Major Ski Resorts (Finally) Announce 2019-2020 Season Pass Policies

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

Like all aspects of the travel industry, ski resorts were impacted by COVID-19 in an unprecedented way. Ski resorts across North America were shuttered mid-March, causing an abrupt end to the popular spring season. A mass exodus of seasonal employees quickly followed, leaving a skeleton staff to process hotel, equipment, and lesson refunds.

And some of us are still (patiently) waiting for those refunds to process.

But the big question that has loomed over the industry has been around season pass refunds, leaving PR and marketing executives to make a decision that I don’t envy. On the one hand, the season was, by some metrics, almost over. On the other hand, large multi-resort season passes have made it financially viable for people to purchase a season pass dedicated largely to one or two trips.

With March being such a popular time to ski, there were likely plenty of pass holders who did not get their money’s worth due to the early closures.

And with consumers uncertain about purchasing anything travel-related – much less a ski pass that can’t be used until November at the earliest – now is not the time to make a PR gaffe.

Well, after weeks of waiting, Ikon Pass announced their season pass refund policies on April 14th (which is really more of an extended discount). Vail waited another ten days, finally announcing their 2019/2020 season pass policy on April 27th.

So, what do the changes look like?

Ikon Pass 2019/2020 Season Pass Policy

On April 14th, Ikon pass announced that they would address the 2019/2020 season by doubling the renewal discount for existing pass holders as a way “to provide some value back to you for the shortened 19/20 winter season.” They also extended the auto-renewal deadline to May 27th.

They added to this policy on April 17th, by adding something called “Adventure Assurance,” which essentially gives the pass holder the option to defer their 2020/2021 season pass to the 2021/2022 season for any reason whatsoever. The decision needs to be made between September 10th and December 10th, and the policy reads as follows:

Regardless of when you purchase your 20/21 Ikon Pass, you can choose to defer the value of your 20/21 Ikon Pass as a credit for any single 21/22 Ikon Pass for any reason.

  • There is no fee to defer your pass to winter 21/22
  • Contact us between September 10 and December 10, 2020 to defer your pass
  • More information on how to defer your pass will be available in the coming months

Epic Pass 2019-2020 Season Pass Policy

Epic Pass, the season pass for Vail Resorts, announced their much-awaited 2019-2020 season pass policy on April 27th. The long and short of it is this: all 2019-2020 season pass holders will receive a credit of anywhere between 20% and 80% of their current pass value, to use toward next season’s pass.

The credit is based on how many days you skied this season, and all pass holders will receive a personalized email on May 13th detailing exactly how to use the pass credit. If you’re curious about the math, they’ve also provided this handy image:

Image courtesy of Epic Pass

For those who purchased any kind of multi-pack pass that includes a specific number of days, they will receive a credit as well, worth up to 80% of the purchase price and based on the number of days used.

Credits can be used up until Labor Day to purchase 2020-2021 season passes.

Additionally, Epic Pass is including their pass insurance, known as Epic Coverage, for free with all 2020-2021 season passes. Refunds (full or prorated) will be offered for everything from job loss to injury to pandemics to natural disasters. The coverage, of course, is designed to address peoples’ concerns around making the purchase during a time of uncertainty.

What to make of it all

If you purchased an Ikon Pass with a spring break trip in mind, I’m sorry. While a number of pass holders who got their days in January and February are likely happy with the additional discount and extended renewal date, the policy hardly even addresses the previous season’s early closure.

The bigger issue here, I think, is communication. On close examination, the policies for skiers who skied five days or more are almost identical. The full Epic Pass cost $939 last year, and they normally don’t offer renewal discounts at all. Assuming you skied 5+ days on Epic, that 20% discount amounts to $187.80. Compared to the $200 renewal discount for Ikon Pass – up $100 from other years, the difference is little more than negligible.

But the difference is for that percentage of customers who planned to use their season passes for spring break trips. While it’s not perfect, an 80% credit on a pass that may have cost over $900 is a far cry from a $100 discount. I don’t have enough data about their customer base to know what percentage of people that applies to, but I have to imagine that most people who choose to purchase a season pass have skied five days by mid-March.

Clearly the numbers checked out, or Vail wouldn’t have implemented that policy – and it’s a stark difference from what Ikon chose to do. The 2020-2021 insurance policy, and the auto-renewal extension to Labor Day Weekend are the icing on the cake. Even the language of calling something a credit versus a discount makes a big difference in customer perception.

Ultimately, I’m not surprised. Vail has chosen to be thorough rather than quick in their communications regarding the COVID-19 closures. They’ve addressed specific issues, provided comprehensive policy updates and set up dedicated refund portals, all the while reassuring their customers that everyone would be taken care of.

Meanwhile, Ikon has released short, sweeping statements, largely deferring to their individual resorts and offering little other information. Heck, they don’t even have a link to a dedicated COVID-19 page on the Ikon Pass home page.

