There is no shortage of “comprehensive pass guides” that dutifully summarize the offerings of exactly four ski passes: Epic, Ikon, Indy, and Mountain Collective. Northeast-specific editions will also occasionally nod to New York’s SKI3 Pass, New Hampshire’s White Mountains Super Pass, or Boyne’s New England Pass. These are all fine passes. I write about them extensively. But there are more than 130 ski areas in the Northeast, and many of them have developed compelling pass offerings.
A good pass can be many things. It can be very affordable, offer a lot of access outside of the home resort, have a creative suite of options, or include customer-friendly features like a payment plan or a clear refund or deferral policy. They do not need to be cheaper than an Epic or Ikon Pass, but they do need to offer a compelling value that acknowledges that these passes, with their sprawling access and approachable price points, exist. There is no perfect formula and no exact right way to do it.
I’ve broken down season pass details for every mountain in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England here, including the Northeast’s eight regional multi-mountain passes. But here’s a closer look at 11 of my favorites and why I think skiers should consider them instead of – or in addition to – the Epic and Ikon Passes:
1) Ragged Mountain, New Hampshire
Current price: $449 (increases to $499 on Sept. 7; early-bird price was $349)
Why it’s a great value: Ragged is one of the great mid-sized secrets of Northeast skiing, with 1,250 feet of vert and an extensive glade network rolling off two peaks, all served by a pair of high-speed chairlifts, including New Hampshire’s only six-pack (for now). The mountain is owned by Pacific Resorts Group, itself a mid-sized secret of skiing, a mini-conglomerate comprising five far-flung ski areas: Wisp, Maryland; Wintergreen, Virginia; Powderhorn, Colorado; Mount Washington Alpine Resort, British Columbia; and Ragged. A Ragged pass gets you some form of access to all of them. And while it’s unlikely the two Mid-Atlantic resorts offer much appeal to options-rich New Hampshire skiers and the western mountains are dwarfed by their neighbors, Ragged alone is worth the pricetag. With an early-bird rate of just $349, the ski area offers one of the best quality-to-price ratios in New England.
Pairs well with: A Northeast Midweek Epic Pass ($359). Bounce between Vail’s four New Hampshire mountains during the week, then settle into Ragged when the holiday and weekend hordes descend from points south.
2) Jay/Burke Combo Pass, Vermont
Current price: $829 (increases to $1,039 on July 1)
Why it’s a great value: Jay Peak is the best ski area in Vermont. Burke is the least-assuming. Perched on what feels like the edge of civilization, these two gladed and snow-throttled Northeast Kingdom resorts remain linked for reasons that no longer feel obvious. With Jay for sale as the most eligible bachelor of American skiing and Burke still mired in an interminable legal blackhole around EB-5 job-creation requirements, it seems unlikely that both will end up sharing long-term ownership. But until one or both of those issues is resolved, this remains a solid regional pass for those near the I-91 corridor (Burke, for all its remoteness, sits just a few miles off the interstate). Yes, it’s more expensive than a full Epic Pass. But Burke is more entertaining than any of Vail’s overgroomed New England resorts outside of Wildcat and Stowe, and Jay, with it’s May-or-bust mentality, mountains of snow, and endless trees (barely) edges Stowe in just about every ski-centric category. For those seeking more variety, Jay’s decision to join Indy Pass last season delivers: passholders can add an Indy Pass for $189, giving them two days each at 65 ski areas, 11 of which are in New England. If you’re looking for this option, be sure to buy your pass through Jay, as Burke is not an Indy Pass partner.
Pairs well with: An Indy Pass, which passholders can add on for $189.
