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This Chart Itemizes Every Lift Ticket Coalition in America
Welcome to a new level of Pass Bro obsessiveness
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Back when there was no such thing as the internet or my kids, I used to daydream about hitting every ski area in America in a single winter. It would be a rambling adventure, a delightful logistical puzzle, a pointless but interesting exercise of the sort that produces niche memoirs and “hey-I-once-did-this-dumb-thing” stories that make you legendary among your friends.
I never did the trip, and never even really planned it. But as the ski season pass has evolved from an expensive, locals-only, single-mountain product into a discount punch card accessing dozens of resorts across the continent, I’ve considered it often as a thought exercise. How much easier would it be, these days, to plan such a trip? Four or five passes, for a total of about two grand, would get you a seat on just about every chairlift in America. Add in GPS (good luck finding some of these back-of-the-neighborhood ropetow bumps 25 years ago) and the rise of Van Life Bro, and you really just need to figure out which passes access which hills to make an adventure of this scale achievable.
Which takes us to the purpose of this email. Everyone knows about the Epic, Ikon, Indy, and Mountain Collective passes. But, thanks to the rise of the reciprocal lift ticket, there are plenty of informal multi-mountain passes too. Here’s how it works: Loveland and Whitefish make a deal: let’s give each other’s season pass holders three days each at one another’s ski areas. Cool. Then Loveland makes the same deal with Monarch, Powderhorn, Sunlight, Purgatory, Ski Cooper, Red Lodge, Schweitzer, Brundage, Brian Head, Nordic Valley, Sipapu, Pajarito, Hesperus, and Arizona Snowbowl; and joins the Powder Alliance, a ticket exchange coalition that grants passholders three days each at an additional 17 ski areas. And all of a sudden, you have three days each at 32 mountains, plus a season pass to Loveland (which has one of the longest ski seasons in the country), for $499. A ski area that has spent decades as an I-70 flyby has created a product that is a legitimate alternative to the Epic or Ikon Passes (don’t laugh – 15 of those 31 ski areas top 2,000 vertical feet).
And there are dozens more passes like Loveland’s: Ski Cooper, Sunlight, Monarch, Lee Canyon, Snow King, Brundage, Bogus Basin, Mont du Lac, Mount Bohemia, and many, many others. Last month, I inventoried some of these pseudo national megapasses here. I’ve also been documenting reciprocal pass arrangements in the “free days” column of the Pass Tracker 5001, where I’ve been itemizing every season pass price in America.
This worked fine for a while. But the PT 5001 is really not a great way to track reciprocal tickets. All the resorts are crammed into that one little cell on the right side of the screen, and you have to click or scroll around to cross-compare lists. It’s a pain in the ass.
So, I created a better chart to track which passes grants passholders access to which mountains. Here it is [VIEWING ON DESKTOP STRONGLY RECOMMENDED]:
Warning: entering this room might be like walking into a really full bar - there’s a lot to do, and it’s not necessarily obvious where to go. Just sit with it for a minute, and it will make sense, I promise.
Anyway, here is a helpful Q&A to get started:
Q: Seriously, what the hell is going on here?
A: OK, as simple as I can make this:
Read left to right. Start with the resort and track right across the page to see where you can ski with that ski area’s pass.
All pass prices listed are for a no-blackout, adult pass.
The mountain is highlighted on the left with the megapass that acts as the mountain’s season pass. If it is not highlighted, that means there is a cheaper option for a no-blackout adult pass. Winter Park, for example, is unlimited on the Ikon Base Pass, but the resort still sells a standalone pass with no reciprocal benefits.
The number of days listed at the intersection of two resorts is the number of days you can redeem with the pass of the mountain on the left – this is not always the same as the number of days you can redeem in the other direction.
Red numbers indicate agreements that are locked in.
Green numbers indicate pending agreements (in most cases, these have been in place for many years, but have not yet been confirmed for 2022-23).
In most cases, if a number is highlighted, that means you have to purchase an extra add-on to be eligible for those days.
Q: Does this chart only track passes in U.S. America?
A: Sort of. I’ve documented U.S. pass partners across Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. So you’ll see, for example, that you can redeem your Mission Ridge pass for three days each at Marmot Basin or Castle Mountain. But I did not, in turn, itemize any reciprocal partnerships that may be in place for those mountain’s season pass holders.
Q: Did you include discounted lift tickets?
A: No. The chart only itemizes lift tickets that are available with a season pass at no additional cost.
Q: Then why did you include the Indy Pass?
A: Because once you pay for an Indy Pass, there is no additional cost to redeem lift tickets. It is also a crucial tool to help single-mountain passes become de facto megapasses for just $189 – which is less than a single-day walk-up lift ticket at more than two dozen western ski resorts.
Q: Why didn’t you include blackout dates?
A: This chart is already confusing enough. You’re just going to have to research that part yourself.
Q: Is this a definitive document that I should show someone at a resort ticket window to prove that they owe me a free lift ticket?