No policy is perfect, and yes, there are fringe groups who have already dedicated Facebook pages to class-action suits against Epic Pass. But for the grand majority of consumers, the Epic Pass policy is the clear winner here.

Bottom line

While multi-resort discounted season passes have largely proved to be customer-friendly, this process has exposed the challenges with the large corporate structure. Smaller, independent resorts have been able to make decisions quicker and earlier, without the multitude of concerns that publicly-traded companies have had to face.

Personally, I’m surprised that Vail extended their credits as far as they did, and was expecting something more akin to what Ikon Pass offered. No one can control the pandemic, and everyone is doing the best they can to mitigate their losses while trying to remain customer friendly. It absolutely impacts my decision for next season, although I recognize that everyone’s situation is different.

Ultimately though, there’s zero reason to renew a season pass before the deadline – May 27th for Ikon Pass, and Labor Day for Epic Pass/Vail. While we likely won’t know yet what next season holds, we’ll have far more information then than we do now.

And hopefully I’ll have my hotel refund by then.

What do you make of the 2019-2020 season pass policies? 

  1. Thats a solid deal from Epic, I wasnt able to use my pass this year and an 80% credit is more than I was expecting.

  2. I won’t be giving Ikon/Alterra anymore money. Half of the season was lost with zero refund for the 19/20 season. The season runs Nov to July and was cut 4 months short in March.

    For the 20/21 base Ikon pass, they increased the price by $50. So, an “additional” $50 off the 20/21 base pass just negates that. They also removed Aspen Snowmass and Jackson Hole from 20/21.

    The 20/21 season is going to be impacted by COVID-19 still. Paying for 20/21 now and deferring it to 21/22 is giving Ikon/Alterra an interest free loan. We also don’t know prices for 21/22 or if more resorts will be cut from the passes.

    Anyways, it’s time to ski smaller individually owned resorts versus continuing giving these mega ski corporations an oligopoly.

  3. FYI I went to Squaw in Tahoe this year and bought the 4 day pass but was only able to use 3 days. I emailed them now since they closed the mountain early and they gave a $100 refund for the 4th day. You can also get credit for next year.

  4. I am a Ski Patroller & intended to use my Ikon Pass in March/April when my home closed.. Had not uploaded photo to Ikon and got ZERO use of purchase.Should I be Happy?

  5. I bought the Ikon pass with the intent of spending my son’s spring break at Mammoth the last week in March. I managed to get in ONE ski day in February – which wound up costing me $699! A $499 ski day doesn’t make me feel much better.

  6. Remember with all of these travel companies – deferring your purchase for later years can be the same as no refund. They could very well go bankrupt. In this economy, cash in your hand is what you want, not “credits” to use future years. I value that program an next to zero.

    As just one example, JetSuite just filed for Chapter 11 this afternoon. Lots of people have $100k or $200k jetcards that *were* fully refundable. But now, they are just….gone.

  7. I’m an IKON passholder and Epic has done a much better job for their pass holders. I skied 3 days in January and had a March 14th Utah trip and April trip planned. Luckily I cancelled my flight on the 13th as the outbreak reports (Aspen, Sun Valley, etc.) came in and didn’t want to be near a Tram, Gondola, etc.

    In some ways this past season is like a “bad snow season” (and not IKON’s fault) and you take the risk with a pass. But IKON blew it going forward–How is anyone going to make a decision by December 10th when we don’t know if a second wave could hit in January for example (going forward is NOT like a bad snow season because we know there’s a chance of little or no skiing). The “Epic Coverage” is so much better (than IKON “Adventure Assurance”) as they will prorate you if you get in less than seven days of skiing for the season. That makes it a “fair” deal. I love IKON resorts but they need to take some risk for next season as they may suddenly need to close at some point and their deal puts a heavier risk on the pass holder.

  8. nothing announced yet from Ski Santa Fe/ Sandia Peak NM…. we do all our skiing in March so we really got screwed this year

  9. I had 5 day EPIC passes, not used because the resorts closed the day we were to arrive. So I can ski *next year* by paying 120% for a pass. I’d rather get my money back and then decide if I want to ski. Its the same as the airlines cancelling flights. What if they told you that you could rebook in the future by paying an additional 20%.

  10. It’s a total stuff you clients from Vail.

    Sure if you’ve not used yoor pass 80% credit is good? If you think so buy another. But if you’ve skied 5 days, 20 % discoubt? They must think we’re dumb. I had less than 50 % of my expected ski days. Guess what I’m reconciled to not skiing next season. It’s very probable that ski resorts won’t open at full capacity so go snow show if you can and don’t pay for a season a pass you probably won’t be able to use, safely…

  11. So Vail owns a number of resorts in Australia – which most of us thought was fantastic news. So there is an EPIC Australia pass, Our season starts in June. So the pass you buy for this season in Australia also provides some degree of coverage for Nth America and limited access in Japan. It is actually great value for money (IMO). Final payment was due in May 1. As it is unclear on whether our resorts will open they have deferred payment until June 1. This is the statement from the reports wrt the Epic Pass – “If we are unable to provide you with the lift access, lesson or equipment rental that you have booked as a result of COVID-19, we will provide you with a credit for the 2021 winter season or a full or partial refund, depending on the circumstance.”

