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The Pallavicini chairlift carries skiers and snowboarders up the mountain at Arapahoe Basin on Feb. 9, 2019. Loveland Pass winds its way up to the Continental Divide in the background. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

It’s the time of year to ponder passes. 

Season ski pass prices start climbing around Labor Day and today’s resort operators offer discounts for skiers who commit early. Remember: resorts punish poor planners with exorbitant prices for day lift tickets. 

Here’s a guide for the 2019-20 ski season in Colorado, which is ground zero for the raging resort industry battle pitting behemoth Vail Resorts against Alterra Mountain Co. in the Epic vs. Ikon fight for skier loyalty. 

The season-pass war has spread coast-to-coast and across the world, with each company gathering more and more resorts into their fold as they entice season-pass buyers. The clash has trickled down to even the smallest resorts that have slashed prices for season passes in an attempt to compete in the new dynamic. 

Peruse these 10 queries to help decide on your best pass options. 

(These are pretty much focused on Front Rangers who drive to skiing. If you live in a ski town, you don’t likely need help choosing a pass, right?)

A skier makes his way through some powder on Aspen Mountain. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

1. Do you have a favorite hill you want to ski all season?

Check the resort rosters for the Epic Pass ($939 for adults) and the Ikon Pass ($1,049 for adults) and pick the one that has your hill. Take advantage of all the access to other resorts, if you want. The Epic offers access to more than 50 ski areas and the Ikon has 41 destinations on its roster. 

Or buy an individual resort pass. Some of the Ikon-operated resorts are offering their own, less-expensive passes and Ikon partner resorts often have access-sharing deals with other ski areas. Independent resorts have all kinds of deals for pass shoppers looking beyond the Epic and Ikon shelves. More on that below…

2. Do you plan to ski a lot? 

Don’t even think about day tickets. Just buy a pass. If you buy a pass at Loveland ($439) or Monarch ($479), they are part of the Powder Alliance that delivers three, holiday-restricted access at 19 other independent resorts. 

3. Do you ski only now and then? 

Then maybe you don’t really need a season pass. There are many good alternatives. 

The Epic Day Pass has whittled day tickets down to as low as $106 if you don’t ski on holidays.  

Colorado Ski Country’s $30 Gems Card offers two-for-one passes and lift-ticket discounts at 11 of the trade-group’s smaller member resorts.

Pick packages from two to five days at Arapahoe Basin for $139 to $229. A transferable A-Basin four-pack is $239.

The $71 Loveland Pass card offers lift tickets for $63 to $71 with one free lift ticket and a free ticket every fifth day. A Loveland four-pack is $169

4. Planning a vacation week at a destination resort in addition to weekend skiing?

It’s often cheaper to buy a pass to your vacation spot than pay daily rates. Here is which pass you should buy based on your destination:

  • Telluride? Epic. 
  • Aspen? Ikon. 
  • Sun Valley? Snowbasin? Epic. 
  • Alta-Snowbird? Big Sky? Ikon. 
  • Canada? Epic has Canada’s Fernie and Kicking Horse. Ikon has Revelstoke and SkiBig3. 
  • Japan? Epic has Hakuba Valley. Ikon has Niseko United. 
  • Europe? Epic has deals with 19 resorts in France, Italy and Switzerland. Ikon just landed Zermatt, Switzerland, its first European resort partner.

5. Want to ski all season but not drop $1,000? 

The Epic Local ($699) and Ikon Base ($749) are somewhat more affordable, with unrestricted access to some of the state’s top resorts and more restricted access to crown jewel resorts, including like Vail and Steamboat. 

6. Are you willing to avoid skiing holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas-New Year’s, MLK Day and President’s Day? 

The Epic’s Summit Value Pass is $569 and good for holiday-restricted access at Breckenridge and Keystone. The Keystone Plus Pass is $369 for access outside holidays. 

