Ikon Do It

Living with collective ski passes.

In my decades at Big Sky, we did what we had to do to get a season pass. Forget a career, you just needed a job that provided the pass. It was a lifestyle of low-paying gigs you could never leave for fear of losing the pass. That plastic card was more than a winter ID. It proved you were part of something bigger than yourself. Something unlimited. Something you’d earned by giving your all to the ski life. It meant you belonged. It meant you were local.

Or at least it used to.

Last winter, the power of local identity changed with the explosion of collective season passes. Take the Ikon Pass, for example, that turned sleepy ski hills into the Disney Icecapades and everyone may as well have been Goofy. From Sugarloaf to Mammoth, skier visits increased by six million last year, making locals angrier than Kanye West at a Taylor Swift concert. I too was angered with the bathroom lines, the overcrowded bars, and the parking lot rage. Sure, snow was good last year, but the snow business was better.

Local tension got ugly. Sticker campaigns followed in Big Sky and Jackson, echoing the same sentiment: Ikon not wait for you to leave. The disdain ran so deep, it made the Bridger–Big Sky feud look like a make-up kiss. Rippers from Salt Lake were stealing our lines. Midwestern accents and East Coast edginess crept into every aprés ski bar. California entitlement cut lines. These people were diluting the richness of local life. They too had ski passes. But not like ours.

You can ski 41 resorts on the Ikon Pass, 18 with the Mountain Collective, and 44 on the Indy Pass. That means an East Coaster can ski his local hill all season, then descend upon southwest Montana and pay less than a week’s worth of skiing at Stowe. For a guy who considered college just to get a student-pass rate, how can I blame these guys for chasing a deal so sweet? Collective ski passes make sense. But they are changing the ski life as we know it. Now we have to figure out how to live with them.

No one I know is selling his or her boards and skipping town. Instead they’ve all chosen to live with it. Maybe they see workarounds. The Ikon Base Pass, for example, has blackout days: Christmas, New Year’s, MLK, and Presidents’ week. Those may be the better days to ski. And if it’s still too busy, there’s one place you won’t find an Ikon-er: the backcountry. Maybe this is the year that you buy that AT setup.

Or maybe you buy an Indy Pass for less than $200, ski five areas in Montana and Idaho where the lodging is even cheaper. Maybe this is the year you make it to Japan, or road-trip to British Columbia, or get even with those Alta locals. Come to think of it, I never have skied Europe. Collective ski passes are providing access to places that were never before in the budget. It’s a big world out there, and what better way to see it than on skis?

If we want to continue enjoying the beloved ski life, something will have to change. Maybe it’s us.