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Hipster Elysium


Social entrepreneurs plan a mountaintop community at Powder Mountain.

By Jeff Burke

Hidden in Utah’s northern Wasatch Range, Powder Mountain’s 7,000 acres encompass aspen glades, rolling hills topped with 500 inches of snow each year, and wide open faces that plummet 1,000 feet to the access road. That same road climbs from Eden, a town of 600 in the pastoral Ogden Valley, to a base area high on the mountain. Passholders cherish the mom and pop charm that has weathered many a well-funded outsider. “This place has seen developer, after developer, after developer,” says local realtor Brandi Hammon. “They tell the residents what they want to hear, and then they go ahead and do what they want.”

Enter Summit Group, an ambitious band of young social entrepreneurs. Envision travel guitars, blocky eyeglasses, and skinny jeans with deep pockets. In April 2013, the consortium of Jack Johnson types bought Powder Mountain for an estimated $40 million. Summit is known for its annual invitation-only events. They get entertainment and tech industry urbanites to tag sharks in the Bahamas, acquire erotic intelligence from new agey therapist Esther Perel, and attend lectures by Brahmin class New World oligarchs like Sir Richard Branson and Mark Cuban. Now, the company plans to build a permanent community called Summit Eden—500 homes and a village on the south side of Powder Mountain.

But is nebulous positivity and an expensive haircut a natural fit in the Ogden Valley, which is both 60 percent Mormon and still predominantly an agrarian and light industrial economy? Summit is the first resort owner we’ve heard of with a Director of Ambiance. Hammon aptly—if more gently—describes the culture clash as a lack of commonality. “It’s hard to tell what their impact will be in the valley,” she says. A petition circulated this summer to shut down festivities in a Summit house where some 40 employees gather for parties, massages, and yoga on a quiet street. But disregard for residential zoning laws doesn’t worry the town as much as the limitations of the valley’s watershed. There are concerns the proposed Powder Mountain development could max out this resource.


Courtesy photos above: Will the Director of Ambiance please have additional porkpie fedoras and vegan tapas helicoptered in? It would also be nice if we could keep the sun just above the horizon. Soft light only people, soft light.

But for all the head scratching, Summit’s early moves could quickly sway public opinion. The company is collaborating with a community-based economic group on a master plan that hopes to balance the valley’s character with responsible growth. Summit employees attend town hall meetings. And then there’s the influx of cash: This summer’s Summit Outside event brought 900 people to Powder Mountain for three days of cushy camping and enlightening talks. Attendees adopted nine puppies from the local shelter, and a portion of entry fees ($2,500 and up) raised more than $90,000 for local nonprofits. “Many neighbors understand our arrival as an opportunity to address issues facing this valley that existed long before we purchased Powder,” says Summit spokesman Thayer Walker. “Our development plans are primarily focused on Powder Mountain itself rather than the Ogden Valley. We enjoy the bucolic feel of the valley and want to work with our neighbors to preserve that feel.”

On mountain, changes began when Summit took over management last winter. No more gray burgers and chips. Dining venues now serve grass-fed beef, gourmet sandwiches, and hearty salads. Visitors this winter will find new rental and demo gear, plus expanded cat skiing. And if an updated ski experience impacts the local economy, that could bring old and new neighbors together. “Beyond the moustaches, the irony is that Summit might allow young families to remain in the valley,” says one resident who asked to remain nameless. “They’re increasing the expectations of kids growing up here. They want jobs.”


Photographer: Lee Cohen | Skier: Leo Aherns

Powder Mountain, UT
Acres: 7,000 | Vertical: 2,205 | Snowfall: 500 | powdermountain.com
A Day in the Life: Powder Mountain is safe from crowds because Salt Lake City is more than an hour away; most of Utah’s resorts lie closer to the metro. “I don’t wait more than two minutes at a lift,” says Mike McDonald, the owner of Ogden’s Lucky Slice Pizza. Head for the Paradise lift, which serves up 1,500 vertical feet of steep pitches, cliff bands, and challenging test pieces. The fixed-grip quad adds to Powder’s old school vibe. “It’s a skier’s mountain,” says McDonald. “There are no frills here. It’s a comfortable place with lots of nooks and crannies to explore.” Head to Powder Country, 1,200 acres that run down to the access road (guides available). A lift ticket includes a roadside shuttle pick-up.
Local’s Take: Visit the Shooting Star Saloon, 20 minutes away in Huntsville. Utah’s oldest bar has unique character—note the Saint Bernard guarding the establishment in perpetuity from his wall perch.

From the Early Winter 2013 issue.

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