Utah's Powder Mountain is getting an upgrade, but not the kind of conventional lift renovation or lodge addition most ski resorts are building these days. Powder is on track to become the country's first mountain think-tank, a kind of haven for entrepreneurs, innovators, and anyone with a big idea.
Last week, Powder Mountain was purchased by an organization called Summit. Known for their annual innovation conferences, Summit brings anywhere from 500 to 1,000 of the world's brightest minds -- from Bill Clinton and Richard Branson to TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycokie and the Roots -- together for forums on topics that range from health and wellness, conservation, science and exploration, and entrepreneurship. Summit held its first event in 2008 in Park City, Utah, and now four years later -- after moving their headquarters around the world -- the group has decided to settle just an hour away from the very place it began, in Eden, Utah.
Summit received a tip about 16 months ago from conference attendee and venture capitalist Greg Mauro that Powder Mountain, a low-key resort founded in 1972 by sheep farmers, was for sale. As a resident of the valley, Greg witnessed the angst felt by many Eden locals when the mountain was bought in 2006 by a company that intended to build 5,000 homes, two 18-hole golf courses, and a slew of new chairlifts. "After one visit, we just fell in love with the valley," says Summit's Chief Reconnaissance Officer and partner Thayer Walker. "We saw a tremendous amount of opportunity to do something smarter and develop the mountain in a much more conscientious way."
Last week, Summit announced that it has taken over management of Powder Mountain, with plans to close the transaction (rumored to cost $40 million) in early 2013. Summit plans to change the mountain as little as possible -- and keep it open to the public. "We want to maintain the character and authenticity that Powder Mountain has become known for," says Walker.
Summit plans to develop the mountain, according to Walker, "in an incremental, conscientious way, to be a model for what's possible with a little bit of creative thinking." The group is still working through most of their plans, but the first structure they're constructing is a prefabricated, modular building called the Sky Lodge event center, which is to be erected off site to decrease environmental damage.
Summit will also update Powder's four existing chairlifts, but has no intention of adding many other lifts. "[Powder] has this very authentic, adventure feel to it," says Walker. "Like Silverton, there's an 'earn your turn' ethos, and steep and deep powder you have to work for. We're preserving this special slope experience."
Away from the inbounds lift-accessible terrain, Summit is creating its aforementioned "brain trust" called Summit Eden. This will be the organization's permanent home, as well as a 500-unit residential community, and mixed-use village. With access to Summit's events and specialized conferences, the aim of Summit Eden is to create, in Walker's words, "an epicenter of innovation." "We want to see businesses built here, nonprofits get resources from this community, great art and music come out of this," Walker told ESPN. "This place will stimulate and catalyze positive growth."
"Summit's vision to create a one of a kind, sustainable community while preserving the characteristics that make the mountain so unique is a dream come true," says Powder Mountain's marketing manager Patrick Lundin, who's lived in Eden for over 25 years. "It's inspiring to watch Summit connect with the local community as they sink their roots and make plans to be here for generations to come."