How about $260 ($132 for kids) for seven days in Wildcat, Attitash, Seven Springs or Whitetail?
Leaving aside, for now, if these prices are a good idea, if Vail understands the importance of its New Hampshire mountains, if we’re past the installation point and the demanding part of the responses of the property curve . If Wildcat will go back to Wildcat or if Attitash can run more than 50% of its lifts more than 50% of the time or if Crotched will return to its seven-day schedule and party with its mountain aura with its Fridays at 3 a.m. or whether Sunapee should join Stowe and Mount Snow in the paid parking game to quell peak day traffic. I’ll take care of all that.
But what I want to analyze today is this: the insane value of Vail Resorts’ recently introduced but little-discussed 22-Resort Epic Day Pass product, of which New Hampshire’s four mountains are a part. Daily prices, offered in increments of one to seven days, are reminiscent of the ’90s: $44 for one day off-peak, $260 for seven days – $37.14 per day. For children, the prices are even higher: $22 for one day, $132 – $18.85 per day – for seven people. It’s the hidden version, but an upgrade to the holiday-inclusive version only costs a few dollars more: $52 for one day ($26 for kids), $310 for seven days ($157 for kids ). Here’s a full breakdown of interrupted and uninterrupted versions, with pricing by number of days purchased, as well as a list of all stations included in this tier:
The inclusion of New Hampshire on this list is just weird, like getting an iPhone in a lucky charm box. Like the time I was at a scrub show at a comedy club in New York and Tracy Morgan showed up to do a set. As if the dealership ran out of flat screens, they added a free F-150 when you purchased your Escape. Like, what is it Do here?
I have no idea. All of the other ski areas on this cheap Epic Day Pass are small, busy, adjacent to town, with virtually no snow – with a few exceptions you can see for yourself, like the odd snow in Alpine Valley (thanks to its position near Lake Eerie). Wildcat is a New England icon, listed alongside Cannon in the state’s Radness-of-Terrain Index. Sunapee and Attitash are sprawling and gorgeous, each skiing way bigger than their advertised area. Crotched – maybe Crotched belongs on this list. Statistically, it’s an outlier from New Hampshire. It skis more like a really big hill in Massachusetts than a relatively small one in New Hampshire. You can always quibble with lists.
But no matter how we got here, here we are. So let’s take a look at our other options. The cheapest Epic pass that includes unlimited access to New Hampshire’s four mountains is the $514 Northeast Value pass ($841 Epic and $626 Epic Local passes also include unlimited New Hampshire, as well as access extended to the western skyscrapers on which Vail built his empire – I’ve broken down all the options here). The Northeast specific pass is amazing value and also includes unlimited access to all other Pennsylvania and Ohio ski areas in the table above, plus Brighton and restricted access to Hunter Holidays, Mount Snow and Okemo, and 10 days in Stowe. If you’re really looking for a way out, stop reading now – you’ve found the keystone to a jaw-dropping season.
If you’re still with me, your options in New Hampshire are now: the $385 Northeast Midweek pass or the cheapest Epic Day pass. Both are phenomenal deals, so it depends on how much you’re actually going to ski and when you want to do it. The Day Pass, it should be pointed out, includes weekends. Of the major pass products, only Indy Pass has begun to count in earnest with Saturdays, which look like weekly stagings of an apocalyptic interstellar invasion at nearly every North American ski resort. Everyone just blacks out the three big holiday periods of Christmas and MLK and Presidents’ weekend (Vail, oddly, kicks off Thanksgiving, a weekend that outside of Killington has never occupied the North -is within living memory).
That’s about as far as I can take you with the math – my whole point here is to say, “Hey, it exists. Isn’t that cool and weird, and potentially changeable in the winter? 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 to a trio of legends from New England for a single day of skiing at its flagship properties in Colorado. And then buy it. A seven-day $260 Epic Day Pass punch card would be a great complement to an Indy Pass, which understand 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. A seven-day Epic would also be a good addition for an Ikon Pass holder, who gets their five or seven days in Loon but still wants to float through Attitash/Wildcat a few times per season.
