Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on November 28, 2023.
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We are quite fortunate enough to have several major ski resorts right in our backyard- Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, and Laurel Mountain.
These Laurel Highlands gems have been our go-to spot for winter skiing each year. But at the end of 2021, these properties were sold to Vail Resorts to become part of the larger global brand of ski resorts.
With the merger came access to Vail Resort's incredible Epic Pass, a season pass valid at most all Vail Resorts properties with little restriction.
We were fortunate enough to get our hands on this pass for a few seasons courtesy of Vail Resorts and wanted to share a bit more about our experience in this one!
Note: Epic Pass sales are typically only available prior to the start of the season. In 2023, Epic Pass sales will end on December 3rd. After that, only individual lift tickets will be available.
What You Get With an Epic Pass
The list of properties that an Epic Pass can be used at is pretty incredible. There are the local resorts of Seven Springs, Laurel Mountain, and Hidden Valley. There are famous resorts in Colorado like Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and more. Throughout the country, properties like Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia can be used too, and European and Japanese resorts are also part of the program.
While the pass does offer universal access to over three dozen properties, some are limited. Telluride, Colorado, for example, caps out at seven days. A few of the Canadian Rockies resorts are the same. The properties in Japan top out at five as well.
That said, you certainly will not run out of options here no matter how hard you try!
Going beyond simply getting access to many properties within the Vail Resorts brand, Epic Pass holders also can get some of the following discounts (Note: discounts may vary from property to property):
- 20% off select food & beverage
- 20% off resort lodging
- 20% off group ski or snowboarding lessons
- 20% off rentals at the ski shops
- 50% off tune-up and a free wax
- Buddy tickets included in select pass options
- Discounted single-day tickets as well
Are any of these going to offset the cost of the, admittedly expensive season pass? No, not at all. But considering you will likely be buying food, possibly staying at a resort, or even taking lessons, the discounts do add up for expenses you may otherwise have all the same.
How to Best Use an Epic Pass
The Epic Pass is a rather extreme pass, and since it is valid at just about every Vail Resorts property in the world, there are a few things you should plan to do if purchasing.
First, as the pass is all-access, you'll get the most value out of it by activating the pass early in the season and hitting the slopes as many times as possible. As an Epic Pass costs about $1,000 (in 2023) and an average lift ticket at the Pennsylvania resorts runs $60 to $100, you'll need to plan for an average of 10 to 15 visits to the area properties alone to break even.
Second, plan to travel. It is worth reiterating that the Epic Pass is valid at virtually all Vail Resorts properties all over the world, meaning that you can be hitting slopes at Vail, Whistler Blackcomb, or even resorts in Europe or Japan for no extra charge. In my first year of having an Epic Pass, I was unable to travel, and really felt like a missed opportunity. In the next season, we are squeezing in a trip to their namesake (Vail Mountain) and other properties nearby for some practice out west.
- As lift tickets out west are often even more expensive than in the Laurel Highlands, a single multi-day ski trip to virtually any property outside of the region will help you get the most savings with an Epic Pass. So if you plan on traveling, this just sweetens the deal. If you don't, though, we have an alternative we'll talk about more in just a second.
Third, don't overlook the tangential perks of this one. Although we outlined them above, the perks that come with an Epic Pass are, well, epic. Food and drink discounts, buddy tickets, and more can add up to a serious amount of money even if you only visit the local Pennsylvania properties. That can add up!
- Pro Tip: Don't have skis? The seasonal rentals at Hidden Valley in the Laurel Highlands are a great deal.
Finally, my favorite part about having a ski pass at the resorts (plus rentals) was simply how easy it was to get out on the trails. With the pass in my pocket, it was as simple as unloading the car, heading to the slopes, hopping on, and riding. No stopping to buy a ticket, no stopping to get fitted for skis. Just a short walk to the lift and off you go!
Alternatives to the Epic Pass
Going beyond the Epic Pass, we would be remiss if we did not highlight that Vail Resorts has a number of other season passes at a lower price that may be a better option for some.
The Epic Local Pass, for example, is often around $250 cheaper than the universal Epic Pass and is valid to most of the same properties as the main pass but with some restrictions added in. Restrictions that, if we are being honest, those who only ski locally in southwest Pennsylvania may never even notice.
For example, in this pass, many properties have unlimited access with no peak date restrictions- all the local Laurel Highlands resorts fall here. Others, like Park City, Utah; Northstar, California; and more, are restricted on some peak dates around the holidays. More popular resorts, like Vail Resorts and Whistler Blackcomb, allow for a max of 10 days access in a season while still excluding some peak dates.
This also continues for the European and Japanese resorts as well.
So unless you are planning on skiing for more than five or ten days at select properties outside of Pennsylvania, many of the most important restrictions of the Epic Local Pass don't apply to our regional properties- making this pass a worthy one to consider at simply being a lower price point with all the same great Epic Mountain Rewards of the main pass noted above.
So instead of needing 10 to 15 visits to our local properties, you may then likely only need 8 to 12, give or take- an easily attainable number even for me. Throw on that Vail Resorts has many other regional properties within driving distance of Pittsburgh, and this one looks even better.
Going further, for those who may not be able to visit up to a dozen times over a season, Vail Resorts also has an Epic Day Pass where you can purchase anywhere from one to seven days of access as well. This one still comes with some of the Epic Mountain Rewards as the full pass with some notable exceptions (no buddy tickets, for example) and can be customized to specific sets of resorts, whether or not peak days are included, and the total number of days of access, of course.
For those who do not anticipate visiting the resorts more than a week over the course of a season and are okay with a bit more restrictions built in, these Epic Day Passes can offer quite the deal over buying tickets a la carte, too!
So if you don't plan on traveling to a very specific resort property outside of the area, don't overlook the Local Pass or Epic Day Pass options for similar benefits and at a cheaper price point.
We would like to thank Vail Resorts for providing an Epic Pass for our use at the area resorts. As always, all opinions are our own. To learn more about the Epic Pass, click here. Please note: Epic Pass sales (all types) tend to close for the upcoming season in early December.