3) Magic Mountain, Vermont
Current price: $599 ($349 for full-time Vermont residents)
Why it’s a great value: Southern Vermont ski areas cater to the clientele that favors them: cityfolk from points south who trundle up kids-in-tow for weekends and holidays. That means lots of grooming, lots of fast lifts, lots of snowmaking for border-to-border skiing by Christmas. Magic is something different. Trails bump up. Its summit lift is a 50-year-old double chair. Snowmaking covers only around half the hill, so skiers have to wait for storms to access some of the best terrain. It’s skiing stripped of its pretense, in its rustic, yesteryear form. There’s an appeal to that – pass sales have quadrupled since current ownership took over five years ago. And yet the place remains uncrowded, and will continue to – Magic is one of the few ski areas that sets limits on day tickets and, this coming season for the first time, season passes. Meanwhile, ownership is pumping money back into the place. A snowmaking pond expansion scheduled for this summer will double water volume. Blackline and Witch are set to get snowmaking. And the long-delayed Black Quad – delivered in 2018 but foiled by everything from flaky contractors to Covid – should finally start spinning this fall, creating much-needed redundancy to the summit. Magic also has one of the most extensive and inventive pass suites in the country: a holiday blackout pass is $429, midweek-only or Sundays-only passes are $299, a One Big Family pass is $1,895.
Pairs well with: Ikon Base Pass ($779). Stratton, unlimited with blackouts on an Ikon Base Pass, is just 20 minutes away. Terrific as Magic is, it’s a four-day-a-week operation, and Alterra’s southern Vermont big boy is a great alternative for those Monday-through-Wednesday periods when Magic is offline. With a killer lift system, a deep glade network, and a 2,000-foot vertical drop, Stratton is an absolute bomber on weekdays, when the white-collar city hordes who favor Stratton are Zooming their lives away. Since Magic is an Indy Pass partner, that’s also a viable add-on.
4) Pico, Vermont
Current price: $449 (increases to $499 June 24)
Why it’s a great value: Skiers stream past it on US 4, pointed east toward Killington. Little Pico, tottering up into the mist. No one’s been there and no one goes there. Even though it has a pair of high speed quads and it’s on the Ikon Pass and it has a 2,000-foot vertical drop and it claims to be the 10th largest mountain by skiable acres in New England. The perception of Pico as a small fry is an accident of history and perspective: next to Killington, just about every Northeast ski area looks microscopic. Thus: a dirt-cheap pass for a first-class ski area, hidden, as the cliché goes, in plain site. For families, the deal is even better: every adult pass comes with a free pass for a dependent child 12 or younger.
Pairs well with: Indy Pass ($279) + Killington spring pass ($269). Pico is closed most Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fill those gaps with an Indy Pass, bouncing up to Bolton or Jay or over to Waterville Valley or Cannon or down to Magic. Killington’s spring pass typically kicks in on March 15, granting seven-day-a-week access to the Beast through the end of April (Pico typically closed the first weekend in April), then Fridays through Sundays until close, which often pushes through Memorial Day Weekend and sometimes into June.
5) Black Mountain of Maine (price increases Aug. 1)
Current price: $355
Why it’s a great value: Here it is, your weekend alternative to the Sunday River crowds. With nearly 1,400 vertical feet, stacks of glades thinned by local crews of self-styled Angry Beavers, and almost no other skiers, this is the place to be when the snow’s deep in the woods. Yes, it’s weekends (plus Fridays) only. Yes, the summit is served by a fixed-grip triple chair. No, no one’s ever heard of it. But the pass is priced like a pass to an out-of-the-way, three-day-a-week operation with slow lifts should be. For decades this was a 400-vertical-foot bump tottering between owners. Starting with a 2003 takeover by the Maine Winter Sports Center that finally dropped a chairlift onto the summit, the ski area has quietly and consistently expanded its trail network, largely through the efforts of volunteers. It’s now run by the Black Mountain Operating Board as a nonprofit. If you want to support local, this is about as downhome as it gets.
Pairs well with: Bronze New England Pass ($569 early season, $549 for renewing passholders; not currently for sale). The time to be at Sunday River and Sugarloaf is when everyone else is working. The time to be at Black Mountain of Maine is when everyone else is at Sunday River and Sugarloaf. Boyne’s lowest-tier New England Pass grants you midweek access – minus Christmas and Presidents’ Week and MLK Day blackouts – to the two big Maine mountains plus Loon. Those are the exact dates Black will be open. With two of the longest seasons in the East – Sunday River often opens in October and, along with Sugarloaf, closes in May – you’ll easily fill out your season while avoiding the largest crowds.