When Vail introduces the Epic Day Pass for the 2019-20 ski season, I yawned. There were only two levels, breakdowns or no breakdowns. The cheapest option was $106 for a day, $125 if you wanted a ski vacation. The seven-day version reached $621, $731 without cuts. The Epic Local Pass was just $699, and it came with 10 combo days (restricted to vacations) in Vail, Beaver Creek, and Whistler, and nearly unlimited access everywhere else. What was the point of this day pass? $106 was more than I had ever had or would pay for a day’s skiing – it was clearly a product targeting Tad Finance or Bitcoin Brad, who traveled to Colorado once a year and only thought not much to ski outside of that.
But Vail has evolved the product over subsequent seasons, and it’s now pretty compelling. This super-pricey top tier — which, thanks to the carryover of Vail’s big price drop from last year, is cheaper than its first season, at $93 for non-stop day and $110 for vacation — is now only needed to ski the big dogs: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breck, Whistler, Park City and Andermatt-Sedrun. Last year, Vail introduced a second tier for the remaining 32 ski areas. He has further refined this portfolio this season, adding the third tier which is the subject of this article. Here is a breakdown of the prices per day by level:
Skiers should study these charts carefully before purchasing. Hacks abound, but so do pitfalls. Why Breckenridge is included in the top tier of the Day Pass, I have no idea – unlimited, uninterrupted access to the monster of Summit County is included in the Epic Local Pass at $626-$31 less than the unrestricted seven-day Epic Day Pass. A period of 10 days, without interruption Map Edge Whistler (available only to residents of Canada and Washington State) costs just $576 (US), cheaper than the six-day or seven-day unrestricted day pass. skiers can use three of 10 days at any US Vail ski area, and the pass comes with an early-season bonus day (valid through Dec. 9).
Despite these quirks, Vail has this pass-day ecosystem dialed in a way that no one else even comes close to. Alterra’s competing product, the Ikon Session Pass, is a mess. It’s relatively very expensive – the cheapest option is $269 for two days, and there are power outages. Many of the top Ikon resorts – Aspen, Alta, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, Sun Valley, Snowbasin – are excluded. The offer is capped at four days. It is a very disappointing product. Here is an overview:
Skiers looking for the Ikon equivalent of the Epic Day Pass are better off considering the Mountain Collectivewhich, at $559, is only $110 more than the four-day session pass and includes two nonstop days each to 22 alpha dogs, including the half-dozen American chest beaters who snubbed the Ikon Session Pass. It really is an impressive list:
But back to Vail. In three years, the company has transformed the Day Pass from an eye-roller into a hugely compelling product, and one that 20+ day skiers (almost everyone reading this newsletter) should consider part of their pass quiver. Anyone used to expensive Seven Springs will be pleased to find that they can get a seven-day child pass for just $132. Even outside 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 four-pack vacation including, say, Heavenly, just $313. Compare that to Palisades Tahoe $449 four-pack. You can ski six days at Heavenly for less than that – $443 (an unrestricted version costs just $376).
Now, should seven days at Wildcat or Attitash is only $260? Do Vail understands the gems he acquired in the White Mountains? Do these mountains actually belong to the 32 station level, or perhaps to their own special section? Maybe. Most likely. I will be taking an in-depth look at the Vail, 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 is the subscriber jump: an update on Stowe’s paid parking plan, the New England ski area coming back from the dead this winter, which New York ski area is for sale, why Saddleback left their Ski Cooper partnership after less than a day, an update on Cooper’s new partner, and thoughts on the increasingly dire state of what little remains of ski print media.
We are the traffic we hate
Viewed in a global context, watching culture can be a wonderful spectator sport. And nothing is more fun and satisfying than seeing Americans shit in 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 burn down once details of Stowe’s paid parking plan for 2022-23 gain traction.