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Ikon Pass Adds Snowbasin, Sun Valley, Chamonix for 2022-23 Season, Drops Crystal from Unlimited Tier on Full Ikon Pass, Alta and Deer Valley Leave Base Pass for Base Plus
Snowbasin and Sun Valley Exit Epic Pass, will also join Mountain Collective
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The Ikon Pass released its 2022-23 pass suite today, raising the price of an Ikon Pass from $999 to $1,079 ($979 with a renewal discount until April 21), and an Ikon Base Pass from $729 to $769 ($719 with a renewal discount). The Ikon Session Pass will be available in two-, three-, or four-day increments. As in the past, Ikon will offer substantial discounts on passes for children under age 12 ($239 Ikon Pass, $199 Base Pass), with the purchase of an adult pass.
Snowbasin and Sun Valley, which are jointly owned, will leave Vail’s Epic Pass after the 2021-22 season and join the Ikon and Mountain Collective passes. Full Ikon Pass holders get seven unrestricted days at each resort. The resorts will not join the Ikon Base Pass, but passholders can buy up to the Ikon Base Pass Plus – which also includes access to Aspen, Jackson Hole, and, new for this year, Alta and Deer Valley – for an additional $200 and get five holiday-restricted days at each mountain. Mountain Collective passholders will have two unrestricted days each at Sun Valley and Snowbasin. The “Platinum” versions of both mountains’ 2022-23 passes will include an Ikon Base Pass, in line with similar options for top-tier passholders at Taos, Aspen, Jackson Hole, Big Sky, and other Ikon destinations.
Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley, the monstrous French ski circus that is home to the 9,200-vertical-foot Aiguille du Midi tram, will also join Ikon. Skiers will get the standard Ikon package here: seven days with no blackouts on the full Ikon Pass, and five days with holiday restrictions on the Base Pass. The ski areas covered under the Chamonix Mont-Blanc Valley umbrella include Grands Montets, Les Houches, Le Tour/Balme, La Flegere, and Le Brevent.
Earlier today, Mountain Collective announced that Alterra had pulled its last three owned resorts – Palisades Tahoe, Mammoth, and Sugarbush – from the coalition, meaning that the Ikon Pass will now be the only multi-mountain pass to provide access to these three flagship ski areas.
Some core access will also evolve. The Ikon Pass will no longer act as a season pass for Crystal Mountain, Washington, joining Alterra’s Deer Valley as a resort that manages its own distinct pass suite (as of today, Crystal 2022-23 pass prices are not yet available). Ikon Pass holders will still received seven unrestricted days at Crystal, and Base Pass holders will get five days subject to holiday blackouts.
After four years as part of the Base Pass, Deer Valley and Alta will also leave that tier and join the Ikon Base Pass Plus. Snowbird, formerly a separate destination from Alta, will now offer five holiday-restricted days on the Base Pass. Full Ikon Pass holders will continue to receive seven unrestricted days at Deer Valley, Jackson Hole, and Aspen Snowmass. On the full pass, however, Alta and Snowbird are again considered a single destination, and skiers receive seven total days between them.
And in an interesting reversal, Arapahoe Basin will no longer be blacked out on holidays for Ikon Base Pass holders.
Ikon will retain all partners from the 2021-22 season, and access tiers for the remaining partners will be unchanged. Passes go on sale March 10. Alterra will again offer its Adventure Assurance program, giving skiers until Dec. 8 to roll their unused pass into the 2023-24 ski season. An insurance plan, which protects against injury, illness, and other circumstances, is available for an additional cost. Spring skiing for 2022-23 Ikon Pass holders will be available starting March 10 at Big Bear, Blue, Snowshoe, Stratton, and Sugarbush; April 4 at Tremblant and Solitude; and April 11 at Mammoth Mountain, Palisades Tahoe, and Winter Park.
Here’s a bit more about the 2022-23 Ikon Pass suite, and what the changes mean for the pass, passholders, and skiing in general:
The price increases are both expected and (perhaps) welcome
When Vail chopped 20 percent off the price of Epic Passes a year ago, one of the first questions I (and many Ikon Pass holders), asked was some version of “will the Ikon Pass follow?” As I wrote at the time:
I doubt Alterra is interested in a race to the bottom. Its passes are fairly priced, its collection of mountains compelling, its value plain. Vail lowering prices is not Covid shutting down the world. A doubling of the renewal discount, as we witnessed last year, is not forthcoming. A full Ikon Pass is $999 and $899 for returning passholders. The Ikon Base is $729, with a $649 renewal price. These prices are not unreasonable alongside Vail’s $783 Epic Pass and $583 Epic Local Pass, and are certainly more compelling than the many single-mountain passes still approaching four digits. If we see any changes to the Ikon Pass for 2021-22, it will be more partners. I expect the prices to increase, as scheduled, on May 5.