A: Please don’t do that.
Q: Ummmmmmmm, you missed [insert super obvious thing that I overlooked in aggregating 5,000 data points].
A: You know, conducting your life in this fashion may work just great when you’re chuckling over craft beer with your fellow catty hipsters, but it doesn’t stop everyone else from hating you. Just say “here’s a thing you can add,” and I will.
Q: Does this new insane thing replace the old insane thing, the Pass Tracker 5001?
A: Not yet. But I kind of like it, and I’ve stopped caring about some elements of the pass landscape that I’ve been tracking for the past three years on the PT 5001, namely payment plans and refund policies. For now, I’ve only itemized the 250 ski areas that are included on one pass or another, and I intend to continue updating the PT 5001 (except the reciprocal ticket portion of it), but it would be easy enough to add the rest and just use this chart to track prices.
Q: Are you not familiar with the order of the alphabet?
A: Sometimes resorts are not listed in strict alphabetical order, to help make sense of the combined-days-at-such-and-such-destination tiers on, say, the Ikon Pass.
Q: Why are all the Canadian ski areas just bunched together without respect to the alphabet or geography?
A: I thought it made more sense to organize them according to pass affiliation. Eventually I will go full mental and add all of Canada in here, but for now can we just be happy with this?
Q: Where was this list two months ago, before half of these passes increased in price?
A: It was in my imagination, along with a Michigan football team that can consistently beat Ohio State and life in a country that is not preoccupied with recreating the socioeconomic and cultural order of the 1770s.
Q: Why did you itemize the resorts you could access with an Ikon Pass add-on, but not with the Epic Pass?
A: The products are just very different. The Ikon Pass is only the lowest-price season pass for six ski areas: Mammoth, Palisades Tahoe, Steamboat, Solitude, Stratton, and Sugarbush. The rest of the U.S. American ski areas – including those owned by Alterra – have their own, single-mountain season passes that are less expensive than the Ikon Base Pass. It’s worth pointing out that these lower-tier passes exist, and then showcasing how much more the extra few hundred bucks gets you. Plus, most non-Alterra-owned partners offer passholders a premium tier that includes an Ikon Base Pass. The Epic Pass is more straightforward. Vail owns 36 out of 37 U.S. Epic resorts, and they’re all unlimited on some version of the pass. So you just have to worry about Telluride, which doesn’t offer an add-on pass and is only available for seven days on the full Epic.
Q: Why do you have prices listed in the add-on section for the Freedom Pass and Powder Alliance for certain resorts? I thought those were always free?
A: They usually are, but a few ski areas, such as China Peak and Little Switzerland, charge extra for them.
Q: Why do some Ikon or Indy Pass agreements show more than the two, five, or seven days we would expect?
A: In many cases, ski areas have forged individual partnerships outside of their megapass partnerships. For example, Sunlight had a pre-existing three-ticket exchange with Brundage prior to joining the Indy Pass. So Sunlight passholders who add on an Indy Pass have five total days to cash in at Brundage. There are dozens of such circumstances, none of which I explain individually, but the math is fairly self-explanatory.
Q: Why didn’t you include Indy’s cross-country ski areas?
A: For the same reason I didn’t include pass benefits like mountain coaster rides. This is a list itemizing downhill snowskiing tickets and nothing else.
Q: Ummmmmmmm, have you ever heard of Wolf Creek, Burke, or Black Mountain of Maine?
A: Yes. They don’t have any reciprocal ticket arrangements, so they’re not on this list.
Q: Why didn’t you include Lookout Pass, Lost Trail, Catamount, and Heavenly?
A: I did. Lookout Pass and Lost Trail are included in the Montana section; Catamount is in New York; Heavenly is in California. I didn’t feel like listing them twice.
Q: Why did you do this? Are you insane?
A: It kind of depends upon who you ask, but the consensus is “kind of.”
Q: You know, if you keep talking about this, ski area operators are going to realize people who never even visit some of these resorts are buying them as local megapasses. Why are you ruining this for the rest of us?
A: I’m not really sure how long this whole reciprocal game is sustainable. The Indy Pass model is clearly superior – operators get paid for each visit, rather than handing out comp tickets like they’re French fry coupons. There’s too much money to be made to keep giving these things away. This won’t go on forever, but I can help people make the most of it while it lasts. Especially people who are sincerely burned out from Epic and Ikon crowds and don’t need 25 high-speed lifts to have a good time.
Q: Is this the thing you’ve been blabbering about on Twitter all week?
A: Yes. I have a bad habit of promising delivery dates on Twitter and then balking on them. This is because I am very good at underestimating how long it will take to do anything. I thought this chart would take me about two hours. Instead, it took longer to build than the Zilwaukee Bridge. If you were sitting around waiting for this, I’m sorry about that. Hopefully you find it useful. It’s not perfect yet, but I’ll keep trying to make it better.
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