Out of the Park: Powder Mountain Reimagined
Talk to any long-time local in Park City, and you’ll hear a common theme: This town is changing. With new resort owners, more traffic, and incoming developments, there’s no question that Park City today looks quite different from the modest ski town it was decades ago. In fact, in a time of corporate-owned ski resort conglomerates (ahem, Vail and Alterra), the thought of ever finding a truly quaint ski town feels like a pipe dream. But just an hour and change north of Park City at Powder Mountain, a group of entrepreneurs and developers is aiming to create just that.
“What we’re building is going to be the size of Park City 30 years ago,” says Elliott Bisnow, co-founder of Summit Series and Summit Powder Mountain, located in Eden, Utah. Back in 2013, Powder Mountain itself was purchased by Summit Series, a company best known for exclusive retreats for creatives, entrepreneurs, and leaders around the world, and events ranging from intimate wellness weekends at Powder Mountain to Summit LA, an annual ideas festival.
Now, the co-founders of Summit, along with two venture capitalists, are building a bespoke, small-scale mountain village at the (well, until now) under-the-radar resort. Unlike any other ski resort in the U.S., Powder Mountain’s inverted topography means that the village itself will be built on the flat top of the mountain, along with most of the homes. The development also departs from the typical look and feel of its resort brethren with a distinct architectural style. The Summit Powder Mountain designers, including the renowned MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects, took inspiration from the minimalist aesthetics of Nordic architecture, known as mountain modern.
Translation: Homes at Powder Mountain will be smaller and perhaps less decorative than what you typically expect to find at a ski resort—no large log cabins or fanciful chalet-style houses. Instead, “really thoughtful, minimal, small homes,” Bisnow says, explaining that the average home is 2,500 square feet, and they’re capping them at 4,500 visible square feet. Several hundred lots have been purchased by private buyers who will design and build their own homes. Another area, the Horizon Neighborhood, features pre-designed cabins ranging in size from 1,300 to 3,000 square feet. There are also plans for a public ski village, with condos, a hotel, restaurants, bars, and eventually, a school, signifying the hope of luring families to live here full-time. (The developers anticipate completion of the mountain top village in 2022.)
The resort is also designed to be a neighborly community, inspired by the, you’re-only-a-stranger-once nature of Summit Series. On Powder Mountain, it’ll feel “like a Summit event 365 days per year,” Bisnow says. “You’ll know your neighbors, and everyone’s in it together.”
That small-town feel is exactly what attracted homeowner Scott Bailey to purchase a cabin in Summit Powder Mountain’s Horizon Neighborhood. The L.A.-based entrepreneur found that Powder Mountain checked all the boxes for him and his wife: It offered a sense of community, amazing architecture, easy access from the Salt Lake City airport, and a great mountain with nearly endless terrain to explore in both winter and summer months.
Plus, the on-mountain experience at PowMow is hard to beat. The mountain offers over 8,400+ acres of skiable terrain, but limits tickets to 1,500 per day and only 2,000 season passes per year. “It’s been a hidden gem since 1972, and it’s really remained that way,” Bisnow says.
Despite Summit’s insistence that PowMow will retain its charm, there’s been some blowback from locals, who worry this new class of wealthy millennials will do away with the mom-and-pop allure the resort used to hold. There’s also been a heated discussion over water usage. According to the Wall Street Journal, Summit Powder Mountain is working with local water-rights holders, addressing concerns over tapping the local water supply for the growing village and residences.
Since buying his cabin four years ago, Bailey stays on the mountain for seven to 10 days per month. Some days, he goes without seeing another person on the mountain. “It’s kind of like being a pioneer,” he says—in more ways than one. “We’re building up a community here. We’re making it what we want it to be. [Summit Powder Mountain] is giving us the canvas, and we’re painting the town how we think is best for our needs.”
In an age of overrun mountains, it’s pretty remarkable to find a ski resort canvas as blank as Powder Mountain today. Until the ultimate portrait of the project is realized, keep an eye on the development by following it on Instagram, or at powdermountain.com.