Ikon Pass Adds European Giants Dolomiti Superski, Italy and Kitzbühel, Austria

Passholders will get five or seven days to each megaresort for the 2021-22 ski season

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Ikon Pass today added Italy’s Dolomiti Superski and Austria’s Kitzbühel for the 2021-22 ski season, giving full passholders seven unrestricted days at each mountain. Base Pass holders will receive five days with blackouts. Combined with Switzerland’s Zermatt resort, which joined the pass in 2019, Ikon passholders now have up to 21 days of skiing across the European Alps, and access to 47 total destinations across nine countries on five continents.

The partnership significantly enhances Ikon’s appeal as a true global ski product, adding a pair of resorts that scramble any North American’s expectations of what a ski resort can be. Dolomiti Superski sprawls over 12 mountains, with a hard-to-comprehend 450 lifts and 889 runs. Kitzbühel delivers 96 runs off 57 lifts.

The resort access is straightforward, and included on both the full Ikon and Ikon Base Passes with no caveats – giving the pass an edge over Vail’s Epic Pass, which grants extensive European access, but only on the most expensive version of the pass, and with significant fine print.

Still, the announcement comes at a precarious time, as persistent Covid outbreaks threaten to reverse loosening international travel restrictions. Ikon Passholders in North America were mostly banned from traveling to Europe last year, and the Zermatt partnership was suspended for the year even if they could get to Switzerland.

Here’s a bit more about what this partnership means, both for the Ikon Pass and for its passholders:

Something too big to name

Our ski vocabulary is too loose. We use “resort,” “mountain,” and “ski area” interchangeably, as though the installation of a ski lift promotes an incline to a catchall category. We don’t do that with, say, birds. Like you wouldn’t call an eagle a “bird.” “Oh look at that bird with a seven-foot wingspan circling the river.” No. “Oh, Wow, an eagle!” you say. And if not, the eagle is likely to kick your ass. An eagle is a bird but it is also something more. This is where skiing breaks down. Because if Windham is a ski resort and Boyne Mountain is a ski resort, then what the hell is this?

I can barely even understand what I’m looking at here. It’s basically a mountain range filled with ski lifts. Like if they just filled in everything from Vail to A-Basin. Click through to the Superski site and each of those dots folds out into a gargantuan trailmap, with every imaginable sort of lift spiraling in all directions from little towns tucked into ravines and hanging off mountainsides. Again: 450 lifts. Alterra counts 1,278 lifts in its entire resort network – that means more than one-third of the lifts on a global superpass with 47 ski destinations are at Dolomiti Superski. That’s more lifts than Colorado and Utah have combined.

So what lies within the 12 individual resorts that make up Dolomiti Superski? Lord knows. Here’s a peak:

But does it really matter? Do you need a sales pitch here? Do you need me to tell you it’s the site of the something something Olympics? It’s a goddamn ski circus the size of Delaware. If you’re reading this, you’re gonna have a good time.

Kitzbühel is a bit smaller, but that’s like saying Snowbird is small compared to Whistler: true but irrelevant. It’s not a full mountain range, but you get three big ski areas: Kitzbühel, Kirchberg and Mittersill. As with the Italian destinations, you get seven or five combined Ikon days between the various resorts. That probably won’t be enough days to explore everything, but it will be a good trip.

Yo I’m just a dumbass skier can we make this less complicated than a tax return?

When I put together the national version of the Pass Tracker 5000 earlier this week, I intentionally left Grand Targhee off the list of reciprocal partnerships, even though they have at least a dozen partner resort arrangements. Why? Their free days aren’t truly free days – they require a stay at a Targhee-owned property. Perhaps this seems like a petty omission. But I had my reasons: once a supposedly included benefit starts adding footnotes, it starts to feel like the free steak dinner you get for sitting through a timeshare pitch.

The same feels true of Epic Pass’ European partnerships. There are a lot of rules. The number of access days varies from resort to resort. Only the full Epic Pass is eligible for access. It’s a hassle.

Granted: once you fly across the Atlantic, lift tickets are the least of your expenses, especially in Europe, where day tickets are a fraction of the cost of large Western mountains. And the full Epic Pass ($783) and Ikon Base Pass ($779) are basically the same price right now. Still, Ikon’s straightforward presentation – five or seven days at three different European megaresorts – is more reassuring for someone waffling between the two passes.

Vail could somewhat simplify their presentation here: epicpass.com has four different click-through pages outlining access rules for partners in France, Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. But passholders get a simple, no-strings-attached seven days at Les 3 Vallées in France and Skirama Dolomiti in Italy. Why not just say that on the Epic Pass access page and briefly outline the others? “7 days each at Les 3 Vallées, France, and Skirama Dolomiti, Italy; 5 days at Verbier4Vallées, Switzerland with lodging requirements; 3 days at Arlberg, Austria with lodging requirements.” That’s easier than making potential passholders click through to four separate landing pages.

Yeah Europe looks rad but I think you’d have an easier time traveling to Mars right now

The 2020-21 ski season basically didn’t happen in Europe. Switzerland opened. Austria opened, mostly to locals. France and Italy, however, were basically locked down. And that’s the heart of European skiing right there.

Meanwhile, us U.S. Americans, land-locked in our deluded nation, proceeded with ski season even as daily deaths crested the 3,000 mark in January. Operators, for the most part, handled it well: there wasn’t a single ski area shutdown in the United States during the 2020-21 ski season (though a two-week November lockdown may have delayed the opening of some New Mexico ski areas).

Why the U.S. proceeded and Europe shut tight is probably mostly due to cultural differences. No matter: after toughing out 2020-21, American ski areas are well-equipped to wrangle another season around the persistent virus. Skiers, too, accustomed now to masks and booting up in the car, will deal with extended restrictions if they have to. It’s better than the alternative.

Europeans may not be given the choice. Many resorts did finally open for spring glacier skiing. But government shutdowns, which have become politically toxic and increasingly unlikely in the United States, have continued to be deployed in various European countries throughout the year. And, after re-opening the continent to U.S. travelers through the summer, the European Union removed the country from its list of “safe” nations earlier this week, meaning individual member states can restrict U.S. visitors if they choose to do so.

All of which makes a 2022 European adventure hard to imagine with certainty. In the long term, these will be incredible additions to the Ikon portfolio. They may even inspire some European skiers eyeing a Rockies adventure to pick up an Ikon Pass, ski locally, and take a long trip overseas. For now, however, just be glad you can still book that week at Mammoth.

When you can go, understand what Europe is first

For those of you who have only skied America - especially the West - Europe can have a learning curve. The trailmaps are bizarre. Nearly all the terrain is above treeline. Expect to take a half dozen trams to get where you want to go. And there is so. much. grooming. Europeans, typically, have little interest in off-piste skiing. And if you do wander off-piste, you are as likely to ski directly off an unmarked 500-foot cliff as you are to find a rad pow line. Hire a guide - always. This is not Tahoe. They don’t give a shit about the personal consequences of your stupid decisions.

That said, skiing in Europe can be glorious. Ambling from town to town, dining on actual food (not the $28 Beefaroni souffle on offer at so many North American ski area cafes), the high peaks towering majestically. It’s worth doing at least once, and this may be your excuse to make it happen.

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