    It will be interesting to see what happens. I am fascinated to see how they practise social distancing in lift queues or even on lifts (if you are skiing by yourself).

  12. Glad I got my Ikon skiing in December-February.

    I’ll probably renew my Ikon because it’s so cheap with the doubled renewal discount, but I also bought a heavily discounted ($130!) pass to my local mountain (China Peak) that was the last resort in California to close. I’m sure they’ll be open next year regardless. It also feels good supporting an independently owned ski resort during these times.

  13. After the way Vail Resorts failed to communicate with their guests over the last 1.5 months, I will not be joining up with them again. They have terrible customer “service” and the only reason they’ve decided to skip anything is retroactive to the twitter and Facebook firestorm they got after initially saying they would not refund or provide partial credits to epic day pass holders. They of course now reversed course after realizing they were nailing their own coffin. But it’s too late for me. I had an issue at their resort where I got a concussion and only had one half of run that day and they couldn’t even get me a credit of that day that cost me some $150+. Terrible “service” and they’re only about making money.

  14. Skiing isn’t a cheap sport, those who can afford it are probably satisfied enough with these results.

    Still happy to know that my local ski hill was one of the first to shut down operations in news of this pandemic. They really put public health first in my books! (Ontario, Canada)

  15. Vail still sucks. They tore the soul out of the resort I worked for after acquiring it. As they did with all the other resorts they bought over the years. Locals lost jobs by the hundreds. It was truly the “Experience of a Lifetime”. Nothing will ever fix that. Besides that, the Ikon resorts have far and away better skiing.

  16. Wow. I don’t think I’ve heard so much whining since my 6 year old niece skinned her knees at recess.
    If you bought an IKON or EPIC pass, you probably paid a price that is unsustainable for the structure of the ski industry as a whole.
    If you didn’t ski enough by the end of March, well golf season was about to start, and you were probably getting your golf clubs shined up anyway.

  17. Ikon/Alterra was dead to me before the 2019/2020 season started when they allowed Solitude to start charging for parking AFTER we bought our passes. Solitude is owned by Alterra so they can’t claim one hand didn’t know what the other was doing. Add to that the insulting 2020/2021 discount and I will never ski at one of their owned resorts again.

  18. You are a goof! Skiers bought & paid for a product with intentions of being able to USE thus product.

  19. I actually appreciate the offers from both companies. Neither is perfect, but looking forward practically speaking these companies need to survive and the risk is going to be shared between you and them. I will renew my IKON pass. It sounds like a bunch of people will not and another part of the value proposition is that the lift line and traffic issues will be better next season.

  20. I bought a pass for myself, my wife and son. I skied in Jan, and again in Feb – I had 6 days in before our spring break trip in March got canceled. My credit was 20% – not great, but reasonable when you do the math. My wife skied 3 days before our spring break trip was canceled. Her credit 44% – not real happy about that, but I can deal with that since the credit will go to her pass for next year. My son didn’t ski at all. He was planning a spring break trip, and then he and I would go again in April. His credit 80% – not so great there, but again, it’s a world-wide pandemic. Everyone has been affected. My issue is that, hell, I paid for all of this. I don’t plan to buy my son another pass this year. I’d like to use his credit towards my pass, but I can’t. It’s only transferable to him. He’s 17 years old. We are all on my account. Why can’t I use credit from my family how I want? That part of the policy doesn’t make sense to me.

  21. I feel sorry for the people who bought a pass last year with their eyes on using as a hedge against day-ticket prices or the package tour price. In any normal year though, that’s still a huge gamble against a crappy snow season, weather closing in the roads and airports, etc. It sounds like a bunch of people gambled and lost.

    I’m fine with the deal I’m getting from Vail, but that’s also because I’m the kind of guy that will get up at 3 or 4 to catch the ski-bus and day-trip to Tahoe and otherwise construct my winter around snowboarding, so I got my turns in. I’m sad that I missed out on all the pow in March in NorCal, but I crammed in a bunch of days earlier in the season and also got some tracks in CO and BC w/ my pass, FF miles and points.
    I’m going to hang out until Labor Day, but I’ll probably be back with Epic for 2020/2021.

  22. Thanks for nothing ikon/alterra
    Being a Mammoth Mountain(charter member) season pass holder for the last 20years. It really shows how big mountain corporations become so greedy. So concerned about their future 20/21 & 20/22 season pass holders with no regards to the 19/20 pass holders. Thanks for NOTHING!!! Just gotta look back and say thanks Dave McCoy for all the fabulous/ fantastic years. Caution watch out for those ” mountain monsters corporations” who ruin it for all . You guys suck . It really opens my eye on which mountains I visit in the future. Again thanks for NOTHING ⛷

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