6) Wachusett, Massachusetts
Current price: $649
Why it’s a great value: Yes, this pass is a bit more expensive, but if you live in metro Boston, it’s worth it. This is one of the best-run operations in the country. It’s open at least 12 hours a day. It has three high-speed lifts. They groom twice a day, every day. They open early – this past season they beat Killington by half an hour to take first-in-New England honors (admittedly, Killington wasn’t really trying). And while they don’t make a habit of staying open too far into April, they did crack the lifts open for a May rail jam one year. And Wachusett has one of the most extensive lists of pass partners of any ski area in the Northeast, offering discounted or (in rare cases) free lift tickets at 26 ski areas (the list is not yet updated for 2021-22). If you can live without skiing weekend or holiday mornings, the Bronze pass grants non-holiday weekday access and still gets you on the lifts after 4 p.m. all other nights for just $329. The $449 Silver Pass is the same deal, but with full weekend access before Dec. 25 and after February break.
Pairs well with: Epic Local Pass ($583). If I lived anywhere near Wachusett, I would probably set up something like this: nab a Bronze pass to ski two or three nights a week after work, then use the Epic Local for weekend runs north and a trip or two west, maybe even a big one to Vail or Tahoe or Whistler. The only Northeast mountain with holiday blackouts on Epic Local is Stowe, leaving plenty of options for those holidays when you can’t access Wachusett during the day.
7) Berkshire Summit Pass (Berkshire East, Catamount, Bousquet, Massachusetts)
Current price: $499 (price increases to $559 June 1)
Why it’s a great value: This is one of the best regional ski passes in the Northeast. Three solid mountains, all open day and night, under the operational supervision of the aggressive and imaginative Jon Schaefer, who is reshaping them as fast as the seasons change. Berkshire East is the skier’s mountain, the best in Massachusetts, heavily gladed and growing more so every year in its snowy pocket near the Vermont border. Catamount is big and busy but not Catskills busy, a place that spreads skiers out and has enough lifts to moderate lines. Both top out with over 1,000 feet of vertical and both are scheduled for new lifts and, possibly, new terrain this offseason. Bousquet, under new ownership and contracted to Schaefer for skier ops, just underwent one of the most dramatic single-season gut renovations in the Northeast, with antique lifts flying off the mountain and a used Hermitage Club triple rising to the top, massive snowmaking upgrades, and a new beginner area. It’s not the most interesting mountain in the world, and it’s quite a bit smaller than its other two pass partners, but I challenge you to show me a better place for families. Best of all, since Berkshire East and Catamount are Indy Pass partners, skiers can add one on for just $189. If you can live without Bousquet access, you can pick up a Sunday-through-Friday pass for just $399. Monday-through-Friday is $249. Nights only is $169. Indy Pass cannot be added to these discounted versions, however.
Pairs well with: No need to overcomplicate it – nab that Indy Pass add-on for your roadies to Jay, Magic, Cannon, Waterville, and Saddleback. If you want to head west, you have plenty of options.
8) Greekenburg (Greek Peak and Toggenburg, New York)
Current price: $745 (initial price was $630 price increases again Sept. 30)
Why it’s a great value: Four ski areas sit bunched south of Syracuse. The biggest and most interesting of these is Greek Peak, a thousand-ish footer with an aggressively expanding glade network and a steady stream of lake-effect storms. That’s all fine, but what makes this pass enticing is a series of experimental and novel moves that have expanded access and injected ever-more value into the product. The owners bought nearby Toggenburg, a 500-footer with a pokey antique lift fleet but two clutches of tight and fun trails, and dropped the mountains onto a joint pass for a negligible markup (the early-bird Greek Peak-only pass ran $595, just $35 less than the combo pass). They joined the Freedom Pass, giving Greek Peak skiers three days each at 13 ski areas. Best of all, they were an early Indy Pass partner, giving passholders the buy-up option for adventure well beyond Central New York.
Pairs well with: Greek Peak is in kind of a weird location. There’s plenty of skiing nearby, but most of it is a downshift from the variety at Greek. Nearby Song is a nice little mountain and shares a $499 pass with Labrador, but for skiers thinking bigger, a NY SKI3 Frequent Skier Card is a decent option. This will get you half off weekdays and 25 percent off weekends and holidays and every sixth day free at Belleayre, Gore, and Whiteface, with Gore being the best option for those living in Syracuse (prices for the card are not yet set for the 2021-22 season). The $189 Indy add-on, of course, is a no-brainer for runs out to New England, which is farther than it looks for Greek Peak locals, but worth the drive.
