FREESKIER’s guide to choosing the right season pass

FREESKIER’s guide to choosing the right season pass

Winter is right around the corner and some resorts in North America are slated to open in the coming weeks—a fact you are no doubt frothing about. If 2018’s snow season can hold a candle to the legendary season we experienced last year, it’ll be a winter filled with face shots and fun times.

However, as you might have noticed, skiing isn’t exactly getting cheaper. And while that diet of ramen instant noodles and PBR you’re planning on will help keep your stoke alive all winter, it helps to have a game plan that goes beyond trying to get your liftie friends to hook you up with discounted tickets.

For that reason, we’ve done our research and compiled a list of the very best season passes for you depending on your situation.

Mountain Collective—For the globetrotter who wants to stick it to Vail

Revelstoke always delivers deep snow. PHOTO: Ian Houghton/Revelstoke

If you’ve kept up with ski resort business news anytime over the past two years, Aspen and Vail are currently in a hectic arms race to see who can buy up the most resorts across the globe. Some people like this. Others do not. If you’re part of the group that isn’t so stoked on Vail going all John D. Rockefeller on the international ski resort scene, but you still want to be able to travel to a ton of world-class resorts, try the Mountain Collective pass. It’s $489, and gets you two days at 14 resorts ranging from Aspen to Jackson Hole to Revelstoke with no blackout dates. After you’ve used up your two days at any resort, all future tickets are 50-percent off for passholders.

Epic Pass—For the skier who doesn’t mind supporting the “Evil Empire”

Liftline, one of the crown jewels of Vail’s newest purchases, Stowe. PHOTO: Stowe Mountain Resort

To the fine folks at Vail Resorts: Please advise we’re not using the phrase “Evil Empire” disparagingly. We’re using it in more in the way Red Sox brass used it to describe the Yankees after their legendary spending spree of the early-2000s. At the time, the Yankees were the model for sustained success in baseball, and in many ways Vail Resorts-and its ubiquitous Epic Pass-are the same for skiing. For $879, you’ll receive the eponymous Epic Pass which offers unlimited access to all of Vail’s resorts, including Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Park City and Stowe, among others. For $659, you can get the Epic Local Pass. That’ll offer access (with certain blackout restrictions) at Park City, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, and 10 days at Stowe, Vail, Whistler and Beaver Creek. The Epic Local pass also allows for reduced price tickets to be purchased during blackout dates.

M.A.X. Pass—For the skier who favors variety above all else

The beauty of the Last Frontier. Alyeska offers 2,500 feet of vert and nary a liftline. PHOTO: Courtesy of Alyeska

They say variety is the spice of life, and if you live by that motto—and have enough airline miles to travel far and wide—buy the M.A.X. Pass. It gets you five days of skiing at a jaw-dropping 44 resorts across North America (with no blackout restrictions), for just $679. Like your terrain steep and deep? Go enjoy Alyeska’s 650” of annual snowfall. Enjoy getting hammered, attempting to understand Quebecois and dancing to techno after skiing all day? Head to Mont Tremblant. Visiting friends in the Midwest and have a hampering for a mountain with under 1000 feet of vert? Boyne Mountain has you covered.

Cali4nia Pass—For the SoCal locals

Fresh off its longest season in history, it’s hard not to get stoked for the upcoming year at Mammoth. PHOTO: Courtesy of Mammoth Mountain

The title should make this one obvious. Are you one of the 24 million people that live in Southern California? If so, don’t think twice, and get yourself the Cali4nia pass. For $849, you’ll get unlimited access to Mammoth Mountain, the hidden gem that is June Mountain, Snow Summit and the Southern California Municipal Terrain Park otherwise known as Big Bear, with no blackout dates. You also get five early access days at Mammoth and five reduced price tickets for friends (50-percent off single-day lift tickets, 30 percent off during holidays). If this season is half of what last year was at Mammoth, you will more than get your money’s worth.

Rocky Mountain Super Pass—For the Centennial State native who wants to escape the U.S.

