How to Have Your Best Winter Yet
As mega-passes continue to add resorts, now is the time to ditch single-day lift tickets for good
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
The ski industry’s super-pass arms race is still heating up. And that’s great news for you. At least as far as multi-resort packages are concerned, competition means lower prices, access to more resorts, and better perks, such as buddy passes, lodging discounts, and bonus days at international ski areas. So stop buying pricey day tickets (you’re not still doing that, are you?) and commit to a season pass instead. You’ll save money, ski more days at more places, and have an excuse to check off some bucket-list resorts.
Which pass should you get? Between the ever popular Epic Pass, the new-this-season Ikon Pass, and the still golden Mountain Collective Pass—plus other standbys like the Max Pass and the Powder Alliance—it’s harder than ever to know which one is right for you. We rounded up our favorite resorts from the big three to help you make the call.
Vail Resorts debuted the Epic Pass in 2008, and it keeps getting better. You receive unrestricted access to all 18 Vail-owned resorts, including Keystone, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Stowe, and (of course) Vail—plus, once the deal goes through, new additions Crested Butte, Okemo, and Mount Sunapee. You also score a week’s worth of days at 47 other locations, including Fernie, Kicking Horse, and Telluride, as well as resorts in Europe and Japan. ($899; epicpass.com)
Cross the Border
Two years ago, Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia, became the first Epic Pass resort in Canada. But Vail has worked hard to expand its northern offerings, and this winter you can turn your B.C. trip into a mega-tour by tacking on days at Fernie, Kicking Horse, and Kimberley. Plus, Blackcomb just added a new ten-person gondola from the base to midmountain. The Adara Whistler Hotel is a five-minute walk from the lifts, it allows dogs, and the staff can arrange for ski rentals to be delivered to your room (from $299; adarahotel.com).
Escape the Crowds
If you’re in California and looking for fine dining, luxury hotels, and extensive beginner terrain, head to Heavenly. If you’re looking for deep powder, steep shots, and crowdless runs, Kirkwood is for you. Nearly 60 percent of this far-flung ski area is rated advanced or expert, and with an average of 354 inches a year, it has some of the highest snowfall levels in Tahoe. But middle-of-the-pack riders need not be discouraged. You can also sign up for backcountry outings, avalanche training, and skills workshops through Expedition: Kirkwood, the resort’s education and guiding service. Snag a room at the Coachman Hotel, which opened in 2016, and take advantage of the free breakfast, nightly s’mores, and access to a local coworking space (from $170; coachmantahoe.com).
Conquer the Steeps
This summer, Vail announced the purchase of Colorado’s Crested Butte. While over 80 percent of CB’s terrain is beginner and intermediate, it’s easier than ever to explore the steeps and bowls that made the mountain famous: the resort now offers guided tours of the North Face and double blacks off the High Lift (from $150). During ski season, stay in town at the Elk Mountain Lodge and you’re treated to a breakfast of homemade granola and huevos rancheros. Bonus: the free shuttle to the ski area stops nearby (from $119; elkmountainlodge.com).
Ski, Eat, Drink
Utah used to be a tough place to get good food and quality cocktails. Not anymore. Now, when you’re done skiing Park City, pair locally distilled whiskey with poke tostadas at the Spur or sriracha and roasted garlic chicken wings at High West Saloon. On-mountain dining is top-shelf, too. The Farm in Canyons Village has a charcuterie board with local salami and pickles, and ski-in Lookout Cabin serves stellar wagyu burgers. And the Viking Yurt, reachable by sleigh from the base, offers a six-course Norwegian dinner.
Best of the Rest
Smugglers’ Notch, Vermont, is so enamored of beer that the resort hosts two BrewFests: one to kick off the season in December, and another to wrap it up in April.
Meet the coolest new mega-pass on the market—Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon, which grants unlimited access to 12 first-rate resorts, including Squaw Valley, Mammoth, Steamboat, Copper, and Solitude, plus up to seven days at Revelstoke, Deer Valley, Snowbird, Alta, Big Sky, and more. Bonus: you get discounted tickets for friends, 15 percent off food and retail at select resorts, and summer lift access. ($999; ikonpass.com)
Don’t Settle for Just One Mountain
You get seven days to explore the four resorts that make up Colorado’s Aspen Snowmass. Lap the 3,267-foot Silver Queen gondola at Aspen Mountain for well-spaced glades off Gentleman’s Ridge and perfect bumps on Bell Mountain. Explore 3,332 acres of groomers and expert terrain at Snowmass. Boot-pack to the top of Aspen Highlands’ Highland Bowl for well-earned powder turns. Or hit the terrain park at 470-acre Buttermilk. The Limelight Hotel opens in November with a five-story climbing wall, a ski valet, and live music (from $525; limelighthotels.com).
