The Skiing in Utah is Now IKONIC

Skiing down Stein’s Way at Deer Valley Resort (Photo by Ross Downard)

A few winters ago the IKON pass burst upon the ski industry scene as hard and as fast as a snow squall coming off the Great Salt Lake. With it came a flurry (no pun intended) of mixed reviews from industry experts, executives and locals alike. Utah seems to have missed the brunt of this fury, but a simple look at the public outcry in Big Sky, Jackson and Aspen most certainly show that some are not happy with the newest mega pass offering.

In Utah, the results seem to be somewhat mixed. Many Utahns see the IKON pass as ruining their favorite places, while others see the pass as giving skiers more options to world-class resorts. What seems to be a given however, is the fact that the IKON pass is adding cars to the already overflowing and Cottonwood Canyons. On the flipside, IKON passholders have either 5 or 7 days to Deer Valley, which is easily accessible from the population hubs along the Wasatch Front and avoids the dreaded red snake of traffic in the Cottonwood Canyons.

A Brief History of the Mega Pass

Back in 2008, Vail Resorts revolutionized the ski industry by introducing the EPIC pass. The EPIC pass drastically reduced the price of a season pass, while offering buyers access to ALL of Vail’s mountains with no blackout dates. The catch? The company incentivized consumers to buy the pass way before the season started. This allowed the company to lock in season pass revenue without having to worry about snow conditions. (There is a very good podcast about the idea and implementation of the EPIC pass which you can find here.) Since it’s start back in ’08, Vail has since expanded the EPIC pass to more mountains by adding partner resorts and buying more ski areas themselves. EPIC passholders in receive unlimited access to Park City Mountain Resort and additional days to Snowbasin .

Fast forward to 2018 and the IKON pass was introduced. It was launched to compete directly with the EPIC pass. It follows the same business model as the EPIC pass (Buy early for a low price, and get access to a lot of resorts) and includes 5 resorts in the state of Utah and access to dozens of other resorts around the United States, Canada and Europe. IKON passholders receive unlimited access to Solitude, and additional days to Brighton, Alta/Snowbird and Deer Valley.

With this as a backdrop, and as an IKON pass holder myself for all 3 seasons of the pass here are my thoughts on how things are going for the IKON pass.

A Local’s Perspective

2018–2019 Season: For the inaugural year of the IKON pass I was able reap the benefits of the college discount as I bought the pass before I graduated from BYU. I paid $719 for the full IKON pass and used it quite frequently. Fortunately my day job at Thread Wallets allows me the flexibility to ski outside of Saturdays and Holidays so I was able to log 18 ski days for the year on the pass with an average of $39.94 per day of skiing. Not bad if you ask me.

The breakdown of days looked like this.

  • Alta/Snowbird: 7 days
  • Deer Valley: 7 days
  • Solitude: 2 days
  • Jackson Hole: 2 days
One of the highlights of the year was a trip to Jackson Hole in January 2019.

2019/2020 Season: Since I wasn’t in college last year, I paid full-price for the full IKON pass. It ended up costing me $919, a $200 jump from the year prior. We also had a global pandemic that cut the season short, but I was still able to manage 16 days on the pass. My average cost per day jumped to $57.43 from the year prior. I had saved quite a few days on the pass for spring skiing so if you were to take COVID out of the equation, this daily rate would have dropped quite a bit more.

Breakdown of Days:

  • Deer Valley: 6 days
  • Solitude: 4 days
  • Brighton: 3 days
  • Jackson Hole: 2 days
  • Alta/Snowbird: 1 day

2020/2021 Season: Due to the COVID pandemic, the folks at IKON pass decided to increase discounts for returning passholders for the current season, because of the early closures in the spring of 2020. While the season is still young, I have so far logged 5 days on the pass while paying $799 for the full IKON. We will wait and see what my daily rate breaks down to.

Going Forward

I would give the IKON solid marks for both value and access. I am currently skiing for less per day than what I was paying per day back in High School. With that being said, for the IKON pass to truly become the gold standard of ski passes in Utah here are a few suggestions that I strongly feel would increase loyalty to the pass from locals like myself and others that I know.

IKON needs to add another option besides Deer Valley that lies outside of the Cottonwood Canyons but is within a reasonable driving distance from the Wasatch Front. It is apparent that when the Cottonwood Canyons are either on wind hold or closed due to avalanche control work, people go elsewhere. A recent Park Record article stated that Deer Valley’s numbers peaked when The Cottonwoods were closed. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “If skiers have trouble getting up Little or Big Cottonwood canyon, they can now make a 40-minute detour to Snowbasin or Deer Valley.” Nathan Rafferty, the president Ski Utah has stated, that Snowbasin increases its staffing on days Little Cottonwood is closed for avalanche control because [they] know a lot of would-be Alta skiers are heading their way.”

Skiers and boarders head to other resorts when they know they are going to have problems getting to and from the Cottonwood Canyon’s resorts.

While the options might seem limited outside of the Cottonwoods, I see adding another resort option as a remarkably important aspect of the IKON pass going forward. Although I do admit that those options became even more limited when Snowbasin (one of the last great independent resorts in the west) joined the EPIC pass as a partner resort starting in for the 2019–2020 ski season.

While the details of this partnership have not been made public, the best option seems to pick off Snowbasin from EPIC as soon as their multi-year partnership concludes. This would give IKON passholders access to two Utah resorts outside of the cottonwood canyons.

Conclusion

Overall, I am quite happy with the IKON pass and the access that it gives skiers in the state. It allows any passholder to take advantage of good snow around the country and an affordable price. The price is so low that it’s actually cheaper than what I paid to ski back in high school. An IKONic win by my estimation.

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