December 4, 2012

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Entrepreneurial Group Buys Powder Mountain

Di Lewis

December 4, 2012

Summit, the almost five-year-old leadership and entrepreneurial group, has raised the funding to buy Powder Mountain as its permanent base. While the group won’t confirm a purchase price, Business Insider reported it was likely around $40 million.

“For us, Summit began with an idea that we can do better. We can build better businesses that affect both the world in a positive way and the bottom line. We can be better environmental stewards. We can support effective nonprofits that impact the world,” said Jeff Rosenthal, Summit co-founder and curator.

The group began in 2008 in Park City with only 19 people. It’s grown exponentially since then, largely on the back of the Summit Series, a four-day meeting of entrepreneurs, including some of the most well-established names in business.

“It has become, in America, the most impactful event for a generation of folks,” said Summit co-founder and CEO Elliott Bisnow of the Series, which was called “the hipper Davos” by Forbes.

“We got to asking ourselves what if we had a permanent place where we could do this all year round—an epicenter of innovation and culture in the heart of the Wasatch mountains,” said Thayer Walker, partner and chief reconnaissance officer.

That question, along with hearing about a previous development attempt gone wrong, led Summit to look at Powder Mountain in Eden. Thayer said he’d been told about the previous developer’s attempt to incorporate nearby residents into a town and add thousands of housing units, two golf courses and several lifts onto the mountain. Eden residents vocally opposed the incorporation, and in 2010 the poor economy, along with the protests, halted the plan.

They immediately felt such massive development wasn’t a good fit for a mountain Rosenthal said “looks like a national park.” After doing more research and living in the area for the past year, Bisnow said they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to preserve and protect the undiscovered and untouched feel of the mountain.

One of Summit’s goals is environmental protection. Bisnow said the area dovetailed so well with the company’s goals that it seemed to be a perfect fit.

“In the same way that Sundance has had a big impact when you think of Utah. And the Olympics,” he said. “Those have really changed the way people have perceived the state and we’re really hoping that over the long term we can have that same sort of positive impact—that people can see Utah in this great light as the entrepreneurial, easily accessible state that it is.”

Summit is keeping Powder Mountain open to the public and largely unchanged. Bisnow said they will keep the same team that has been running the mountain for the last 41 years, and just add resources and improvements as needed—what he called the “supporting actor” role. The lodge and other buildings are getting some renovations, but Walker said they don’t want to turn Powder Mountain into a “20,000-person-a-day corporate resort.”

Summit is making significant changes to the food. Gregg Greer, Powder Mountain general manager, said they do skiing well, but when talking to Summit about what they needed help with, food came up.

As a result, the meat on the mountain will come from a butcher and many of the animals will be bought locally. They’re also working on creating good, healthy food that won’t cost more, Rosenthal said.

Greer said locals love the mountain, but never came up to eat. People will be driving to the resort just for the food now, he said.

Summit’s main focus now is on getting the infrastructure and residential areas put in, along with smaller events, Walker said. Summit is creating a 500-unit development, with homes capped at 4,000 square feet, along with a walkable village, to bring entrepreneurs to the area. He said members of the Summit community are already moving to Utah and he anticipates seeing leadership and business growth as a result.

“We’re really hopeful about the prospects of driving further positive economic growth,” Walker said.

Bisnow said they are asking very different questions than a normal developer. Most developers ask only how much development can be put it. “We started the opposite way,” he said. “How can we do all the things we want to do? Focus on the environment, focus on education, build a place we want to raise our families. And in order to do that, what’s the least development we can do?”

Walker said they went around delivering cookies to meet the neighbors because Summit was committed to answering questions and providing a different experience than the previous developer. “We’re not absentee developers. This is where we’re going to live, so we have a lot of interest in making it a really nice livable place that’s done in a smart, incremental way.”

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