America's Epic Pass offers a jam-packed ski holiday of a lifetime

The pass covers some of America's most famous and varied resorts

It was hard not to feel a little disoriented. Powdery sheets of pure, light snow were falling from the sky, dusting both Vail's vast expanse of skiable terrain and the three-inch thick juicy steaks that sizzled on the outdoor hot plates at Belle's Camp Warming Hut. The Hut offers basic food, free barbeques and – at 11,480ft above sea level – views of the vistas of Vail's Blue Sky Basin ski area.

I'd arrived in Colorado only the night before, landing in Denver, and had spent the morning skiing Vail's powdery back bowls. After tucking into lunch, I was due to embark upon a guided tour of the legendary Blue Sky Basin terrain that afternoon. If all went to plan and I survived the basin and the beef, there'd be just enough time for dinner and cocktails at The Arrabelle hotel. This luxury property and its gleaming wooden and stone grandeur wouldn't be out of place in any of the high-end European resorts. Jet lag? There was simply no time.

I was in Colorado to take advantage of the Epic Pass, an unrestricted, unlimited single pass that gives you access to an awesome, inter-state ski area comprising Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone in Colorado and Heavenly in California. The Epic Pass was first offered last season. The affordable access it offers made it an immediate success with locals and tourists alike. With more time, I'd be intent on spending as long as possible in each of the available resorts: the more days on the mountain, the more value the seven-day $599 (£400) Epic Pass provides.

However, I had only five days; enough to get just a taste of the enormous treats the Epic Pass has to offer. The fact that Heavenly was located in California, about 700 miles from where I was in Vail, and that I planned to visit five of the six resorts, meant that my trip would certainly not be a leisurely stroll. This was to be a high-octane ski tour of some of North America's most famous ski resorts, packed with everything from casinos in Reno to cat skiing in Keystone.

The next morning's half-hour shuttle from Vail to the pedestrianised village and perfect pistes of Beaver Creek should have slowed my heart rate down a touch. But the decision of certain members of my group to attempt to tackle the Birds of Prey downhill course (widely recognised as one of the most difficult courses in the world, and the only US venue that held a men's World Cup event this winter) was enough to make me a little nervous. Hitting a steep, steep highway of ice as smooth and as hard as a Formica benchtop sounded decidedly silly, so I made do with some of Beaver Creek's immaculately groomed intermediate slopes instead. I may not have had the bragging rights during the tapas lunch at The Osprey restaurant, but at least my legs, arms and ligaments were all still approximately in their right positions.

Previously known as the Inn, a multi-million transformation two years ago has seen The Osprey reborn as a luxury resort hotel. The food, like the hotel, epitomises Beaver Creek as a whole; sleek, elegant and pricey.

The next day's skiing required every sinew of every muscle I possessed. A three-hour drive to Breckenridge the previous evening and a relatively early night saw me waking to a cloudless sky, indicating a "bluebird" day – blue skies, no wind and ideal skiing conditions. Three days of non-stop snow had cleared, providing ideal conditions for cat skiing in Keystone's famed powder bowls. We used the caterpillar tracks of the local piste-basher as our means of locomotion to Breckenridge's outer skiable limits. An outfit called Keystone Adventure Tours runs a day's worth of untracked runs through powder into the Independence Bowl, with lifts back up in a heated cat and some welcome fuel in the form of a picnic lunch. While munching on enormous sandwiches, you can then see the fresh tracks you've made way below.

However, despite the apparent remoteness, all the skiing is within the legal confines of Keystone, meaning you're in constant sight and contact with the resort's safety infrastructure. For me it added a comforting layer of security, helpful when dealing with steep drops, deep powder and fast tree runs.

This is what skiing and snowboarding should be all about: stunning views, glittering sunshine, untracked powder, experienced guides, a mix of fear, joy, exhilaration and exhaustion. The bonus is that it's easy to access, run efficiently as part of a large resort, and offered at one of the cheapest prices available in the US.

