The Snow Gauge

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The no BS family ski trip using an Epic Pass

Posted by on Feb 17, 2017 in Australia, United States | 7 comments

Scells gang

The Scells gang do Heavenly … and five other Vail resorts

Four people with four Epic Passes. Two thousand miles. Three states. Six resorts. One month. The unsponsored, unfiltered story of a family ski trip across the United States.

When my sister Monica told me she and her family were going to ski the US for a month I suggested getting an Epic Pass. She concurred. I also told her she had to tell me about the whole experience for The Snow Gauge readers who were thinking of doing the same.

This is what the Scells gang did, what they experienced, what was good, where to eat, how to save a buck and one thing in particular that didn’t work out so well …

“So, we pretty much got the last call on the Epic Passes,” Monica says. “We paid $US849 for the adults and $US439 each for the kids. You can do a bit better than that earlier in the season but given we can use it at Perisher in Australia during 2017 it was still great value. When we saw some of the day prices at places like Breckenridge ($US169) and Vail ($US190) it only cemented that.”

So after a month on the east coast, the ski trip began in January with one month across six of the Vail resorts. For Australians in particular it’s a trip that can work in well with the school holidays (even better if you can rent your house out on Airbnb!). Here’s how it played out:

Part 1 – Denver to Frisco and the resorts of Breckenridge, Vail and Keystone

Frisco is about an hour and 20 minutes from Denver depending on the weather and is 20-40 minutes from the three Vail-owned resorts.


Vail pow

The town and the accommodation

“Frisco was fantastic. It’s a little village but in the centre of all the resorts. There are free shuttles to Breckenridge and Keystone and they were running about every half hour. We used it and could recommend.

“We stayed at the Ramada which was about two miles from the downtown area and walking distance from a Safeway and restaurants. There was also a main village free bus. It was $US830 for four nights including breakfast for four people. They let us use their dining room to bring in our own food and alcohol which was great. There were rooms on Air BNB around same price but that seemed like the safer bet. We then booked the Ramada for another three nights.”


“Greco’s Pastaria was great. They did a good lasagna, there were some healthy choices and reasonably priced, good food. The Butterhorn Cafe in Frisco baked its stuff on the premises and was nice. Other than that a sneaky good one is the Pho Bay in the basement of the Baymont Inn. Great Vietnamese! Props to Peppinos pizza too – who delivered in a storm. Unreal!”

The skiing and resorts

“We hardly skied Vail to be honest. We could have spent a week there and what I saw of it I liked. Breckenridge I really liked and would consider staying there for convenience on mountain, it’s a great spot though no doubt expensive. Certainly nowhere near as big as Vail. One tip is the $12 parking at Breck then the $25 at the Vail Hotel near the gondola. It’s good if  you have kids and lots of gear otherwise you’ll end up far away.”

“Keystone was pretty convenient and the trolleys to haul your gear around (and the kids) were great!”

“Other positives were the Epic Pass photo downloads and free drink refills on mountain.”


Keystone trolleys came in handy for gear – and kids

The not so good …

“On mountain food was expensive. But the biggest beef I had was the lessons and this was a theme throughout.

“It was horrendous. While it varied a little it was around $220 US for the whole day. I couldn’t see anything where you could just add on say 20-30 bucks and get a lesson like you could in Australia. They have now offered me 30 per cent off in emails but it is still too much. We didn’t have the opportunity to ski by ourselves like we did in Australia by say putting the kids in a two-hour lesson at an affordable price.

“I would really suggest Vail Resorts looks at this and maybe consider an Epic Pass add-on where you can pre-buy group lessons at a reasonable price that can be used throughout the season.”

Handy links:

Pho Bay
Ramada Frisco

Part 2: Frisco to Park City

“It was a 7.5 hour drive and we stayed in Salt Lake the first night because Park City was so expensive. $60 v $230 a night was a no-brainer. The drive was fine though, you basically just follow a single road for about 500 miles though we did watch a car go round the corner and go in to a ditch. He then almost ran into another guy there and then a third one who was trying to help them got stuck as well!

“We also got accosted by Mormons at the temple who tried to convert us. Failed.”

Park City

Park City had the best snow, hands and body down …

The town and the accommodation

“We stayed at the Hyatt just out of Canyons for $US220 a night for the four of us. Best breakfast ever! It’s only 12 months old and had nice rooms and lounge area. Dinner was average though. We could use the microwave etc, and bringing in food seemed a lot more relaxed than in Australia. Handy gym, hot tub, pool, ski hire wax etc.”

“We looked around and for that class of hotel it was by far the cheapest we could find.

“There was a shuttle to Canyons or Park City on the hour in the morning which took about 10 mins.

“I can’t rate that hotel highly enough. It was just a little out of town so probably not convenient if you wanted in town – that would be the only thing.”


“Squatters Roadhouse: good food reasonably priced. Soup and sushi or pasta at the supermarket is recommended.”


“There was a really good selection of terrain there and the kids liked it. The heated chairlift was novel. Really good snow conditions there – just amazing.

“It was easy to get around on the mountain, really easy. The runs were excellent. I liked it and would go back.”

Park City

Even the kids though it was deep …

Part 3 Park City to Lake Tahoe and the resorts of Heavenly and Northstar

“It was about a nine hour drive. We were lucky though. It was just after all the storms had finished. About an hour out of the mountains it became sketchier but all things considered they cleared the roads pretty quickly.”


