A guide to picking the perfect ski or snowboard season pass for Utah

Best options for families, loners, cheapskates, big spenders, explorers, geezers and gawkers (and those who fall in between)

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Skiers ride a lift at Solitude on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Solitude is one of the full-access resorts on the Ikon Pass, which is popular in Utah.

Austin Wood had a lot of choices and not a lot of background to go on when it came to buying a snowboarding season pass for next winter.

The 30-year-old filmmaker picked up the sport after he moved to Utah three years ago. Like many of us, he’s visited a handful of the state’s 15 resorts, but he wasn’t assessing whether they were home-mountain material at the time. So, when he decided to commit to a season pass this spring, he felt more overwhelmed than excited. He wasn’t sure if sticking to an individual resort would suit him better or mixing it up with a mega multi-resort pass. Then there was the matter of incentives — ranging from summer lift access, to dining discounts to free skiing for kids. Some had substance. Others felt more like fluff.

Wood ended up going with what, or rather who, he knew — his friends and neighbors.

“It was difficult because I was going back and forth about a season pass at Brighton or maybe the Epic (multi-resort pass),” Wood said. “But at the end of the day, it ultimately came down to all the skiers I know have Ikon.”

Utah seems to have almost more season pass options than lifts these days. Each resort has its own product plus spinoffs that vary depending on a skier’s age or occupation or the days of the week the pass is valid. Layered atop that are nearly 10 multi-resort offerings, also with their own variations. It’s a lot to sort through.

The Ikon pass Wood chose — which grants varying degrees of access to more than 40 resorts, including five in Utah — has gained a strong following in Utah. A Tribune Twitter poll showed 35% of the 229 respondents prefer the Ikon Pass for their winter play. That’s second only to passes offered by individual resorts.

Of those who prefer a multi-resort pass in a separate online Tribune poll, nearly half picked the Ikon, followed by Epic (23%), Alta-Bird (11.4%) and Mountain Collective (8.6%). Those who prefer individual resorts split their allegiances almost equally among Brighton, Alta, Snowbird and Snowbasin.

But what’s good for the park rat isn’t necessarily good for the powder hound. The reasons people gave for picking the pass they did varied as widely as their choices. They encompassed everything from terrain, to a variety of resort options, to military discounts to location.

As one respondent noted, “While the idea of travel between resorts is enticing, the reality is that Snowbird being 10m from my doorstep makes it almost impossible to pass up for 90% of my (and my family) ski days.”

So which pass is right for you? We’re here to help.

Below we’ve included several sets of circumstances and the pass option that we believe fits them best. The prices reflect current rates for an adult. Most passes will increase in price before June.

Think we’re wrong and there’s something better out there? That’s what email and the comments are for. We’ll take your two cents (hey, every penny counts when you’re looking at dropping $1,000 or more per person). Together, maybe we can get this right.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) A skier at Solitude on Saturday, April 17, 2021.

The best pass if you ...

Have an unlimited budget and are feeling generous

Ski Utah Gold Pass, $5,700

Think of the Gold Pass like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, only you can have a friend step in for you if one day you don’t really feel like tasting the everlasting gobstopper. The Gold Pass is good every day (no blackouts) at all of Utah’s ski and snowboard establishments and also grants summer lift access. Plus, it’s fully transferable, so a friend, family member or even that cute girl or guy at the gym can ride on your dime without breaking any rules.

The less magnanimous among us can pick up the Silver Pass for $3,700. It offers all the perks of the Gold Pass except it can’t be shared.

Have to sell your bike to buy a pass

Epic Local Pass, $583

Vail Resorts made the bold post-pandemic move of lowering the price of its line of multi-resort Epic passes by 20% for the 2021-22 season. That’s lower than it’s been in five years. While the pass is good at 70 resorts worldwide, only two of those are in Utah. One is Park City Mountain Resort, which has the largest skiable acreage in the nation. Two days at Snowbasin are also included.

If you can get a little more cash for that bike, you could get no blackouts at PCMR and seven days at Snowbasin with the full Epic Pass for $783.

If you were hoping to use your bike this summer, you might want to put down the $49 nonrefundable deposit to secure these prices. The balance will come due in September.

Don’t even have a bike to sell

Cherry Peak season pass, $219

Yes, it’s one of Utah’s smallest resorts, but it has a price tag to match. For the price of a single-day ticket at some resorts, you get full daily and nightly access for summer and winter and two buddy night passes at this Logan-area ski hill. Bring the whole family (up to six) for $749.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Like having options

Ikon Pass, $1,049

The Ikon Pass gets a bad rap for bringing hordes of skiers and snowboarders to some of Utah’s best resorts. But it’s no wonder so many have this pass in their pocket. The pass gives full access to 15 resorts, including Solitude. Seven days each at Brighton, Deer Valley and Alta/Snowbird are also on the ticket.