And that’s exactly what happened. That prediction came the day Vail made their announcement, before Epic Lift Lines rocked Instagram, Stevens Pass became skiing’s version of the Detroit Lions, and the company’s lower-Midwest ski areas sat idle up to four days per week and all but eliminated night-skiing. With that barn fire still pushing towers of smoke over the horizon, Alterra had considerable leverage to raise prices coming into the 2022-23 pass sales season. The price had stood at $999 for two years. The Ikon Pass hosts what is unquestionably the strongest wall-to-wall collection of ski resorts on the planet. Even after a slight price increase, the pass (especially the child pass), is a tremendous value.
Even if Alterra wanted to follow Vail down the clearance aisle, it has far less latitude to do so. Remember that Ikon is a bit of a Frankenpass (which is why they spell it with a “K*”). Alterra only owns 15 ski areas – and two of them, Deer Valley and Crystal, aren’t even unlimited members of the coalition. The rest of the Ikon Pass mountains – including unlimited-access Copper Mountain and Eldora – are owned by Powdr, Boyne, or just some dude who has a ski resort like Mark Cuban has the Dallas Mavericks.
Those partners expect – and, frankly, need – a certain yield, or payout-per-visit from Ikon. This may – may – have been related to Snowbasin and Sun Valley’s mutiny. If Vail is charging less for passes, it may be allocating fewer dollars to partner payouts. I have no insight into the financial negotiations, however, and that is pure speculation.
*It actually isn’t**
**But wouldn’t that be sweet if it was!?***
***Yeah actually kinda. Let’s roll with it. Who wants to update Alterra’s Wikipedia page? I’ve got enough going on over here.
Snowbasin and Sun Valley become the latest Epic Pass refugees to join Ikon
I hate to do this, but Snowbasin and Sun Valley jumping Epic for its two rival passes on the same day left me with a content problem. While I considered combining the Mountain Collective and Ikon stories into one big article, I decided not to for various reasons. But to avoid rewriting myself, I’ll borrow from my Mountain Collective article:
Let me start here: I don’t know why Sun Valley and Snowbasin left the Epic Pass. There’s a chance this migration was a simple economic decision: Mountain Collective’s yield, or payout-per-visit to its partners, is the highest among North America’s major multi-mountain passes, according to several industry sources who are familiar with the mechanics of the various passes.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the crowding narrative that has dogged Vail all season. I asked a representative from Sun Valley and Snowbasin whether the change was in any way related to the sheer number of Epic Passes sold last year. She declined to address the question directly, reframing the switch as an opportunity to connect with a new customer base.
“For Sun Valley and Snowbasin, a priority in any pass partnership is to introduce new visitors to our properties and ensure a greater reach than what we may accomplish absent a partnership,” she said. “That has been the guiding principle with our Epic partnership, and with Ikon starting next season. Sun Valley and Snowbasin always look for opportunities that provide benefit to our pass holders and that allow new guests to experience our properties. The partnership with Epic has been a great opportunity and we look forward to continuing to welcome Epic pass holders through the end of the 2021-22 winter season. Starting in 2022-23, we look forward to the opportunity to welcome Ikon and Mountain Collective pass holders to our properties.”
I know the quote that Angry Ski Bro wanted to hear was, “after Vail sold enough Epic Passes that they could be used as currency in a medium-sized country, we decided to align with some less-popular passes that won’t send the equivalent of the population of Miami to our lifts every Saturday.”
That narrative may or may not hold up. Lynch mobs don’t like details, and the fact is that Epic Pass holders’ access to Sun Valley and Snowbasin was limited compared to Vail’s owned mountains: seven unrestricted days at each on the full Epic Pass and two days – less holiday blackouts – at each on the Epic Local Pass. Skiers could also access the two resorts with any version of the Epic Day Pass.
Here’s what we do know: losing Sun Valley and Snowbasin is a very bad look for Vail. Arapahoe Basin already fled the Epic Pass and its unlimited-access tiers for limited days on the Mountain Collective and Ikon Passes in 2019, citing congestion, especially on weekends. After the Epic Pass partnership had helped Arapahoe Basin double its revenue and underwrite $40 million in upgrades, it was a gamble to leave. But the resort has since became a case study in managing a quality skier experience in a West that is growing ever-more wealthy and crowded.
