So you love skiing or snowboarding and you’re probably thinking about committing to a pass again this year. Maybe it’s your first time. You’ve seen their websites and offerings and damn is it expensive right? So now you’re wondering “is it even worth it?”. This isn’t a comparison of which one is better: Ikon or Epic. This is a comparison of: “Should I commit to one of these multi-resort passes or is it cheaper/simpler/more practical if I just do window pricing or other forms of local passes or promos?”.
I’ve availed of Ikon Base Pass to be precise for two/three years. There were some years where I signed up for a season pass in my local hill, Mount St Louis, who is neither Ikon or Epic. So they just have the one resort, 24/7/365 season pass.
There is also Blue Mountain, which is covered by Ikon.
Yes I always compare if any pass I avail last/this year is/was worth it. Snowboarding can be expensive yo. Can’t be throwing around money unnecessarily.
I live in the Toronto Area for those who aren’t Canadians. It’s a city/town vibe. We’re not close to ski / mountain town. I need to drive 1h40m – 2h one way to get to a decent ski resort and it’s more of a hill, not a mountain.
If the Swiss Alps or Whistler are 10s in a scale of 1-10, these ski hills around me are 4 at best 😂
Locally though, they’re two of the best. They’re equal quality, equal distance with some difference: Blue is perfect if you want trail variety and social life. Mount St Louis is a bit smaller but it’s the perfect training ground due to the terrain variety so you definitely finesse and improve your snowboard skills. The past years I’ve been leaning more on Mt St Louis than Blue.
Super Duper Quick Answer
It was quite hard to break even with an Ikon Base Pass. Maybe even back then it would’ve been worth it for me/a person of my situation, but now it’s more like: “Am I really coming out ahead even if I break even?”. And with changing situations now pre/during/post pandemic, I think there are better situations you can put yourself on instead of committing to a pass like these.
I think these *passes are not worth it, for me. Below are the
* = To clarify: I am specifically talking about multi-resort passes like Ikon/Ikon Base passes or Epic passes and its varieties. I am NOT talking about local passes of individual hills, whether they're for 'anytime' or '5x7' or 'night season pass' etc.
When Is It Ever Worth It?
So for me I find it difficult to justify now, but this is for me and for people like me in the same situation. That’s why I briefly discussed my background and where I’m coming from.
However, this can definitely be worth it for certain sets of people.
e.g.: If you’re a person who lives in a ski town itself and close to a ski resort, then it’s perfect and you get what it’s worth many times over!
Imagine if you live minutes away from Whistler. Whistler’s awesome and that’s the only mountain you need so if you avail of the Epic Pass, you’re good.
That’s top-of-the-line quality slope right there and you can go any time. If you live near it, you’ll probably go more than 8 times. You’ll be a happy puppy. For me, I have tracked that I definitely go at least 8 times per season. So yes, if I was in that situation, Epic becomes worth it.
Ikon Pass was worth it for me for a time actually
There was a year for me where it was worth it. The closest ski hill around me that’s covered by Ikon is Blue Mountain. I did the math during season 18/19 (yes, I have a Google sheets of the comparison way before lol) and I got charged $1,028.50 for an Ikon Base Pass.
Blue’s day pass is around $65-75 so for me to break even, I’d have to go 13 times (just in Blue).
(13 is tough because as I mentioned I average around 8. For ski bums that’s nothing and they’d insult me for that. But 8 is realistic. That’s essentially once a week for 8 weeks/two months, considering you have chores/life/socials/sometimes you’re sick/sometimes you just don’t feel like going. I’m a responsible adult bruv, can’t be snowboarding all weekend 🙁 )
I get the worth out of it if I go to other Ikon Pass resorts. Tremblant is the second closest which is a 6h drive and def much better than blue. We’re maybe talking about a 6/10 hill here in the global scale 😂 . Their day pass is around ~$100CAD so I get more worth of it in one go.
The first year I did Ikon Base pass, that’s what I did to break even. I went to Blue a lot and then I had some days for a Tremblant trip. This way, I require myself to go on less days at Blue since I get the worth back from Tremblant.
The second season I had Ikon Base Pass, it was even better. I went to Blue as usual, did Tremblant as well for maybe a weekend but I also went to Banff (Ski Big 3) for 3-4 snowboarding days. So I definitely got the worth out of that. Banff is ways more expensive so I definitely got the worth.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I broke even and went way beyond. I would say I roughly just broke even and maybe went a trip or too more to get the value off of it, since I went less to Blue at the same time. That’s what I remember.
Why I Think It’s (Starting to) not be Worth it
You’ve read up until this point and if you’ve noticed, the best case I can get myself into seems to be just “breaking even”. That’s me, a person who’s into snowboarding, a person who has gone as much as I can realistically and responsibly go, I even go solo and I’m just…argh! I love snowboarding. But the max I’ve done is roughly 8 on average.
Why so low? Well, again I’m in the city region so snow comes late and melts fast. Jan and Feb are usually just the peak times and March comes and the snow quality just degrades really fast. So if you think about it, once a week for 2 (of the available) months, that’s the best you can hope for right?
It Uses the Same Resource: Time
As I’ve shown already too, travelling to other pass-enabled resorts isn’t really a major win for you since it takes the same time as you would have in your regular. Let’s use simplified, hypothetical math to explain the logic here.
We’ll call this exhibit A:
Let’s say you bought an Ikon/Epic pass for $100, and the local ski hill closest to you $10 for a day pass on a weekend. That means you’ve have to go at least 10 weekends to break even.
