Of all the strange things that happened last year in the ski world—not to mention the real world—the most surprising may have been when skiing got significantly cheaper at the world’s best-known collection of high-end destinations. The move came from Vail Resorts, a company that owns the chic Colorado resort of the same name along with Whistler Blackcomb, Stevens Pass, and a host of other mountains. Its Epic Passes went on sale with a 20 percent discount, a reduction maintained through October.
“We wanted to bring more people into skiing,” says Vail’s Jennifer Smith, who works with both Stevens and Whistler. “Make it an option for more people.” Which sounds like a warm and fuzzy reason for the extreme discount, but the numbers delivered on Vail’s balance sheet—as of September, the company had sold 42 percent more passes than the previous year, raking in 17 percent more in cash.
The move may have been necessary for Stevens Pass die-hards, who last year saw a stream of limited lift operations at the ski mountain located at the crest of Highway 2, about halfway between Monroe and Leavenworth. Reasons ranged from staff shortages to broken equipment. Tricky but necessary avalanche mitigation meant that on the best snow days, skiers waited to reach the bulk of the mountain. Stevens Pass’s social media overflows with complaints—about crowds, parking, and mostly the placement of the terrain park’s ramps and rails.
As Smith points out, one of the biggest draws to an Epic Pass is that even the Local, or lower-priced, version means unlimited days at Stevens and 10 days at Whistler; the latter is considered one of the best ski spots in the world. “This is big, Pacific Northwest–style skiing,” she says. For the mountain long known for shaggy charm, a year on the cheap might salvage its reputation.
Epic Road Trip
Drive Time: 10 hours
While Vail doesn’t own America’s oldest ski resort, its Epic Passes work for at least two days at the sunny Idaho mountain. Snow is famously light and the runs notoriously steep, including newly opened expert terrain. The destination—or rather a collection of them, including Hailey and Ketchum—is home to numerous celebrities, first made famous when Hemingway retreated there. Given the resort’s size and distance from a big city, its slopes rarely fill with crowds.