Get Dependably Good Snow
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is known as a rugged, challenging mountain. For a taste of how it earned that reputation, book a guided backcountry tour. An early tram whisks you to the top of Rendezvous Mountain for untracked turns out of the gate. But fully half the resort suits beginners and intermediates, and it recently expanded its gentler terrain. This winter, the Solitude Station lodge debuts halfway up the Sweetwater gondola, with family facilities and a new ski school. Fuel up with breakfast burritos, hot sandwiches, and espresso at the new Southcable Café next to the Aerial Tram in Teton Village.
Go Big on a Budget
At Colorado’s Steamboat Springs, ripping tree runs through Morningside Park or high-speed laps on Sunshine Express is sure to build an appetite. Good thing there’s Taco Beast, a wandering snowcat that slings street tacos and Mexican-style beer right on the slopes. If you can wait until you’re off the mountain, head to the new base-area restaurant Timber and Torch, and feast on Parmesan fries and mussels steamed in local beer. You don’t have to spend a fortune on travel and lodging. It’s just 150 miles from Denver, and the Rabbit Ears Motel is right across the street from the town’s hot springs (from $139; rabbitearsmotel.com). Plus, there’s a free shuttle to the lifts.
Plan an Easy Escape
Quebec’s Mont Tremblant may have a distinctly European vibe, but it’s only six hours by car from Boston. Better yet, new owner Alterra Mountain Company has been pouring money into upgrades, including a new high-speed quad and additional glading that opened up 50 new acres of terrain, bringing the grand total to 715. You can book a single room or a two-bedroom suite (with kitchen) at the recently renovated, ski-to Lodge de la Montagne (from $132; lessuitestremblant.com).
Best of the Rest
When the Josie Hotel in Red Mountain, B.C., opens in November, it will have a spa, a lounge, and a ski concierge, who will check your gear overnight and point you toward choice runs (from $145; thejosie.com).
If you don’t need a pass that works on your home mountain and would rather travel to faraway resorts instead, Mountain Collective gets you two days of skiing with no blackout dates at 16 top destinations, such as Big Sky, Banff Sunshine, Aspen, Jackson Hole, and Sugarbush, plus lodging deals and 50 percent off additional tickets. ($449; mountaincollective.com)
Step Back in Time
Lift 1 at New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley has carried skiers to some classic runs since it was unveiled in 1989. This winter it will be replaced with the resort’s first high-speed quad, located just steps from the Blake hotel (from $324; skitaos.com/theblake), delivering skiers into the high alpine in under five minutes. That’s just part of Taos’s recent renaissance, which has transformed the once throwback ski hill into a modern, world-class destination without touching the main thing people come for: rowdy terrain. You can now grab a lift all the way to the top of 12,481-foot Kachina Peak, and new glading means even more gnarly chutes.
Get Private Access
Snowbasin, Utah, which joined the Mountain Collective last year, is a worthy addition to the lineup. The 3,000-acre ski area feels exclusive, thanks to fancy lodges with white-tablecloth lunches and uncrowded slopes. (Skiers in bigger numbers tend to congregate at resorts closer to Salt Lake City.) Sign up for a private lesson on the weekend and you and four friends can access the wide-open Mount Ogden Bowl an hour before everyone else. Do après at Cinnabar for live music and beer-cheese fondue. Afterward, crash in your townhome minutes away at Wolf Creek Resort (from $250; wolfcreekrentals.com).
Score a Sneak Peek
This winter, Sun Valley, Idaho, is letting advanced skiers take guided tours of the proposed expansion zone in Cold Springs Canyon, which could eventually add 380 acres to the resort. But you don’t have to head out the gate to find open slopes. Thanks to its remote location, there are no lift lines here. Experts can bomb 3,400 feet down Bald Mountain, while beginners and halfpipe enthusiasts can head for treeless Dollar Mountain. Stay at historic Sun Valley Inn, where the Ram Bar is a prime location for a nightcap (from $249; sunvalley.com).
Sample a Little Bit of Everything
Each winter, Lake Louise, Alberta, buzzes with one of the first World Cup races of the season. Afterward, mimic the planet’s fastest skiers on runs off the aptly named Top of the World Express. Lunch on fondue at Sawyer’s Nook in the Temple Lodge, and at closing bell head to the base for sushi and sake at Kuma Yama. There’s a free shuttle from the Mountaineer Lodge, five minutes away (from $135; mountaineerlodge.com), or ski seven miles into the backcountry to Skoki Lodge, which welcomes you with hot drinks and homemade bread (from $173; skoki.com).
Best of the Rest
First, Utah’s Powder Mountain installed two new chairlifts, expanding its acreage to a whopping 8,464. Then, last season, it capped the number of daily lift tickets at 1,500 and the number of season passes at 3,000, to preserve its famous powder for the lucky few.