“By every measure, we have improved the guest experience,” Arapahoe Basin Chief Operating Officer Al Henceroth wrote a year after cutting Vail free after a two-decades-ish partnership. “Both face-to-face interaction and survey data tell us that people clearly are having a better time this season.”
Skier visits had dropped 39 percent from January 2019 to January 2020, which had made a qualitative difference on the mountain, Henceroth wrote. “This season is nothing like last season. The numbers speak for themselves. The experience is way up. The skier days are way down. Ikon, Mountain Collective, Taos and Monarch are great partners. We aren't quite where we want to be yet, but we are heading in the right direction.”
The right direction for everyone else is the wrong direction for Vail, which is left with just one U.S. partner outside of its owned network: the massive and important Telluride, which I’m sure Mountain Collective would love to welcome back. Vail is a company increasingly reliant on big data, but something in the algorithm is broken. Why do partners keep leaving? The company still has plenty of partners in Europe and Japan, along with Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, owners of hallowed Fernie, Kimberley, and Kicking Horse. And its need for partners is smaller than Alterra’s, which owns just 15 ski areas to Vail’s 40.
Still, the switch strips two of the best-run ski areas in the country off of the Epic Pass, and leaves Vail with a hole between Park City and Stevens Pass: 844 miles of Rocky Mountain abyss. That’s a problem.
By declining to join the Ikon Base Pass and instead planting the resorts on the Plus tier alongside Jackson Hole and Aspen (and now Alta and Deer Valley), Sun Valley and Snowbasin are making a definitive statement: we want to make these places accessible, just not too accessible. We care about the skier experience. No one likes liftlines or groomers skied off by 10:30, not even people who balk at triple-digit lift-ticket prices. The Base Plus pass, at $969, is still priced fairly for those aspiring to ski the best resorts in America.
Chamonix completes the European big four
I don’t even really know how to talk about European skiing. It is so… different. Like an Orson Wells depiction of something familiar made alien through its reproduction on another world. North American ski resorts tend to be tree-lined and well-defined, clearly cut trail networks rising out of the wilderness. There’s a human-scale to them, along with a sense of purposeful design that’s both comforting and limiting.
Europe is… not that. Rather than master-planned developments sliced out of the remote forest, ski areas in the Alps tend to rise out of centuries-old towns, with lifts sprawling with almost haphazard glee in every which direction. What appears to be one ski resort may in fact be an agglomeration of operators functioning in harmony. It can be difficult to untangle who manages what and which lift tickets work there. The trail map of the Vallee de Chamonix Mont-Blanc illustrates this Rubik’s Cube:
The terrain tends to be vastly different and more treacherous than that of North America. The treeline in the Alps sits between 4,000 and 5,000 feet, around 8,000 feet lower than the Rockies. While I don’t, personally, love skiing above treeline, there is great majesty in it, with rolling snowfields climbing into the infinite horizon. Perhaps because of the vastness of the terrain and perhaps because of Europe’s more relaxed approach to personal risk (and less litigious societies), deadly obstacles – cliffs, crevasses, etc. – are often unmarked. The emphasis is on the piste. The wise hire a guide to go off it.
And the terrain is just… So. Damn. Big. The Aiguille du Midi, Chamonix’s signature lift, rises 9,200 vertical feet. That’s like stacking Jackson Hole (4,139 feet) on top of Big Sky (4,350 feet) and still looking up at Mount Bohemia (900 feet). And yet, it looks like another toothpick in the box when you zoom out across the entire valley:
And yes, the food is better (and cheaper), lift tickets are affordable (to the point that the Ikon Pass is almost beside the point if you’re flying to France on vacation for God’s sake), and the culture is less Disney-in-the-mountains than oh-yeah-this-is-an-actual-place-rather-than-one-that-was-built-to-resemble-one. If that makes sense.
Every skier should visit Europe at least once. The Ikon Pass is now set up as a passport into that kingdom. Chamonix Mont Blanc joins Dolomiti Superski in Italy, Kitzbühel in Austria, and Zermatt in Switzerland on the pass. That’s one mega-resort in each of Europe’s big-four ski countries, enough to let you pop around on trains for a month, making turns off of hundreds of interconnected lifts and dining on gourmet mid-mountain food. There are more than 1,000 ski areas in Europe – no one probably knows exactly how many. It can all be a bit overwhelming. You could do a lot worse than to just tour these four and call it a season.
