The Best Epic and Ikon Pass Resorts to Visit in 2020-21
Due to COVID-19, resorts are instituting reservation systems, capping daily visitors, nixing same-day ticket sales, and abiding by local regulations (read: closed bars and limited-capacity restaurants). The good news is skiing and snowboarding are socially distant by design, and Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass and Alterra Mountain Company’s Ikon Pass are better values than ever.
Epic passholders are prioritized in Vail’s reservation system and Ikon passholders are exempt from ticket-sale restrictions at Alterra resorts. That’s 76 U.S. resorts where you’ll have no trouble ripping laps this winter. Here’s how to pick which pass is right for you.
1. Steep and Deep
If you want to spend your days careening down dizzying pitches, these mountains have some of the most electrifying terrain your heart could desire (and legs can handle).
CRESTED BUTTE MOUNTAIN RESORT, CO The resort’s famed pitches and powder stashes are off the High Lift at Teocalli Bowl and Headwall. For an inbounds, avalanche-controlled area that feels more like a backcountry paradise (think powder pillows, cliff bands, and a few 45-degree lines that require total commitment) head to the North Face.
Stay: The slope-side Elevation Hotel boasts a decked-out pool and spa to nurse sore muscles.
STEVENS PASS, WA
Despite having just 1,800 vertical feet, you still get open glades, corduroy runs, and plenty of steeps, including almost the entire Mill Valley side of the mountain (ideal early on a powder day). For a burly ride, hike 15 minutes from the top of 7th Heaven lift to the peak of Cowboy Mountain.
Stay: There’s no lodging at Stevens Pass; head to the Bavarian Lodge 35 miles east in Leavenworth.
PARK CITY MOUNTAIN RESORT, UT
PCMR is the largest resort in the U.S. and still somehow underrated for its double-black runs, including 10,026-foot Jupiter Peak, a hike-to-only area that’s avalanche controlled by ski patrol. On a powder day, the chutes often get packed with windblown snow, increasing its thrills. Ninety-Nine 90 is also littered with gnarly runs, like Magic Line.
Stay and Eat:Main & SKY is within walking distance to High West Distillery, which, in addition to spirits, offers exceptional food in the adjoining Nelson Cottage.
JACKSON HOLE MOUNTAIN RESORT, WY
JHMR is the gold standard for lift-accessed backcountry. Book a guide with Jackson Hole Mountain Sports School to explore safely. On the slopes, the Aerial Tram offers 4,139 feet of vertical, and Casper Bowl (not accessible by tram) has some of the most challenging chutes.
Taos is so famous for its steeps, a sign in front of the main lift reads “Don’t worry… we have easy runs too.” The Kachina Peak lift accesses wide-open, high-elevation black-diamond runs, but locals know some of the best shots are hike-to runs along Highline and West Basin.
Stay and Eat: Stay at The Blake, the resort’s new 80-room alpine guesthouse adjacent to Lift 1. Bavarian Restaurant—reminiscent of an Alps chalet— is a can’t-miss après spot, with sauerbraten, wienerschnitzel, and German beers.
ALTA/SNOWBIRD SKI AREAS, UT
At Alta, test yourself and hike Mount Baldy. It’s open only occasionally and requires an hourlong boot pack, but scoring a few fresh turns is worth the sweat. Snowbird has dozens of memorable runs directly off the Tram, but head to Gad 2 chairlift for your pick of steep glades.
Stay: Shell out for a room at The Cliff Lodge at Snowbird; the road up the canyon closes during big storms and, if it does, you’ll have the mountain practically to yourself.
2. Bumps, Jumps, and Beer
Pinball across a mountain, tackling pitches, pillows, moguls, and drops by day, then table your elbows for some warm grub and a frosty beer by night, at these hot spots.
TELLURIDE SKI RESORT, CO
Plunge Lift is full of steep glades and egg-carton runs like Kant-Mak-M, with 800 vertical feet of moguls. The hike-to terrain atop the Prospect Express lift has steep, challenging bump runs that mercifully lead into buffedout screamers.
Breck has the highest lift-accessed terrain in the U.S., at 12,840 feet, just off the Imperial Express SuperChair. The lines up top are steep chutes or bowls, which turn into quad-burning bump runs. Whale’s Tail, between Peak 7 and 8, is usually loaded with soft bumps, and funnels naturally into Vertigo, one of the mountain’s best steep mogul runs.
