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The Ultimate Guide to Buying the Best Season Pass, March '15

With spring skiing well underway, it's getting to be that time of year when news about the upcoming season's passes starts to firm up, and next year's offerings might be the best yet for nabbing a pass that affords you the most amount of days across the widest variety of mountains for the least possible coin. The rundown: Vail's plans to turn Park City into a monster resort are full steam ahead. The three largest resort operators behind Vail are pooling their skiable acres for one season pass. Independent ski areas across the nation continue to expand their swap deals and joint pass offerings. The age of the mega pass is assuredly upon us, and powder hounds could do a lot worse than to bask in its gifts.

Choosing the best pass for you will depend on the location of your homebase and whether your plans involve racking up days at a few resorts or spending a few days at a bunch of different resorts. The Epic Pass is the granddaddy of the mega passes, with unlimited days at Vail's major resorts. New this year is The M.A.X. Pass, which is a joint effort by Intrawest, Boyne and Powdr to rival the Epic Pass. However, by only offering 5 days each at 22 different resorts, it targets a much different skier. According to Intrawest CFO Travis Mayer, the target markets are skiers and riders in the eastern U.S. and Canada and the Pacific Northwest. The Mountain Collective added Sun Valley this year to its pass, offering two days at each of the participating resorts. Rounding out the big four, Powder Alliance keeps its same setup of offering three free days at partner resorts when buying a top-level season pass from one of the 13 participating mountains.

Check out the details below. This isn't a comprehensive list of multi-resort season passes. There are a number of other pass products out there covering resorts large and small. Details are yet to be released for some and others are arrangements that include resorts that already are accounted for below.

The Big Four:

Epic Pass
Price: $799 for adults, $399 for children
Included resorts: Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Park City, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Afton Alps, Mt. Brighton and Arapahoe Basin
Days: Unlimited
Blackout dates: None
Additional: Six Buddy Tickets at a flat discounted rate and six Ski-With-A-Friend tickets at varying discounted rates
Notes: Vail introduced a program this year for Colorado students from kindergarten through fifth grade, Epic SchoolKids Colorado Pack, that gives them four free days each at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. Vail also offers a number of other passes, some of which offer fewer days while others restrict the resorts included.

The M.A.X. Pass
Price: $699 for adults, $499 for ages 13 to 17, $249 for ages 6 to 12 and $19 for ages 5 and under
Included resorts: Steamboat, Mt. Bachelor, Big Sky, Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Crystal Mountain, Brighton, Boreal Mountain, Cypress Mountain, Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort, The Summit at Snoqualmie, Killington, Sunday River, Stratton, Sugarloaf, Tremblant, Blue Mountain, Snowshoe, Boyne Mountain, Loon, Pico Mountain and Boyne Highlands.
Days: 5 days at each resort
Blackout days: None
Additional: Skiers or riders who buy a qualifying season pass from one of the included resorts can add a M.A.X. Pass for $249.
Notes: While Intrawest brings its entire portfolio to the venture, the pre-existing Powdr-Boyne Alliance leaves off some its resorts. The most notable omission is Snowbird, which is managed by Powdr's Cummings family but isn't owned by them.

Mountain Collective
Price: $369 for adults, $99 for ages 12 and under
Included resorts: Sun Valley, Alta Snowbird, Mammoth, Jackson Hole, Lake Louise and Sunshine Village, Aspen Snowmass, Whistler Blackcomb and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.
Days: 2 days at each resort
Blackout dates: None
Additional: Additional days are 50 percent off and some lodging deals are included. If you buy now, you get 2 days at Valle Nevado in Chile during this summer.

Powder Alliance
Price: Depends. Benefits come with the purchase of a top-tier pass from one of the participating resorts.
Included resorts: Angel Fire, Arizona Snowbowl,Bridger Bowl, China Peak, Crested Butte, Mountain High, Mt Hood Ski Bowl, Schweitzer, Sierra At Tahoe, Silverstar, Snowbasin, Stevens Pass and Timberline.
Days: 3 free days at each of the partner resorts
Blackout dates: Varies by partner resort

Other notable passes:

Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus
Price: $489
Included resorts: Winter Park, Copper Mountain, Eldora Alpine Pass with limited days at Steamboat, Crested Butte and Mt. Ruapehu in New Zealand.
Days: Unlimited at the three main resorts, 6 days at Steamboat, 3 days at Crested Butt and 7 days at Mt. Ruapehu
Blackout dates: February 13-14, 2016 at Crested Butte

Cali4nia Pass
Price: $689
Included resorts: Mammoth, Bear, June Mountain and Snow Summit
Days: Unlimited
Additional: 5 Bring-A-Friend tickets at 50 percent off a 1-day lift ticket along with other lodging, retail and activity discounts.

Tahoe Super Pass
Price: $789 to $349
Included resorts: Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Sierra At Tahoe and Sugar Bowl
Days: Unlimited at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows with limited days at Sierra and Sugar Bowl depending on pass level
Blackout dates: Varies by pass level
Additional: The gold level pass comes with 2 free days at Zermatt, Switzerland, and 50 percent discounts at Mountain Collective resorts.
Notes: Playing off some of the Tahoe weather troubles, next year passholders will be able to get credit for days they don't ski to roll over toward the cost of the next pass.

· Epic Pass [Official site]
· The M.A.X. Pass [Official site]
· Mountain Collective [Official site]
· Powder Alliance [Official site]
· Rocky Mountain Super Pass Plus [Official site]
· Cali4nia Pass[Official site]
· Tahoe Super Pass [Official site]
· New Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows Ski Pass Tackles Drought [Curbed Ski]
· Competitors Take Aim at Vail Resorts With New 22-Ski Area M.A.X. Season Pass [Curbed Ski]
· Sun Valley Joins the Mountain Collective for 2015-2016 [Curbed Ski]
· Breaking: Vail Resorts Gets Green Light to Create the Largest Ski Resort in the United States [Curbed Ski]