical feet of untouched snow, all the way back to the village below.
It’s runs like this, and the cultural experiences you’ll discover in places as diverse as Les 3 Vallées and Taos that make these “bonus” pass days worth using. There’s hidden mountain huts at Les 3 Vallées, and great Mexican food at Taos. Sure, you can roll local style all winter, and ski the same lifts at the same ski area. But that means that you’re not taking full advantage of your season pass.
Ok, so it might be too late to book your trip to Verbier or Revelstoke this year. But with resorts selling next year’s passes now, you’ll want to start thinking about the spring season pass sales and thinking about next winter now. After all, Niseko averages 59 feet of snow each year.