Whistler is awesome, and no one who lives here would argue the point. Skiing these mountains instills a sense of discovery and exploration that spills over into the quotidian rhythms of our lives. This is best reflected in Whistler's highly mobile population, which participates widely in both winter and other seasonal global travel — one reason the new Epic Pass offering seems tailor-made for many.
Sure we love our home area, but this will allow us to explore others at only (or mostly) the cost of the travel to get there. But therein lies the rub. Not only are none of the North American ski areas listed on the Epic Pass comparable to Whistler Blackcomb (WB), but they're nowhere near us (in the B.C. sense—i.e., within a day's drive), requiring a flight or multi-day road trip to reach. On the other hand, the European ski areas linked to the Epic Pass are all pretty fantastic, and despite a limited number of free days at each, it's not a huge extra expenditure given that lift tickets there are much cheaper than in North America — even with the exchange. But Europe is a long, expensive journey, and the costs of food and accommodation in EU nations will shock even those used to paying Whistler/Vancouver prices. So although the Epic Pass is a great idea if you have the bucks to travel widely and often, as has been gone over ad nauseum in online forums, it's not much use to the average Whistler Joe or Josephine.
On the contrary, also per the online consensus, next season's unlimited access Whistler Blackcomb pass — with its 20-per-cent discount on food, gear, and programs, as well as 50-per-cent off at Sun Peaks Resort and all the American Epic Pass destinations (plus Australia, mate) — makes infinitely more sense if you plan to ski more than 15 days at home and maybe, just maybe, hit the road to some of these other places.
Regardless of how it shakes out for you, however, the Epic Pass is a sign of the times. The multi-mountain ski pass market has never been busier as "choice" continues to grow in popularity. Besides the Epic Pass, there's the Mountain Collective Pass we now leave behind, offering two free days at each of 16 dream destinations in North America, Europe and the Antipodes — places like Aspen, Jackson Hole, Snowbird, Sun Valley, and Telluride, to name a few, with additional days in Chamonix (France), Hakuba Valley (Japan) and Valle Nevado (Chile). Calgary skiers benefit from regional passes like the Banff Ski Big 3 pass that includes Norquay, Lake Lousie, and Sunshine, or the Rocky Mountain Passport that adds to this troika Nakiska and Marmot Basin, plus eastern B.C. ski areas Fernie, Kimberley, and Panorama. The American M.A.X. Pass features 44 resorts west and east, including some in Canada, and New Hampshire and Utah have state passes. There's also the Cali4nia Pass for Mammoth, June, Bear and Snow Summit, and the Rocky Mountain Super Pass that covers Colorado's Copper, Crested Butte, El Dorado, Steamboat and Winter Park plus Alaska's Alyeska and a smattering of resorts in New Zealand and Japan (now we're talking!).
The Canadian Lift Pass Program (formerly Corporate Lift Pass Program) is heading into its 27th year of affordable access to nearly 140 ski areas across Canada. Want to ski in Whistler today and Mont-Sainte-Anne tomorrow without getting reamed on both sides of the continent? This program allows you to purchase discounted packages of 20 passes at a time. To make things even more accessible, ski areas are grouped into different tiers (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Ticket No. 1, Ticket No. 2, Ticket No. 3, and Cross Country) that allow you to find the right package to fit your needs and price point. Tickets may be shared with friends, family, co-workers, and everything in between.
None of these, however, solve the issue raised in the first part of this column last week. Only one thing makes sense for everyone who holds a season's pass at a ski area in this province: a B.C. Ski Pass option. There isn't one, and, as far as I can tell from the research I did, never has been (at least in memory).
Many believe this is because of too many competing interests. What there has been are provincial industry and athlete passes with strict qualifications, and occasional ad-hoc arrangements (as with WB and Sun Peaks) largely dependent on which areas decide to get together for whatever reason. But wouldn't it help create a sense of a B.C. ski community to have one? This would offer the chance, as Whistlerites, to understand what other areas in the province have to offer and be able to see how things are done in fellow ski resorts? The reciprocal is also true, and would go a long way toward calming the constant carping about Whistler's hard-to-disguise crowds and traffic; these are problems, yes, but they become considerably less so when you understand the trade-offs on the ground and efforts being made to mitigate them.
Sadly, a B.C. Ski Pass will probably never happen, and to me that seems like a shame.
For Part I of this series go to www.piquenewsmagazine.com
Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.