Let’s Talk About the Astonishing Bargain That Is the 22-Resort Epic Day Pass
Skiers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania need to take a serious look at this thing
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How about $260 ($132 for kids) for seven days at Wildcat, Attitash, Seven Springs, or Whitetail?
Let’s set aside, for now, whether these prices are a good idea, whether Vail understands the significance of its New Hampshire mountains, whether we are past the settling-in point and to the demanding-answers portion of the ownership curve. Whether Wildcat will ever be Wildcat again or whether Attitash can run more than 50 percent of its lifts more than 50 percent of the time or whether Crotched will return to its seven-day schedule and party mountain-aura with its 3 a.m. Fridays or whether Sunapee ought to join Stowe and Mount Snow in the paid parking game to quell peak-day traffic. I’ll get to all that.
But what I want to analyze today is this: the insane value of Vail Resorts’ recently introduced but little-discussed discount 22-Resort Epic Day Pass product, which all four New Hampshire mountains are party to. The per-day prices, offered in increments from one day to seven, summon the ‘90s: $44 for one off-peak day, $260 for seven days – $37.14 per day. For kids, the prices are even more ropetow rinky-dink: $22 for one day, $132 – $18.85 per day – for seven. That’s the blacked-out version, but an upgrade to the holiday-inclusive version is just a few dollars more: $52 for one day ($26 for kids), $310 for seven days ($157 for kids). Here’s a full breakdown of blackout and no-blackout versions, with prices by number of days purchased, along with a list of all resorts included in this tier:
The inclusion of New Hampshire on this roster is just weird, like getting an iPhone in a box of Lucky Charms. Like the time I was at a New York comedy club scrub show and Tracy Morgan showed up to do a set. Like the dealership ran out of flatscreens so they threw in a free F-150 when you bought your Escape. Like, what the hell is it doing here?
I have no idea. Every other ski area on this bargain Epic Day Pass is small, busy, urban-adjacent, practically snowless – with a few exceptions that you can see for yourself, such as Alpine Valley’s odd snowiness (thank its position near Lake Eerie). Wildcat is a New England icon, slotted alongside Cannon in the state’s Radness-of- Terrain Index. Sunapee and Attitash are sprawling and gorgeous, each skiing far larger than its advertised acreage. Crotched – maybe Crotched belongs on this list. Statistically, it’s a New Hampshire outlier. It skis more like a really big Massachusetts hill than a relatively small New Hampshire one. We can always quibble with lists.
But however we got here, here we are. So let’s have a look around at our other options. The lowest-priced Epic Pass that includes unlimited access to all four New Hampshire mountains is the $514 Northeast Value pass (the $841 Epic and $626 Epic Local passes also include unlimited New Hampshire, as well as extensive access to the western skyscrapers upon which Vail built its empire – I’ve broken down all the options here). The Northeast-specific pass is an incredible value, and also includes unlimited access to every other Pennsylvania and Ohio ski area in the chart above, plus Brighton and holiday-restricted access to Hunter, Mount Snow, and Okemo, and 10 days at Stowe. If you’re really looking to get after it, stop reading now – you’ve found your skeleton key to a kick-ass season.
If you’re still with me, your New Hampshire options are now this: the $385 Northeast Midweek pass or the lowest-priced Epic Day Pass. Both are phenomenal deals, so it comes down to how much you’re actually going to ski, and when you want to do it. The Day Pass, it’s worth pointing out, includes weekends. Of the prominent pass products, only Indy Pass has begun seriously reckoning with Saturdays, which are like weekly re-stagings of an apocalyptic interstellar invasion at pretty much any North American ski hill. Everyone else just blacks out the three big holiday periods of Christmas and MLK and Presidents’ weekend (Vail, bizarrely, throws in Thanksgiving, a weekend that, outside of Killington, has never busy in the Northeast in living memory).
That’s about as far as I can take you with the math – my whole point here is saying, “Hey this exists. Isn’t it cool and weird, and potentially winter-changing?” Then you either shrug your shoulders and say “Brah I never ski anything smaller than Everest,” or realize that Vail is charging about the same price for seven days at a trio of New England legends as it is for a single day of walk-up skiing at its marquee Colorado properties. And then buy it. A seven-day, $260 Epic Day Pass punch-card would be an excellent complement to an Indy Pass, which includes two days each at four New Hampshire ski areas (Cannon, Waterville Valley, Black, and Pats Peak), plus four Vermont ski areas (Jay Peak, Bolton Valley, Magic, Suicide Six), PLUS Saddleback for $299. An Epic seven-day would also be a nice add-on for an Ikon Pass holder, who gets their five or seven days at Loon but still wants to float through Attitash/Wildcat a few times per season.