Eat: At Breckenridge Distillery, sample one of their whiskeys or juniper-heavy gin alongside chef David Burke’s patented steaks, dry-aged in Himalayan pink salt.
SUN VALLEY RESORT, ID
The original destination ski resort in North America still offers celebrity sightings and a rowdy nightlife (or what passes for it these days). For bump lovers, Exhibition is one of the most iconic mogul runs in the West. New this year is a high-speed quad that’ll open up 380 acres on Bald Mountain, with an open bowl up top that feeds into freshly thinned glades.
Eat: Grab the best burger in town at Michel’s Christiania, where Ernest Hemingway himself ate. (Reservations are a must.)
SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS, CA
The mountain’s name will change in 2021, but its 6,000 acres, which have long attracted some of the biggest showoffs in skiing, will remain the same. Take KT-22 Express lift for Moseley’s Run—a long, fall-line bumps run named after Olympic mogul champ Jonny Moseley.
Eat: Grab après drinks at the Tram Car Bar, a restored 1970sera tram. Ikon Pass holders get deals, like a free Backscratcher, a spicy riff on the Moscow Mule.
KILLINGTON SKI RESORT, VT
The “Beast of the East” boasts 3,050 vertical feet of riding—the most in New England. Test your mettle (and knees) on Bear Mountain’s Outer Limits, a half-mile of moguls careening directly down the fall line. Carve down the 6.2-mile Juggernaut, the longest trail in the East, or enjoy some cruisers on Killington Peak and Snowdon Mountain.
Eat: Journey to Rutland, 15 miles away, to chow down on an ancho pepper ribeye, then wash it down with a craft beer at Roots the Restaurant.
STEAMBOAT SKI RESORT, CO
Steamboat is famous for its perfect glades, trademarked (literally) champagne powder, and crowd-free runs. The evenly spaced aspen and fir trees hold powder days after a big dump, and its two most popular glades, Shadows and Closets, are 1,900 vertical feet of branch-free fun.
Stay and Eat: The slope-side Steamboat Grand hotel has an 85,000-gallon heated outdoor pool and full-service spa. At Laundry, snack on small bites and sip a Fiery Margarita, made from pepper-infused tequila and lemongrass simple syrup.
3. Family-Friendly (With a Side of Thrills)
Planning a family ski trip that pleases the little ones and sneaks in some stoke of your own can seem like a harebrained endeavor—but these resorts prove you really can have it all.
BEAVER CREEK RESORT, CO
The bulk of the resort’s 150 runs are immaculate blues and greens, plus many ski school instructors are person- personable former pros. Kids will go able bonkers for the skating rink, Thursday night fireworks, and dedicated learning terrain.
Stay: The Osprey is sophisticated yet homey, and the Strawberry Park lift is right outside. For an upgrade, book the Trappers Cabin; it sleeps 10, has ski-in/ski-out access, and a personal chef.
NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA, CA
This resort blends California cool with European charm. Its 3,170 acres are split nicely between buffed-out groomers and more challenging glades, like Burnout and Monument Glade. For the kids—and limber adults—there’s a terrain park with flawless halfpipes and well-maintained jumps.
Since Vail Resorts purchased the mountain in 2017, Stowe underwent major upgrades, making it arguably the best big resort in the East. There are 314 inches of annual snowfall on 485 skiable acres, over 50 percent of which are blues.
With four peaks to choose from, Snowmass has more acres of terrain (3,342) than Aspen’s three other resorts combined. There are plenty of wide-open cruisers and more challenging runs, like those on the East Wall.
Stay and Eat: The Viceroy Snowmass has a heated outdoor pool for the kids and a 7,000-square-foot spa for world-weary parents. Snowmass Village is removed from the Aspen scene, but still close enough to town and barbecue joint Hickory House.
BIG SKY RESORT, MT
Big Sky is one of the largest resorts in North America, with 5,850 skiable acres, 4,350 feet of vertical, and 45-degree slopes beneath the Lone Peak Tram. It’s also full of mellow groomers, and has kiddie perks like a tubing hill and seven terrain parks—plus fat biking at the resort and Bozeman’s dinosaur-heavy Museum of the Rockies only an hour away.
The resort sprawls over eight peaks and 870 acres of terrain, with 53 miles of trails, making it one of the largest on the East Coast. It’s also great for beginners; more than two-thirds of the runs are blues and greens. There’s tubing and dogsledding if the kids’ legs get tired of touring the mountain.