“I like having options on any given day, so I love the Ikon,” Brooke Fredrickson wrote in response to The Tribune poll. “The weather can sometimes be very different in Park City vs. the mountains up the Canyons so it’s nice to be able to pick and choose depending on what I’m in the mood for.”

Thirty other resorts across the United States and Canada, plus some in Australia, Switzerland, Japan and Chile, are also packed into the pass. Another perk new for 2021-22 is the First Tracks program, which allows passholders early access to lifts once a month in January, February and March.

Get the same deal with blackout dates and five days at each resort on the Ikon Base Pass for $270 less.

Have an adventurous spirit and a shoestring budget

Mountain Collective, $499

If only used in Utah, this pass isn’t exceptional. It gets you just two days each at Alta and Snowbird. If you want to use skiing as an excuse to travel the world, however, it’s not a bad way to go. How does two days at Chamonix in France sound? Or carve out a summer on the slopes of The Remarkables in New Zealand, Mt. Buller or Thredbo in Australia, Niseko United in Japan and Valle Nevado in Chile. Plus, if you decide to stay an extra day, additional lift tickets are 50% off.

Have a small family of rippers

Summit 4-pack, $2,099

Snowbird not only has the longest season in Utah, it also has some of the best terrain. If you, the spouse and your two kids are intermediate to advanced skiers or snowboarders, this may be the best ticket in town. Basically, you buy two adult passes and two kids (18-under) ski free. Price is good through June 10.

If you’re a skier, consider mixing it up with the Alta-Bird 4-pack. It runs $3,199 but gives you two resorts and can shave almost $1,400 off buying the passes separately. Alta also has its own four-pack family deal.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Zac Beveridge skis with 3-year-old Finley on opening day at Park City, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.

Have enough kids to field a ski team

Brighton Family Package, $1,698 and up for family of 5

Got a bigger family? Brighton has a bargain for you. New this year, the BCC resort lets you bundle your parent and kid passes at a price that could actually be less than buying two individual adult passes. The two-parent deal costs $799 per adult pass (a savings of $100 each off the Unlimited pass) plus $199 for each kid 11-18 or just $50 for each kid 10-under.

There’s no limit on the number of kids and there’s a separate option for single-parent families. Extra bonus: It includes night skiing and riding.

Have a family of newbies

Power Kids Pass, $0

Yes, you read that right: Anyone 12-under has unfettered access to Nordic Valley in Ogden, Brian Head Resort near Cedar City and three other resorts in the Southwest, no strings attached. If you’re the kid’s adult and you’re also learning or like driving to/live near those resorts, an adult pass is $599 with the same perks.

And no worries if you advance faster than expected. Nordic Valley now has a high-speed six-pack accessing some more challenging terrain, Brian Head is nothing to sneer at and those who buy early get a bonus day at Sundance.

Want a Utah Ski Sampler

Yeti Pass, $649

Meant as a companion for parents with kids in Ski Utah’s fifth- or sixth-grade passport program, the Yeti provides a single day of skiing or riding at every Utah resort. Be warned, though, that you may be hamstrung by blackout days.

Don’t want to spend your Saturdays staring at taillights

Snowbasin Premier Pass, $899

Much ado has been made of all the traffic going up the Cottonwood Canyons last winter. Even post-pandemic, that’s not going to go away. So instead of spending that time worrying about whether an avalanche, a snowstorm or a two-wheel drive Honda Civic will add hours to your ski trip, one option is to drive an hour in the opposite direction to Snowbasin.

In addition to no blackout dates and summer lift access, Premier Pass holders can get 50% off tickets at Epic Pass resorts like Park City Mountain Resort, which is easily accessible off I-80.

A midweek pass may also solve the drive-time issue. Snowbasin offers one of those, too, as do Solitude, Deer Valley and Alta.

(Photo courtesy of Sam Watson | Snowbird Resort) Junior Bounous, 95, the former director of Mountain School and director of skiing at Snowbird, enjoys a heli-ski trip Monday, April 5, 2021, in the backcountry near Snowbird. With the expedition, Bounous is believed to have become the oldest person to helicopter ski.

Believe age is just a number

Alta senior pass, $50

We can’t all be Junior Bounous, who just set the Guinness World Record for being the oldest person to heli-ski at age 95. But we can dream of stepping into our skis at age 80 and taking advantage of this screaming deal. It’s an $800 discount over what those 65-79 will pay.

Don’t worry snowboarders, you won’t be left out in the cold when you’re old. Anyone 75 or older can carve up Powder Mountain for $80 for the season.

And on the other end of the spectrum, several resorts — most notably Brighton, Brian Head and Snowbird — offer passes for “young adults,” at a several-hundred-dollar discount.