In the battle of Epic vs. Ikon, it can be hard to tell which pass is right for you. Well we’re here to tell you, because we know you better than you know yourself (your ski boot’s unbuckled).
Passes for next winter’s ski season are already on sale, and the big question on everyone’s mind is “Where am I gonna ski next year?” You really can’t go wrong with any of the Utah ski resorts, but when you can’t go wrong it's actually a lot harder to choose. After all, if it’s The Greatest Snow On Earth® and there’s great terrain everywhere, how is anyone supposed to make a decision??
With Utah.com’s help of course! We’re here to break down the two biggest collective passes in the game — the Ikon and Epic — and highlight each one’s strengths and weaknesses so that you, the average skier/boarder who just wants someone to please tell them where to ski in Utah, can have the best winter possible, whether you’re going with the ski pass giants or shopping small.
Snag an Ikon Pass next winter and you’ll be punching your ticket to the most iconic resorts in the world, or at least that’s the way Ikon tells it. And you know what? They just might be right. After all, their destinations list pretty much reads like your typical skier/boarder’s bucket list. But is it the right fit for winter in Utah? That’s like asking if Big Cottonwood Canyon is open at 10:30 a.m. on a Saturday — it’s gonna take a lot of asking around and we probably still won’t find out.
Some of the best destinations are just a hop, skip, and a jump away.
Don’t like hitting jumps? Don’t worry, it’s just an expression. But if the jumps in Utah aren’t satisfying you, it won’t be too hard to escape to some of the other legendary West Coast destinations on the Ikon Pass. Among the resorts on the Ikon pass within a one- or two-day drive (or a quick flight) are Jackson Hole (Wyoming), Aspen Snowmass (Colorado), Arapahoe Basin (Colorado), Steamboat (Colorado), Squaw Valley (California), and Mammoth (California). We haven’t seen a list like that since … well, we’ve never seen a list like that.
You’ve got 15-21 days at limited-access Utah resorts alone.
That’s nearly a full season, or, depending on how often you ski, a half a season. Let’s be honest, this is Utah — that could easily be a quarter of a season, but you get the point. Ikon’s only unlimited access mountain in Utah is Solitude, but the pass makes up for only having one true “home base” by offering tons of access to the other resorts. With the Ikon Pass you’ll have seven days each at Deer Valley Resort, Brighton, and Alta/Snowbird, or five each with the Ikon Base Pass. It’s a setup that’s perfect for both families and those who can only get out on occasional weekends.
Traffic, traffic, traffic.
Recently the Grinch moved from Mount Crumpit to Mount Superior to get away from the Whos and their noise, but it turns out he hates the traffic in the Cottonwoods just as much. All that traffic, all that traffic — all that traffic, traffic, traffic! They’ll come with their pickups, their hatchbacks, and vans! They’ll come without snow tires, they’ll crash their sedans! The Grinch hates that skiing, that whole skiing season. You can ask why, everyone knows the reason. The skiers once cruised up the canyons at nine, but a six a.m. start now won’t get them on time! Some blame the Ikon, but for what it’s worth, I think what’s to blame is The Greatest Snow on Earth.
Only one unlimited mountain in Utah.
To be fair, this is also true of the Epic Pass, but the Epic has a slight advantage in that its “one” mountain, Park City Mountain Resort, is actually two resorts (Canyons and Park City) that have joined forces. The Ikon’s one unlimited mountain is Solitude, and although it’s got heavy snowfall and exciting terrain that experts and powderhounds love, it doesn’t always have the same “something for everyone” terrain that always makes Park City Mountain a safe bet for intermediates, groups and families.
An Epic Winter
Epic Pass ($783) | Epic Local Pass ($583)
The Epic Pass is the original collective resort pass, expanding from a few well-known resorts in Colorado and Lake Tahoe in 2008 to the global giant that it is today. Without Epic there would be no Ikon — it’s the yin to their yang, the vanilla to their chocolate, the hammering winter storm to their bluebird spring day. Need more analogies? Or will an actual breakdown help more?
Remember all that traffic in the winding, one-lane Cottonwoods? Well, the road from Salt Lake to Park City Mountain (Epic’s only unlimited mountain) is something called a “highway,” derived from the Old English “heahweg” meaning “main road from one town to another.” Apparently “highways” can have up to four (!) lanes and cars are able to travel much faster on them. Crazy stuff. While it’s true that Park City has some of its own vehicular hassles and there are still lots of other skiers making their way to the mountain, it would take a lot to match the traffic of the Cottonwoods (see: Sundance Film Festival).
There’s a real ski town to hang out in. If a trip to Main Street after skiing is important to you, it’s hard to get much better than literally skiing to Main Street. While the powder purists in the Cottonwoods are stuck in traffic, you’ll be in Park City, sipping on fine wine, enjoying five-star cuisine, and high-fiving A-list celebrities (D-list on an off night). Sure, Park City has its reputation as a glitz and glamour town, and that can be true depending on when you go (see: Sundance Film Festival), but there are actually plenty of cozy places to have a nice cold drink and some reasonably priced grub. With other Utah ski mountains residing in environments too extreme for much development, downtown Park City makes an easy case as the best ski town in Utah.
Not as much variety in Utah. If Shania Twain wrote a song about Park City Mountain and the Epic Pass it would go, “So you’ve got the most skiable terrain in the United States … THAT DON’T IMPRESSAH ME MUCH.” And while we can’t agree with Ms. Twain’s stance on rocket scientists or the talented Mr. Brad Pitt, she’s got a point here. The only other Epic mountain in Utah is Snowbasin, and while Epic Pass holders get seven days there, Epic Local Pass holders get only two. Considering the fact that Ikon’s equivalent to the Epic Local (the Ikon Base Pass) offers 15 days outside of its home mountain, it’s tough to pick the Epic here.
Because Utah is filled with patient, reasonable skiers who understand that it’s best to just enjoy any day on the mountain, this probably isn’t too big of a deal. Just kidding, people could duel for first tracks with ski poles atop the Snowbird tram and no one would bat an eye. If having the most snow possible is your chief motivation to hit the slopes, you might be let down by Park City’s comparatively lower snowfall. It’s still Utah snow and there’s still lots of it, just not quite as much as there is in the adjacent canyons.
Still giving a hard pass to the big passes? Here are some other ways to score some killer turns next winter.
Calling all perennial wanderers and remote workers! If your home has four wheels, its own kitchen setup, and a name like “Van-na White,” you may want to take advantage of this unique, travel-friendly option, which offers two days at each of its 23 participating resorts. A good number of the destinations on this pass are out West, and some even have a neighbor or two nearby, so you can park the house somewhere nice and stay awhile. Perks of the Mountain Collective include 50% off any additional day passes and no blackout dates. You can also pair it with a local single-mountain pass and choose whether you want to travel or stay put on any given weekend.
For those who want their home mountain to feel like home. After all, nothing quite compares to the feeling of always knowing the best bootpacks, most reliable powder stashes, and friendliest lifties. It might sound cheesy, but it really is tough to go wrong with a full pass to any one of Utah’s great mountains. They each have something special of their own to offer, and they each have something great in common — The Greatest Snow on Earth.
And of course, you can always pay not as much money for not as much skiing — seems fair right? Here are some of our favorite limited passes in Utah. Buy early and you may be able to snag a bargain.