Three days down, and three resorts on the must-ski-before-I-die list already crossed off. Could they be bettered? Well, day four started with a fast descent on one of Breckenridge's highest pistes on the mountain Peak 7 and ended with a kryptonite-laced margarita at Harrah's Casino on the shores of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. In between, I sampled Breckenridge's four peaks above 12,000ft, ate lunch at the Breckenridge micro-brewery, and took a shuttle to Denver and flight to Reno.

With Nevada an hour behind Colorado, there was enough time for a classic all-American snack at the In-N-Out Burger joint on the way to Lake Tahoe, where I sat up late drinking margaritas on the state line of Nevada and California.

A hectic schedule, yet before I left Breckenridge a local named Dave Thomas still chastised me for not squeezing a visit to Arapahoe Basin. "A-Basin is what makes the Epic Pass," he growled at me through a thick, snow-laced moustache. "The longest ski season of all of 'em, some of the best terrain on the planet, no queues and free parking. It's the real deal." With Heavenly, my final stop on this whistlestop tour, still to come, I'd just have to take his word for it.

Any resort called Heavenly is going to conjure up a certain level of expectation. The resort's schizophrenic mix of huge mountain, incredible snow park, neon-lit Vegas-style casinos and Californian health food shops, all framed by contrasting views of Lake Tahoe and the Nevada Desert, was not really what I was expecting. It's almost ridiculous to compare it with any resorts in Europe: better just to revel in the extraordinary contrasts. The hill is criss-crossed by an extensive network of confidence-building cruisers – rolling blue runs groomed twice daily – all flanked by trees and with views of the sparkling lake below.

Five resorts in five days may be pushing it on the adrenalin front, but the chance to experience them all was, for me, the opportunity of a lifetime. The Epic Pass works out cheaper than seven individual day lift passes in high season, and with a few more days up your sleeve it's your best chance to experience the most varied and incredible ski trips anywhere in the world.

Travel essentials: The Epic Pass

Getting there

* Ski Independence (0131 243 8097; ski-i.com) offers seven nights at the Beaver Run Resort in Breckenridge, with United Airlines flights from Heathrow to Denver and shuttle transfers, from £1,009 per person.

* Denver is served by BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com) and United Airlines (0845 8444 777; united.com) from Heathrow.

Skiing there

* Epic Pass (001 303 504 5870; epicpass.com): an unlimited, six mountain unrestricted pass costs $599 (£399). A seven-day pass costs $449 (£299).

* Keystone Adventure Tours (001 970 496 4386; bit.ly/keystonecatski), offers cat skiing from $225 (£150) per person, including lift ticket and lunch.

Staying there

* Beaver Run Resort, Breckenridge (001 970 453 6000; beaverrun.com). Doubles from $133 (£89).

* The Arrabelle at Vail Square (001 970 754 7777; arrabelle.rock resorts.com). Doubles from $227 (£151).

* The Osprey at Beaver Creek (001 970 754 7400; ospreyatbeavercreek.rockresorts.com). Doubles from $195 (£130).

Eating & drinking there

* Breckenridge Brew Pub (001 970 453 1550; breckbrew.com).

* Harrah Casino, Lake Tahoe (001 775 588 6611; harrahslaketahoe.com).

More information

* vail.com (001 877 204 7881); beavercreek.com (001 970 754 4636); keystoneresort.com (001 970 496 4500); breckenridge.com (001 970 453 5000);

arapahoebasin.com; (001 970 468 0718);

skiheavenly.com (001 775 586 7000)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Knaresborough ...

    Beverley James: Accounts Payable

    £23,000: Beverley James: Do you have a background in hospitality and are you l...

    Recruitment Genius: Cleaning Manager - York and Bradford

    £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The post holder is a key member of the V...

    Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Drivers

    £18000 - £28800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Vehicle Breakdown Recovery Driv...

    Day In a Page

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

    The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
    A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

    It's not easy being Green

    After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
    Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

    Gorillas nearly missed

    BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
    Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

    The Downton Abbey effect

    Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
    China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

    China's wild panda numbers on the up

    New census reveals 17% since 2003
    Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

    Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

    Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

    Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

    Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
    Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

    Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

    Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
    New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

    Dinner through the decades

    A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
    Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

    Philippa Perry interview

    The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

    Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

    Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
    Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

    Harry Kane interview

    The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
    The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?