Snowbird Ski Resort, Utah

Comparing All Nationwide Ski Lift Pass Networks by Difficulty Level

There are 5 major multi-resort multi-day ski passes sold in the US and Canada.

  • EPIC: Owned by Vail Resorts, and was the first pass like this created (2008).
  • IKON: Owned by Alterra, and was created in 2018 as a direct competitor to Epic.
  • INDY: Created in 2019 to help independent ski resorts compete with the larger companies.
  • Mountain Collective: Created in 2018 by the Aspen Skiing Company. Shares many of its resorts with the IKON network.
  • Powder Alliance: This is a different type of pass network. The benefits come free when you purchase a full season pass at any of their associated resorts.

While there is more to a pass network than it’s associated resort difficultly levels, we feel it is an important metric to consider if you are an expert-level skier. Use this as yet another piece of information (along with price, number of participating resorts, and size) when deciding which pass to purchase for the year.

Explaining Our ‘Difficulty Score’

Parks & Trips created a proprietary Difficulty Score that is generated by looking at the number of easy-intermediate-expert slopes by acreage and the maximum vertical drop of the overall resort.

Our algorithm compares each resort’s metrics with all others in North America, then gives each a Difficulty Score, which we use to rank them accordingly. Resorts with a lower score are easier than those with a higher one. However, a high score does not mean that the resort does not have any easy slopes, or vice versa. This is just an overall score given to the resort based on all its metrics grouped together.

Average Difficulty Score per Pass

To determine which ski pass network has the most difficult lineup of resorts, we averaged all their associated resorts together.

The Mountain Collective comes out as having the most difficult lineup of all nationwide pass systems. They win this analysis with a difficulty score that is over 22 points higher than its closest competitor!

IKON comes in second, with EPIC third. The INDY network comes in fourth place, with the Powder Alliance bringing up the rear.

If we look at all 166 resorts that are a part of at least one of the pass networks, the average difficulty score is 50.06%. This means that the average difficulty of all associated resorts, combined, is right in line with the average of all resorts (50%) in North America.

RankPass NetworkAvg. Difficulty Score
#1Mountain Collective71.4%
#2IKON49.1%
#3Epic48.7%
#4INDY43.7%
#5Powder Alliance39.4%
All Associated Resorts, Combined50.06%

It may be jarring to see Epic so far down in this list, but they have a different business model than the others. Their Epic pass encompasses all of their Vail Resort-owned properties, no matter how good each one is. Most (if not all) of the other passes go out and choose which resorts are a part of their network. When you get to pick and choose like that, you can choose to pick on the good ones, which would lead to a higher Difficulty Score.

Most Difficult Ski Resort for Each Pass

here, we picked out the top three most difficult resorts for each of the five nationwide multi-resort, multi-day lift pass networks.

IKON

Aspen Snowmass

Aspen Snowmass is one of the hardest ski areas in the country. It ranks in the top 10% of most-difficult ski resorts in all of North America, mostly due to the fact that it has 44% of its trails rated as expert-level, and a vertical drop of 4,406 feet.

Mountain Stats

Summit:  12,510′
Vertical:  4,406′
Base:  8,104′

Terrain Stats

Trails:  336
Lifts:  40
Acres:  5,517

Trail Breakdown

Beginner:  6%
Intermediate:  50%
Expert:  44%

More Information…

The most difficult US ski resort within the IKON Pass network is Aspen Snowmass, CO, by a very slim margin. The Canadian resort Revelstroke, BC is actually the most difficult in the IKON network, with Jackson Hole, WY coming in third place. However, all three of these resorts are within a few percentage points of each other.

Rank ResortSummit ElevationVertical DropBlack TrailsDifficulty ScoreTM
#1Revelstoke, BC7,300 ft5,620 ft45%97%
#2Aspen Snowmass, CO12,510 ft4,406 ft44%86%
#3Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY10,450 ft4,139 ft50%85%

Epic

Telluride

Telluride is one of the hardest ski areas in the country. It ranks in the top 10% of most-difficult ski resorts in all of North America, mostly due to the fact that it has 54% of its trails rated as expert-level, and a vertical drop of 4,570 feet.

Mountain Stats

Summit:  13,320′
Vertical:  4,570′
Base:  8,750′

Terrain Stats

Trails:  118
Lifts:  18
Acres:  2,000

Trail Breakdown

Beginner:  16%
Intermediate:  30%
Expert:  54%

More Information…

The most difficult ski resort within the Epic Pass network is Telluride, CO. Breckenridge, CO, and Whistler, British Columbia are not too far behind.

Interesting enough, while Epic is fourth in our list of average difficulty passes above, it actually has the most difficult resort in its lineup (Telluride).

Rank ResortSummit ElevationVertical DropBlack TrailsDifficulty ScoreTM
#1Telluride, CO13,320 ft4,570 ft54%89%
#2Whistler Blackcomb, BC7,494 ft5,020 ft28%82%
#3Breckenridge, CO12,998 ft3,398 ft64%82%

Mountain Collective

Revelstoke

Revelstoke is one of the hardest ski areas in the country. It ranks in the top 10% of most-difficult ski resorts in all of North America, mostly due to the fact that it has 45% of its trails rated as expert-level, and a vertical drop of 5,620 feet.

Mountain Stats

Summit:  7,300′
Vertical:  5,620′
Base:  1,680′

Terrain Stats

Trails:  99
Lifts:  6
Acres:  3,121

Trail Breakdown

Beginner:  12%
Intermediate:  43%
Expert:  45%

More Information…

The most difficult ski resort within the Mountain Collective Pass network is Revelstroke, BC, but Taos Valley, NM and Jackson Hole, WY are the two best resorts for the Collective in the US.

Rank ResortSummit ElevationVertical DropBlack TrailsDifficulty ScoreTM
#1Revelstoke, BC7,300 ft5,620 ft45%97%
#2Aspen Snowmass, CO12,510 ft4,406 ft44%86%
#3Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, WY10,450 ft4,139 ft50%85%

INDY

Castle Mountain

Castle Mountain is one of the hardest ski areas in the country. It ranks in the top 10% of most-difficult ski resorts in all of North America, mostly due to the fact that it has 69% of its trails rated as expert-level, and a vertical drop of 2,833 feet.

Mountain Stats

Summit:  7,463′
Vertical:  2,833′
Base:  4,630′

Terrain Stats

Trails:  94
Lifts:  6
Acres:  3,592

Trail Breakdown

Beginner:  10%
Intermediate:  21%
Expert:  69%

More Information…

The most difficult ski resort within the INDY Pass network is Castle Mountain, BC. In the US, Red Lodge in Montana is the most difficult.

Rank ResortSummit ElevationVertical DropBlack TrailsDifficulty ScoreTM
#1Castle Mountain, AB7,463 ft2,833 ft69%79%
#2Red Lodge Mountain, MT9,416 ft2,400 ft56%67%
#3Tamarack, ID7,700 ft2,800 ft44%66%

Powder Alliance

The most difficult ski resort within the Powder Alliance Pass network is Castle Mountain, AB. However, the most difficult US-based ski resort within the Alliance is Timberline Lodge, OR.

Rank ResortSummit ElevationVertical DropBlack TrailsDifficulty ScoreTM
#1Castle Mountain, AB7,463 ft2,833 ft69%79%
#2Timberline Lodge, OR8,540 ft3,690 ft25%66%
#3China Peak, CA8,709 ft1,679 ft61%64%