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It sure looks like a bunch of Chads just bought one of the most unique places to ski in North America. Where's the squash court, guys? Does the yacht pull right up to the chairlifts?
But regardless of their affinity for a "sustainable resort community," "entrepreneurial country club," and "alpine bohemian village" (whatever any of those things mean), most locals consider entrepreneurial group Summit's recent takeover of Powder Mountain the best case scenario for a ski area whose future had been in limbo for several years.
In 2006, Dr. Alvin Cobabe sold Powder Mountain, which he founded in 1972, to Western American Holdings, who had plans to develop the area into a megaresort. Those plans came to a halt when the group ran into county opposition. The ski area had been at a crossroads until a couple of Summit founders fell in love with Powder.
Greg Greer, the ambassador of stoke/general manager of Powder, has been showing potential buyers around the mountain for a few years.
"Considering we could have been bought by a big ski company or a more typical developer, I think we lucked out," says Greer. "It was always, 'How many skier days can we get in, and how many hotel beds, and how many restaurants?' The discussion was never about what to do to develop and improve Powder, and maintain its soul, until Summit showed up."
A group of idealistic, 20-somethings started Summit in Park City in 2008 with a networking ski trip for 19 participants. Now, their Summit Series conferences bring in hundreds, including speakers like Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, and Mark Cuban, as a glorified networking event for entrepreneurs and artists. But these do-gooders actually do good, too. On a recent conference for which they booked an ocean-liner, they raised $1 million to create a marine preserve in the area. Summit thinks they can be profitable and responsible at Powder Mountain, too.
"Our whole ethos is we want to build a small village for the Summit community," says co-founder Jeff Rosenthal, who grew up snowboarding at Vail and Steamboat. "We can do that on the backside of Powder without cannibalizing the public runs. We don’t have to build 5,000 home sites to make this economically viable. We can build 500 sites. We have a model that can maintain what makes this place special, and add to that, in a sustainable and intelligent manner."
In November, Summit took over operations and management of the ski area. The sale is expected to finalize in early 2013. They have already upgraded two of the four existing lodges and restaurants and broken ground on a 5,000-square-foot conference center at Hidden Lake, outside the ski area. Greer says of Powder's 150,000 annual skiers, only the 300 or so skiers that use Powder's cat skiing operation see this area.
Summit's idea is to build a cat-accessed village there with 500 homes and retail stores. Membership (which Forbes rumored will cost $1 million) will include access to guest speakers and concerts. The group has held different meetings with season pass holders, area residents, and employees to introduce themselves to locals, which has helped them gain the support of the county.
"We wanted to be a part of this community," says Rosenthal, 28. "We aren't a faceless ski conglomeration. We're a group of young businessmen and women that want to live here. We want to make a home here."
Jared Allen, an Ogden resident who grew up skiing at Powder Mountain, says those that have read up on the group see that they are more interested in the isolated skiing experience than developing a megaresort.
"People who are more informed seem pretty stoked about the idea," says Allen. "'Oh, a resort sold, bad things are about to happen,' is the knee jerk response."
Greer echoed Allen's hope for maintaining the down-home feel of Powder Mountain.
"I want to be able to ski there in 30 years with my grandkids and hike to the top of James Peak and scout our lines and say, 'Back in my day, 30 or 40 years ago, it was exactly like this,'" says Greer. "Not a lot of resorts can say that. That's the awesome future that's much more secure than before."