If one of those weekends (2 days) I decide to go to Tremblant instead, which charges $13 (I’ve used the same proportion from realistic pricing +30%), that means I have to go roughly 10 times still. Why?
Twice in Tremblant = $26
Leaving you with $74 value, so that’s technically 7 trips if you want to forego the $4 and throw it away.
Total: 9 trips if you want to waste $4
10 trips if you’re goal is to break even or get most value off of it
The Thing also with Trips is…
Well sure you get more worth off your pass with more expensive locations, but then again are you actually “saving more” or “getting more value” off of it if you end up spending more on lodging, food, etc?
We’re talking about economics and getting worth here and getting the price down when trips actually add more “misc expenses” in your wallet lol.
The Other Options
But wait, we’re not done yet. Notice how I italicized “on the weekends”? Because during the weekdays, window prices are cheaper. So going back to exhibit A, if your hill charges you $7 per day (weekday) you would need to go 14.29x to break even now, right?
“But c’mon, who goes on a weekday?!”
Well funny you mentioned that. I do “now” hahaha! And I’m sure more people will. Why? Because even before the pandemic, skiing/snowboarding was getting more popular. That means more demand and less supply. And when are people available? Weekends. So every weekend it’s fu–ing full every time to the point that it’s frustrating to go to Blue now because it’s more popular and there are so many people.
That’s more people fighting for parking, otherwise you have to wake up super early, more wait times in the lift, packed food places, etc.
AND THEN you add the pandemic! So there’s less capacity per day and you’ll have to battle it out with reservations on some places. Spaces between seats in ski lifts means longer wait times, etc.
I love snowboarding and I tried to think my way out of this, but considering everything that’s happening now, even without the pandemic, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have ride during weekdays and book days off. That’s from a person who also loves travelling and hates booking days off if it’s spent locally lol.
I’ve done it last year (well, the very limited times they were open) and I have no regrets riding mid week. It’s just a better experience now.
Pro tip: you can even push your luck here by availing a local resort’s 5×5 / 5×7 passes (those passes where you can go anytime during the weekdays and just afternoons and nights on the weekends. They’re ways cheaper to begin with I bought mine for roughly ~$200CAD but that’s including promos, early birds, renewal promos. This is what I plan to do next season. Actually I bought it already. Now I just have to go 3x on weekdays and it will pay it off right away!
I’m not sure if they’ll ever make a comeback after the pandemic but remember before there were double downs? basically 2 lift tickets for the price of one? That was super effective and economical. Basically if I spent roughly $1k CAD that season to break even, I could’ve just bought nothing but double downs. I would’ve had the same perks and privileges for half the price. That’s $500 spent on something else!!! That could be a freaking new board or gear or even a trip somewhere!
Avail of the Friends and Family Discounts from your Pass-holding Friends
I have friends in the Boston area and one year they invited me to come over and ride. We did 3-4 days. I believe it’s Sugarloaf? It’s under Ikon pass. I knew about this plan/trip months before. I had the idea of “maybe I can make Ikon pass worth it this year with this trip!”. Long story short, I did not have Ikon Base pass that season. I just availed of the discount from my friends. I can’t recall the exact $ figures but I trust my past self. The quick conclusion was it was not worth it. I think it’s partially because of my next big point…
Breaking even is a loss
Before, I thought breaking even was at the very least ‘fine’. I guess it still is, depending on how you look at it. Here are my two problems with it:
Pushing Yourself to Go
As I mentioned, I average around 8 or so times per season. I could go more, e.g.: if I spend more vacation days, drive more, etc. But is it really a win when you’re pushing yourself to go when you actually don’t want/need to or just don’t feel like it? I experience those and to be honest I think one of those 8 days is due to that reason.
It’s not even laziness, it’s just…the reality of it. Here’s a concrete example: it’s the opening weekend and then you prep, go, and have fun on a saturday. You wipe your energy out, your body’s sore since you’re getting back to the (rigorous) motions of snowboarding, and at the end of the day you’re spent.
The following day your body is so sore you can’t even walk properly. No matter how much I want to ride again (and I always do), you just can’t. I’ve even had an experience where I really pushed myself and what ended up happening was I drove 3-4h in total just to do a lap or three, then I started driving home 😐
Also, there’s this thing called “knowing when to stop”, because if you don’t you risk big injuries which could complicate even more the rest of your performing season (had to learn this the hard way many times too).
Flexibility vs Breaking Even
Let’s go back to Exhibit A: It’s $100 spent and 10 trips to break even.
If I did not spend for the pass and bought day passes instead and went 10 times and spent no more than $100, it’s the same right?
Sure, until you zoom out and see the bigger picture. If you bought the pass way early on, that’s interest in your credit card. If I can ride December the earliest but bought the pass June, that’s 6 months of my $100 (real life passes are min $1kCAD) not being usable. I could instead fly to Europe for September and still come back and save up just in time for season opener.
Even if we let’s say we ignore all those alternative benefits, if I have the cash on hand and I buy day passes, I get even more flexibility. Maybe one day I go during the weekdays so it’s cheaper. I get to save more money for something else. With passes you can go too, but you will never get money back; it’s more of an exercise of “getting the most value” for you.
Ultimately, the beauty of it with cash is that you won’t be restricted to one resort. You could spend the same money, go the same amount of time but for you, you were able to go to multiple resorts, which the pass cannot do.
Are these multi-resort passes not worth it? For me, it’s not any more. Are these a bad idea? No, not at all. But for the price-point that they’re offering, it opens it up for more alternatives for the common consumer. I don’t resort companies massive pulling down the prices any time soon. They have other problems they’re worrying about.