Now that the Ski Train is back in service, you can access Winter Park without having to deal with highway gridlock. PHOTO: Winter Park Resort

If you’re a Colorado native, you get to spend everyday enjoying a slew of perks that makes the rest of the country green with jealousy. Beautiful scenery. An insanely active outdoor-loving population. Legal pot. Post-apocalyptic traffic on I-70. And, obviously, countless ski resorts. The Rocky Mountain Super Pass is great for the Coloradoans who want to enjoy their state, but also maybe get away once or twice. It gives you unlimited access to Winter Park, Copper and Eldora, six days at Steamboat and three at Crested Butte. Beyond that, you get three days at Alyeska and Mount Bachelor, and a full week at New Zealand’s Mt. Ruapehu and Cardrona, Japan’s Tomamu, Alts Bandai and Nekoma and Iceland’s Hlidarfjall. And it’s all yours for $619.

Freedom Pass—For the skier who enjoys small resorts

A late season pow day at Vermont’s Bolton Valley last year. PHOTO: Courtesy of Bolton Valley

There’s something inherently charming about smaller-scale, independent ski operations—like the fact you don’t have to take out a second mortgage if you decide to splurge for a bowl of chili from the lodge. And for the discerning skier who wants to do their part to help support small businesses within the country, the Freedom Pass Alliance is the one for you. Technically, the Freedom Pass in-and-of itself isn’t a season pass: it’s a collection of 13 independent ski resorts across the country that allow you three days of skiing with no restrictions at each of their partner resorts if you buy a pass at any of the 13 ski areas. Season pass prices vary at the resorts (Vermont’s Magic Mountain charges $600 for an unlimited season’s pass; Alaska’s Eaglecrest charges $469) but the end result is the ability to ride a baker’s dozen of resorts that have great terrain and almost no lift lines, all while helping independent businesses.

Powder Alliance—For the skier who loves hidden gems

Crested Butte’s terrain stands up to any resort in North America. PHOTO: Chris Segal/Crested Butte Mountain Resort

In much the same vein as the Freedom Pass, the Powder Alliance is a grouping of 16 resorts that allow you three days (with blackout restrictions) at any of its 16 properties when you buy a season’s pass to any Powder Alliance resort. The biggest difference between this and the resorts in the Freedom Pass is that the Powder Alliance mountains tend to be more well-recognized mountains that, for whatever reason, don’t draw the same crippling crowds many of their neighbors do. The list of resorts in the alliance is mouthwatering if you enjoy wide open spaces and small lift lines: Idaho’s Bogus Bowl and Schweitzer Mountain Resort, the aforementioned Crested Butte and Sierra-at-Tahoe in California are just a few of the resorts on the list. Again, pricing for season passes between resorts varies— for example, Crested Butte charges $700 while Sierra-at-Tahoe costs $429—but, regardless, it’s a hell of a deal.

The New England Pass—For the New England native who wants selectivity in the boilerplate they ski

Bluebird days might not come around often, but when they do, they’re special. PHOTO: Courtesy of Loon Mountain

If you grew up worshipping Dunkin Donuts, Tawm Brady and base depths so shallow they’d make a Coloradoan faint*, this pass is for you! With unlimited access to Sunday River, Loon and Sugarloaf, the New England Pass gives you the opportunity to visit three of New England’s most prominent resorts. So, if Loon is experiencing one of those elusive New England powdah days (WOO, FOUR INCHES OF FRESH SNOW!!!), you can pack your four friends named Donny into your Buick with 90,000 miles on it, drive up 93, grab a quick bacon, egg and cheese from White Mountain Bagel, and ride all day. Unfortunately-just like housing prices in the North End-the New England Pass isn’t the most reasonably priced season pass option. The Gold version, which offers unlimited riding with no blackout restrictions, costs $1,169. The Silver version, which is valid, except for 12 blackout days, costs $799.

*Please note, this story was written lovingly by a New England native.

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