Alterra’s shuffling of pass tiers demonstrates its commitment to a quality ski experience
It will no doubt come as a disappointment to many skiers that Alta and Deer Valley have fled the Ikon Base Pass in favor of the Base Plus tier, and that Crystal will no longer be unlimited on the full Ikon Pass. This is the latest in a long series of access adjustments that Alterra has made, mostly in response to changing skier traffic patterns. In 2020, Aspen and Jackson Hole left the Base Pass in favor of the Base Plus tier. Last year, Crystal dropped unlimited access on the Base Pass and switched to a five-days-with-blackouts-model. Ikon will likely continue tweaking these tiers in the coming years.
This is a good thing. Vail needs to take notes. Continuing to offer the same blackout and access tiers forever when liftlines and cars are backed up to the horizon has never made sense. Okemo, Mount Snow, Hunter, Breckenridge, and all of Vail’s Pennsylvania resorts should be moved off unlimited access on the Epic Local Pass. Blackout dates could be extended over more traditionally busy periods. A national midweek Epic Pass would make sense. There are limitless potential ways to do this, and almost anything would be welcome other than the status quo.
I’ll note that Ikon has also occasionally increased access, bumping Stratton and Sugarbush up to the unlimited-with-blackouts tier from five-days-with-blackouts on the Ikon Base Pass in 2020. Arapahoe Basin’s decision this year to drop blackout dates for Base Pass holders is another example. And while the balance seems to be going in favor of more, not fewer restrictions, the overall narrative is that Alterra is going to constantly tweak this thing as conditions on the ground evolve.
The Ikon Pass may have just become the undisputed king of ski passes
Whatever the reason is that Snowbasin and Sun Valley fled Epic, the ramifications for the North American multipass landscape are huge. So is Alterra’s decision to yank its two California flagships and its top-five New England resort off of the Mountain Collective. Those two moves gave the Ikon Pass the best top-to-bottom destination ski roster of any multi-mountain ski pass on the continent.
Good arguments can still be made for the supremacy of the Epic Pass, which delivers seven days at Telluride and unlimited access to 10 North American megaresorts: Whistler, Northstar, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Park City, Crested Butte, Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Breckenridge, plus Stowe, one of the top two or three ski areas in the Northeast.
But many of Vail’s ski areas are small and regionally focused. I like Hunter and Jack Frost and Roundtop and Mount Brighton, Michigan, and their value as businesses is unquestioned, both because they are busy and because they draw skiers from rich coastal and Midwestern cities to the Mountain West. But the Epic Pass’ 40-some U.S. and Canadian mountains are, as a group, objectively less compelling than Ikon’s.
The Ikon Pass now delivers exclusive big-pass access to Steamboat, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Palisades Tahoe, Mammoth, Crystal Washington, Red Mountain, Deer Valley, Solitude, and Brighton, as well as a killer New England lineup of Killington, Stratton, Sugarbush, Sunday River, and Loon. The pass also shares big-mountain partners with Mountain Collective: Alta, Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Snowmass, Banff Sunshine, Big Sky, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise, Revelstoke, Snowbasin, Snowbird, Sugarloaf, Sun Valley, and Taos. For pure fall-line thrills and rowdy, get-after-it terrain, there is just no comparison on any other pass.
And then there’s this: as I noted last year, Alterra and its partners are far more committed to providing a long ski season than Vail. In that story, published last April, I examined the fact that Stevens Pass had closed on April 18 despite sitting on a 133-inch base after a 601-inch season:
The contrast in Washington reflects a broader reality: Ikon Pass holders in nearly all regions can ski far later into the season than Epic Pass holders. This was on stark display the weekend of April 23 to 24, when Ikoners could choose between Killington, Sugarloaf, Sunday River, Sugarbush, Squaw Valley, Solitude, Winter Park, Mammoth, Crystal Mountain, Sunshine, Lake Louise, Norquay, Snowbird, Alta, Mount Bachelor, Summit Central, Alpental, Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin, and Snowmass.
Epic Pass holders could go to Breckenridge or Nakiska.
That’s a 20-2 Ikon-over-Epik lead on the late-spring skiing scorecard. Nakiska and several Ikon mountains closed on Saturday or Sunday, but 13* remain open into this weekend, and several – including Killington, Mammoth, Squaw Valley, and Arapahoe Basin – intend to push through May and, if possible, beyond.
While I do have to point out that Whistler, facing government orders in the wake of another Covid surge, had to close early last season, the pattern is clear: those who value spring skiing have a pretty easy choice to make in Ikon.