When Vail introduced the Epic Day Pass for the 2019-20 ski season, I yawned. There were just two tiers, blackouts or no blackouts. The least-expensive option was $106 for one day, $125 if you wanted to ski holidays. The seven-day version clocked in at $621, $731 without blackouts. The Epic Local Pass was only $699, and it came with 10 combined (holiday-restricted) days at Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler, and nearly unlimited access everywhere else. What was the point of this day pass thing? $106 was more than I ever had or would pay for a day of skiing – this was clearly a product targeting Finance Tad or Bitcoin Brad, who hit Colorado once per year and didn’t think much about skiing outside of that.
But Vail has evolved the product in subsequent seasons, and it’s now quite compelling. That very-expensive top tier – which, thanks to the carry-over from Vail’s big price cut last year, is less-expensive than in its debut season, at $93 for one no-blackout day and $110 for holidays – is now only necessary to ski the big dogs: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breck, Whistler, Park City, and Andermatt-Sedrun. Last year, Vail introduced a second tier for the other 32 ski areas. It further refined that portfolio this season, adding the third tier that is the subject of this article. Here’s a breakdown of per-day pricing by tier:
Skiers need to study these charts carefully before buying. Hacks abound, but so do booby traps. Why Breckenridge is included on the top Day Pass tier, I have no idea – unlimited, no-blackout access to the Summit County monster is included on the $626 Epic Local Pass - $31 less than the seven-day unrestricted Epic Day Pass. A 10-day, no-blackout Whistler Edge Card (available only to Canadian and Washington State residents) is just $576 (U.S.), cheaper than the six- or seven-day no-blackout day pass. Skiers can use three of the 10 days at any Vail ski area in the U.S., and the pass comes loaded with one early-season bonus day (good through Dec. 9).
Despite those oddities, Vail has this day-pass ecosystem dialed in a way that no one else is even close to. Alterra’s competitor product, the Ikon Session Pass, is a mess. It’s comparatively very expensive – the least-expensive option is $269 for two days, and there are blackouts. Many of the top Ikon resorts – Aspen, Alta, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Snowbasin – are excluded. The offering tops out at four days. It’s a very underwhelming product. Here’s an overview:
Skiers looking for the Ikon equivalent of the Epic Day Pass are better off considering the Mountain Collective, which, at $559, is just $110 more than the four-day session pass and includes two no-blackout days each at 22 alpha dogs, including the half dozen U.S. chest-beaters that snubbed the Ikon Session Pass. It’s really an impressive list:
But back to Vail. In three years, the company has transformed the Day Pass from an eye-roller to an extremely compelling product, and one that 20-plus-day skiers (just about anyone reading this newsletter), ought to consider as part of their pass quiver. Anyone accustomed to pricy Seven Springs will be pretty stoked to see that they can snag a seven-day child pass for just $132. Even outside of the Northeast, however, there are some terrific deals. The 32-Resorts version, for example, is good at all of Vail’s Tahoe properties, making a holiday-inclusive four-pack to, say, Heavenly, just $313. Compare that to Palisades Tahoe’s $449 four-pack. You can ski six days at Heavenly for less than that - $443 (a no-blackout version is just $376).
Now, should seven days at Wildcat or Attitash cost just $260? Does Vail understand the gems it acquired in the White Mountains? Do these mountains in fact belong in the 32-resort tier, or perhaps in their own special section altogether? Maybe. Probably. I’ll be taking a deep look at Vail’s New Hampshire problem in this newsletter over the summer. In the meantime, take a very close look at these options before prices jump next Tuesday, May 31.
Below the subscriber jump: an update on Stowe’s paid parking plan, the New England ski area that’s coming back from the dead this winter, which New York ski area is for sale, why Saddleback left its Ski Cooper partnership after less than one day, an update on Cooper’s newest partner, and thoughts on the increasingly dire state of what little is left of skiing’s print media.
We are the traffic that we hate
Considered in a global context, culture-watching can be a marvelous spectator sport. And nothing is more amusing, and satisfying, than watching U.S. Americans shit their pants because they have to pay $30 to park their $75,000 SUV at a ski resort. So it should be fun to watch the collective barn-burning once details of Stowe’s 2022-23 paid parking plan gain traction.