7. Saving money and only skiing weekdays? (Which is pretty smart.)

A midweek pass to Loveland is $329, midweek to Arapahoe Basin is $349 and midweek access at Eldora is $399.

Competitors in the 3K Alley Loop race line up at the start on Elk Avenue in Crested Butte. (Dean Krakel, Special to The Colorado Sun)

8. Budget-minded with kids? 

The Epic’s Keystone, Crested Butte four-pack is $249

Colorado Ski Country’s 5th and 6th Grade Passport Program gives each Colorado fifth grader three free days at the trade group’s 22 member resorts. Sixth graders get four days for $125.

Eldora Mountain Resort is selling a family pass for two adults and two kids for $1,199

Purgatory’s Power Pass is free for kids 10 and under.

Ski Cooper charges only $159 for a pass for kids 6 to 14. (Adults are $389)

Monarch’s pass for kids ages 7 to 12 is $209.

The free Epic Schoolkids Pack gives Colorado students from kindergarten through fifth grade four, holiday-restricted days of skiing at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Crested Butte, plus one free first-timer lesson and equipment rental. Students must sign-up for the pass at local Epic Mountain Gear stores. 

9. Love the indies and want to avoid the all-Epic and all-Ikon crowds?

The resorts in the shadow of the Epic vs. Ikon throwdown are getting creative with a host of affordable deals. 

The independents may be partnering with the big boys for limited access, but they are hoping the pass-toting crowds at the major resorts will turn more skiers toward their own less-expensive passes.

Copper Mountain’s adult pass is $549, $409 for college students and teens, and $269 for kids. Copper offers $399 and $499 add-ons for skiers who want to skip lines, load up early, park close to the lifts for free and hang in the Copper Athletic Club. 

Arapahoe Basin’s unrestricted pass is $449; $309 for ages 15-18; $99-$199 ages 6-14. It includes three days at Taos and three days at Monarch. A “Double Down” pass for Arapahoe Basin’s 2019-20 and 2020-21 season is $798. 

Loveland Pass has unrestricted access for $439; $309 for ages 15-22; and $189 for ages 6-14, The pass also provides three days at Purgatory, Monarch, Powderhorn, Ski Cooper, Sunlight and Ski Granby.

Silverton Mountain is the most shrewd of the indies maneuvering under the clash-of-titans pass war. The ski area this summer cut its season pass price to $199 from $499, offering unlimited skiing during the expanded, five-day-a-week unguided season from March 18 April 19. The early-season pricing also includes a “private mountain day” on March 16, before the unguided season starts; a $39 heliskiing run if booked early; $89 stand-by access during the guided season; and a discount on Silverton Mountain Guides heli-skiing in Alaska. Silverton Mountain also offers 27 free days at nine partner resorts across the country. 

Purgatory’s Power Pass, with prices ranging from $129 for Super Seniors (age 80 and up) to $699 for ages 37 to 64, provides unlimited access to Purgatory and Hesperus; Snowbowl in Arizona;  Sipapu and Pajarito in New Mexico; and Utah’s Nordic Valley. The Power Pass includes three free days at 18 resorts around the world, including Copper, Loveland, Eldora, Sunlight, Powderhorn, Monarch and Ski Cooper. 

A skier makes his way down a trail at Arapahoe Basin. (Nathan Hahn, Special to The Colorado Sun)

10. Only want to chase powder and ski top resorts on their best days without spending $1,000 on a pass? 

The Mountain Collective ($489 and $199 for ages 12 and under) is still around and offers two unrestricted days each and 50% off additional days at Arapahoe Basin, Aspen Snowmass and 16 other destinations, including Alta and Snowbird in Utah; Montana’s Big Sky; Wyoming’s Jackson Hole; Taos in New Mexico; and Squaw-Alpine and Mammoth in California. 

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, two teenage girls and a dog named Gravy. He writes The Outsider, a weekly newsletter covering the outdoors industry from the inside out. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors,...