“We stayed at the Lake Tahoe Diamond Resort for the week at around $US700. It was through Air BNB. It was older place but not too bad.

“If you participated in their ongoing time share spiel (a two hour commimtment for two people) you got $200 mountain cash and 2 free nights accommodation for time share in their other resorts across the US. We didn’t but it sounded worthwhile for what was involved.

“There was an indoor to outdoor hot tub, bar and restaurant, $4 happy hour drinks. There was a free bus to the gondola which was about 3 miles away. We only ate at the restaurant once but the food was good and plentiful. There was a kitchenette there with cooker and we used the Safeway to buy food. It had a nice lounge area where you could take kids.

“I’d stay there again. There was good parking and services, it was right on lake in a good position with lots of little cafes but no breakfast included at this one.”

Northstar Villag

Northstar Village – great for the kids to skate – and for the adults to have a drink!


“Heavenly was good but lifts were closed so we couldn’t get across to gondola. Some of the runs were a bit hard for kids.

“The lines were just nuts on the Saturday which was Martin Luther King weekend. But that was the day we discovered $US45 lessons! Would you believe it, it was advertised and promoted only at Steins (outdoor restaurant). It was a one 1 hour lesson which was basically a private lesson. I was with one other woman.

“We did it on the Sunday as well. It was worth it just to get on chairs quicker! By Tuesday there was no-one there however.

“Northstar was really nice. We had drinks as the girls went ice skating. But getting from South Lake Tahoe was a nightmare – an hour drive, parking far away then another shuttle. Admittedly it was the Monday holiday though.

“I liked Heavenly. There were some good long runs. The snow was good there too.


“There were nice cafes around. McDuffs Pub was very popular. Country style really good food, great service. Paul went to Freshies at South Lake on a previous trip and that was a great local place for lunch.

“Unfortunately no Kirkwood this time but Paul spoke highly of it from the two days he went there previously.”


Heavenly views

Handy links:

Lake Tahoe Diamond Resort


“It was a great trip and I would definitely do it again. I’d probably look at some more on-snow accommodation if we could run to it and would suggest that is probably the way to go for shorter trips of a week or two but over a month it would be too expensive for a lot of people.

“I found the resorts well-organised, it was an easy set-up and pick up with the Epic Pass (we collected at Breckenridge early one evening) and the lack of t-bars was great!

“The kids were colder than we thought they’d be but once we had hand and toe warmers they were fine.One final tip is to buy your hand and toe warmers from Wal Mart  – they were 99c compared to $3.50 on the mountain.

“But Would I’d buy it again? Definitely.”

Note: There were some hassles with Hertz in Denver and getting the four wheel drive that was requested and paid for. This might make a complete blog for another time! In the meantime tread carefully if using them in winter.



  1. How did you get the 30% off lessons? We did 3 days x 2 kids at PCMR which cost almost the same as the whole families epic Aus passes. Yes AUD$2020.

    • Monica said she started getting emails offering discounts AFTER the trip. Go figure. An Epic lesson system could be good for Vail – ie confirmed revenue – and the consumer ie cheaper prices, I reckon.

  2. Sounds good but not cheap.

    We skied Copper for just under 2 weeks last month, where the lifts & accommodation were much cheaper.

    We stayed in studio apartments, about 5 mins walk to lifts, or 150 yards according to the website, but think they measured that in a straight line, still it wasn’t far.

    We paid $150 a night for the studios, with heaps of bedding & a full kitchen & with this we bought 13 days lifts for $260 for the adults & the kids were free.

    Having skied most of the big Colorado resorts, before kids, it was refreshing to not have to get on a bus to get to the lifts. We don’t have an unlimited budget & usually stay in cheaper end of accommodation, which is often a long way from lifts.

    We had a day at A Basin where lift tickets cost us $50 & another day at Loveland which cost about the same.

  3. yeah with kids I want to go somewhere & stay for the duration.

    We stayed at Copper last year & it was about $US 145 a night for a studio with kitchen & lots of beds also. We only stayed 10 nights & lifts we only slightly more than above comment. I think, the longer you stay, the cheaper per day they get.

    The best things about Copper Mt were that our lift passes gave us access to the “secret pass” lines, which are like a ski school line, so we never ever lined up for more than 1 minute & got on the lifts 15 minutes before everyone else, with season or normal lift passes could.

    We used the KIDS NIGHT OUT free babysitting as well. Awesome.

    We went out for dinner 4 nights in Copper & there was plenty of choices, but not as many as Vail or Breckenridge & so we got the free bus into Frisco & had dinner at an Italian place there. Cheap & the bus took about 10 minutes in each direction & we had to walk about 50 metres to bus stop at both ends.

  4. Your views on staying in Salt Lake City & commuting to the various resorts?

    • Do-able and you’ll certainly save a packet on accommodation. But you have to stack up against travel time. 40 mins is probably your entry point and then it gets longer depending on resort and road conditions.

  5. yes have to agree. Accommodation at most Vail resorts is so expensive. Also lift lines on weekend are awful.

    “Free” lift tickets aren’t free if the accommodation price is loaded & you spend forever in lift lines.

    Where is this going ? Different classes of season passes at different prices like airline classes maybe.

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