Powder Mountain, Summit Series all about connections

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 12:52 PM

Jesus Lopez Jr.

EDEN — To understand Powder Mountain and its ownership, one must see them as two separate, yet integral entities.

The first is the ownership, Summit, which organizes the annual Summit Series.

Through the Summit Series, the company brings together young tech entrepreneurs, nonprofits and artists, to spend the weekend sharing ideas and learning new topics from innovators in their field.

Ideally, Summit says, the connections formed at these meetings will create future collaborations in business, art and community service.

Nancy Conrad, founder and chairwoman of the Conrad Foundation and a supporter of the Summit Series since its inception, described the participants as change agents, people who are catalysts to dramatically change the world.

In such an environment of smart, young people with many resources, Conrad said, many boundary-pushing ideas are created. Summit Series is a think tank with disc golf and yoga, if you will.

“I want to know what these people are thinking about,” Conrad said. “I think what they are doing is amazing.”

Many in the wider nonprofit and business community have taken notice of those possibilities; and it is not uncommon to see venture capitalists and others who want to learn what those ideas are and take them back to their respective companies.

Kylie Wright-Ford is such a person.

She works for World 50, a company that brings together senior executives from global organizations to share ideas, solutions and collaborative discovery. Wright-Ford is tasked with bringing back the fresh perspectives and ideas she learned at the Summit Series.

At the very least, it provides participants with a chance to unplug from their hectic schedules running start-up tech companies and NGOS and party with their peers.

“I think it’s escapism with a purpose,” Wright-Ford said.

Since 2010, Summit has organized such private events in Squaw Valley, Calif., the Caribbean and Washington D.C.

The price of admission at the latest event on Powder Mountain, called Summit Outside, started at $2,500. That got a participant accommodations in a tent village, as well as gourmet food, outdoor activities and discussions on the events’ main stage or in educational salons, similar to those at TED conferences.

At night, the participants attended parties with headline musical acts, which, according to a news release that came out before the event, may have included hip-hop duo OutKast and electronic dance music artists Thievery Corporation.

To pull off the event, Summit spokesman Thayer Walker said, the company hired 1,000 locals as drivers, caterers and to construct the temporary village.

All these activities were held atop a mountain, 7 miles from the nearest town, which brings us to Powder Mountain itself.

In April, Summit assumed ownership of the resort and the mountain, which would serve as the company’s headquarters, known as Summit Eden.

In the spring, Summit completed work on an events center atop the mountain, known as the Skylodge, built using prefabricated materials.

Before the previous owners signed over the mountain, which is all private property, Summit took over management.

As managers, Summit was involved in finalizing a deal between Weber County and the previous owners, Western American Holdings LLC, to zone the property for further development. The rezone allows for the construction of a golf course, affordable housing for employees, condominiums and an expanded ski area.

To achieve future development, Weber County officials are working on a $22.5 million bond to build a water well, holding tank, sewer system and roads, to be repaid over 20 years by the Powder Mountain owners, through a special assessment district.

Weber County Commissioner Jan Zogmaister said the county will review Summit’s information July 30, to see if the company meets all of the conditions.

“We are not backing it up; they are,” Zogmaister said. “We have put in place several backstops to make sure it doesn’t fall on the backs of taxpayers.”

Summit will provide$30 million in equity and will have a $13.5 million loan from Zions Bank, all of which company officials say can be paid for through Powder Mountain revenues.

If worse comes to worst, there is also revenue from the Summit Series, the company’s primary venture.

“Events like this take a lot of pressure off of Powder Mountain,” Walker said. “Because we can do this kind of thing, we don’t have to leverage Powder Mountain.”

Yet, Summit says it does not want to make such drastic changes to the mountain.

The future of Powder Mountain was chosen a long time ago, Walker said, but anything done to the mountain will be done with the Summit ethos.

In keeping with the owners’ philosophy of eco-friendliness and sustainability, the mountain’s owners presented to the county a plan to build a total of 1,000 units in the Summit Eden Development,spread over eight phases.

Summit at Powder Mountain Phase 1 is to be located southwest of the traditional ski areas, a site that temporarily housed the Summit Series tent village last weekend.

In this first phase, the owners say they plan to build a 154-unit residential development, which they describe as a Bohemian village, using prefabricated materials and modern architecture techniques, as they previously did with the Skylodge.

As for the ski resort itself, the owners say they want to keep it much as it is today, other than the restaurant renovations and menu improvements that they implemented when they took over management. They say they addressed the issue of traveling up the mountain by pushing visitors to use their shuttle service.

Visitors to Powder Mountain can be picked up in downtown Ogden or use the Eden park n’ ride around the corner from Valley Market.

What they do not want is an overdeveloped ski resort that resembles something found in Park City or Vail, Colo.

Having a resort such as Powder Mountain also provides a sense of cachet among their set, the type of people who can afford to take a helicopter ride to the top of a pristine mountaintop to hit backcountry snow and then dine on a meal prepared with organic ingredients.

Residents living along 5100 East in Eden, the only road that can get you up to Powder Mountain, however, have somewhat mixed feelings about Summit.

Some residents are concerned about the traffic any potential development on the mountain could bring. Some worry about over-populating the valley, and some are pleased Summit purchased the mountain and think the group will be responsible stewards of the land.

The only consensus among residents interviewed by the Standard-Examiner is that little is known about the group or its plans.

“We’re concerned about traffic on this road,” Kay Hillstead said. “We were kind of off of the beaten path, but it’s getting so it’s not that way anymore. But really, what can you do? Weber County approved the sale, so we are just going to have to adjust to whatever happens.”

Shanna Peterson has lived near Powder Mountain for more than 30 years and said she is worried about future development.

“I hope we have enough water,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what their plans are and really, nobody does. But we’re already in a drought. Every time major development comes through the valley, I always worry about the amount of water we have.”

Shuge and Dick Sowers live in a 110-year-old home on 5100 East, and they say Powder Mountain holds an extra- special place in both of their hearts.

Dick grew up in the home the couple currently lives in and Shuge’s parents, Chuck and JoAnne Panter, helped manage Powder Mountain for more than 30 years.

Chuck served as operations manager, while his wife JoAnne worked as an office manager.

“Because of my parents, we were able to do a lot of things on the mountain that not a lot of people could,” said Shuge Sowers. “We’ve spent our whole lives up there, so it’s a sacred place to us.”

The Sowerses say their experience with Summit has been a good one so far.

“They haven’t come in and made any plans for major changes right off the bat — at least not that we know of,” Dick Sowers said. “I think they are trying to avoid stepping on anybody’s toes, and that’s a good thing.”

Shuge Sowers said she’s heard rumors that the well-connected, wealthy group of young investors who run the Summit Group plans to bring some special guests to the Ogden Valley.

“We’ve heard Beyoncé is performing; we’ve heard Bill Clinton is coming up,” she said. “But it’s all just rumors at this point. Who knows what to believe. I just wish I had an extra five grand laying around and I’d go see Beyoncé.”

Shuge Sowers said that whatever happens to Powder Mountain, she hopes its spirit will remain intact.

“That mountain has a special aura, and it’s given us a beautiful life,” she said. “People need to stay true to that spirit.”

Standard-Examiner reporter Mitch Shaw contributed to this story.

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