9) Snow Ridge, New York
Current price: $410 (original price was $315)
Why it’s a great value: Snow Ridge has the three features I most value in a ski area: lots of snow, few people, and interesting terrain. The lack of people is easy to explain: the ski area has old lifts, a short vertical drop (500 feet), and a middle-of-nowhere location. It’s worth the drive. The ski area, perched on the lake-effect snow bullseye known as the Tug Hill Plateau, claims 230 inches of average annual snowfall, more than anywhere in the Northeast outside of Vermont’s northern Green Mountain Spine. The labyrinth of terrain skier’s left off the North Chair is some of the rowdiest in the state. The T-bar, closed during the week, offers hours of powder laps when it finally cracks open. Snow Ridge skis big, grooms little, and is exactly what it’s name says it is: a big-ass snowy ridge. As with many of the mountains on this list, it’s already passed the early-bird deadline, meaning it’s not quite the deal it was a month ago. It’s still worth considering, especially with the Indy Pass buy-up for $189.
Pairs well with: The Indy Pass is an obvious add, and the SKI3 Frequent Skier Card would work well here too. Another good alternative is the $479 Epic Northeast Value Pass, which would open early-season options to offset Snow Ridge’s typical mid-December opening.
10) Mountain Creek, New Jersey
Current price: Not currently available. Sold out of initial run of 1,000 passes at $279.99
Why it’s a great value: If you live anywhere in or around New York City, this pass should be an automatic buy. Scoff all you want. Mountain Creek has 1,000 feet of vert, high-speed lifts, an expansive trail network, and a rootin-tootin blower of a snowmaking system. And it’s just 45 miles over the George Washington Bridge. On a good day, I’m there in an hour and 10 minutes from Brooklyn. Sure, the place has one of the highest knucklehead-to-square-acre ratios on the planet, but passholders get access to the lifts at 8 a.m. on weekends while all the broh-brahs are still organizing their vape pens and their backpack speakers. Midweek you can ski right onto the chair (well, this past snowy, socially distant season was an anomaly), racking up 10 to 20,000 feet of vertical in a few hours. I’m not saying go ski 80 days a year at Mountain Creek, but this pass makes it easy to slip over for a few hours of skiing on days when points north are out of reach. It’s a nice supplement. If you’re wondering how people with office jobs ski 40 or 50 days per year, this is how.
Pairs well with: A full Epic ($783) or Ikon ($1,049) pass. Because why the hell not? Mountain Creek is for weeknights or weekends when obligations keep you close to the city. Use it 10 times or more and you’re skiing like it’s 1982. The big passes are for weekends north and weeks out west, where you can splice the per-day cost down to a fraction of big-mountain rack rates in just a few trips.
11) Shawnee, Pennsylvania
Current price: Not yet available. Early-bird 2020-21 price was $349
Why it’s a great value: Northeast Pennsylvania is stacked with ski areas, some of them quite large. Pass deals abound. Montage, a 1,000-footer with some legitimately steep terrain, sold an unlimited early-bird pass for $399 ($349 for renewing passholders). Sprawling Camelback’s midweek-plus-weekends-after-3-p.m. pass is just $349. Both are terrific options, but I give the edge to Shawnee here for the simple reason that it’s an Indy Pass partner, meaning passholders who buy up to the add-on can hit their local for a few hours after work during the week, and then head to points north for the weekend.
Pairs well with: Aside from the $189 Indy add-on, some kind of Epic Pass seems like a no-brainer for Pennsylvania skiers, who can access five mountains on the pass: Jack Frost, Big Boulder, Roundtop, Whitetail, and Liberty. The latter three are not necessarily close for a skier who may choose Shawnee as their local, but Jack Frost and Big Boulder are, and the latter is a must-go for park types. Given the PA weekend ski crowds, I’d probably get the hell out of the state for busy periods with either an Epic Northeast Value ($479) or, if you plan to head west, an Epic Local ($583) pass.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list - let me know what your favorite local passes (anywhere in the country) are, and why, by responding to this email.