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New development approach at Powder Mountain

By Cathy Mckitrick - | May 2, 2014
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The Northern Wasatch mountains can be seen out the windows of the sunken yurt in the Skylodge on Powder Mountain. The private lodge is the first structure built on the mountain by the Summit Group. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)

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Tailgate party in the mid-mountain parking lot during the Wailers performance. (Credit Jake Nelson)

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The Wailers perform at Timberline Lodge. (Credit Jake Nelson)

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Skiers and snowboards ride down the mountain carrying lights, for the spring festival of lights celebration. (Credit Jake Nelson)

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The view from Powder Mountain opens up over the Ogden Valley and the Great Salt Lake on Thursday, April, 24, 2014. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)

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Summit Group staff and visitors eat lunch at the Summit Valley Lodge in Eden on Thursday, April, 24, 2014. The Summit Group is beginning work on a village with 500 homes, hotels, shops and more just south of the main ski area. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)

EDEN — The panoramic view from the top of Powder Mountain takes in four states — Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Nevada. That vast beauty serves as a constant reminder to the mountain’s youthful owners to proceed thoughtfully as they pursue their real estate development plans.

“Most mountain developments have been about big homes on big homesites,” said Elliott Bisnow, the 28-year-old founder of Summit Series. “We’re doing the opposite. We have 10,000 acres of private land, and the vast majority of it is being left as open space.”

“And even those homes are densely packed,” Bisnow said, describing plans for cozy neighborhoods where people can walk next door, greet neighbors, and have their kids pal around together.

The Summit Powder Mountain approach — 500 single-family homes over 20 years, along with a village core of comparable scale –is markedly different from others who wanted to dot the mountain with monument mansions.

Bisnow and colleagues are also pondering ways to make certain types of home spaces communal rather than separate — such as theater rooms, hot tubs and garden spaces.

“Maybe you don’t need to build a thousand extra square feet of house if six homes can share amenities,” Bisnow said.

Thayer Walker, Summit’s chief reconnaissance officer, said some lots will be limited to 1,000-square-foot dwellings, with an overall cap of 4,500 square feet for mountainside homes, referring to their above-grade livable space. The average Powder Mountain house will be about 2,800 square feet.

“We want to stop the mcmansionification of mountains . . . and maximize the natural space around us,” Walker said.

Rather than traditional log cabin designs, Bisnow said they plan to use locally sourced, reclaimed and recycled materials in modern shapes that conserve energy and comply with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications.

Down the road, Summit is also considering long-term plans beyond the Summit Powder Mountain community, Walker added, which could include an expanded array of visitor accommodations.

Even food is viewed in a different light in the Summit sphere.

“At most resorts, the best food means the fanciest,” Bisnow said. “But maybe it means the best locally sourced food that’s the healthiest” — kale salads, for example.

Walker, 35, summed it up: “We’re very much trying to build a center for the ethos that the community, organization and events have come to embody over the last six years.”

How Summit started

Fueled by big ideas, the well-connected Bisnow launched Summit Series half a dozen years ago. Summit’s website, www.summit.co, defines its mission “to unite the leaders of today and tomorrow through environments and events designed to catalyze positive personal and collective growth.”

In 2010, Summit Series hosted a Washington, D.C. event that drew presenters that included former President Bill Clinton, Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, NASA Astronaut Leland Melvin, TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie and many others.

Summit at Sea followed in 2011, held in international waters near the Bahamas, and in 2012, the group attracted hundreds of attendees to Squaw Valley, Calif. for Summit Basecamp.

Last July, Summit Series christened the company’s new home base by hosting Summit Outside at Powder Mountain.

Such events include a philanthropic component, and the group said Summit Outside raised over $90,000 to benefit area nonprofits.

“We’re really creating a place where people not only want to be in a beautiful mountain environment but are also driving positive disruptive change in their fields,” Walker said, “doing interesting, innovative things and giving back to the world.”

That buzz phrase, positive disruptive change, refers to affecting change in order to make something better, Bisnow said.

“For example, I don’t like fast food, I think it could be a lot better.”

We just bought a mountain — now what?

In May 2013, Summit Mountain Group finalized its reported $40 million purchase of the 10,000-acre mountain. Then in August, Weber County officials signed off on a $17.6 million special assessment bond that the development’s new residents will pay off over 20 years. And last October, commissioners also approved a community development area plan that allows part of the new property tax revenues generated by the 6,772-acre development to fund costly infrastructure and other amenities on the mountain.

Over the past year, Summit has overseen the digging of two wells, installation of a 450,000-gallon water tank and the pre-fabricated construction of a new 5,500-square-foot Skylodge at 8,950 feet elevation.

“Basically the siding is all reclaimed wood,” Walker said of the understated events center designed by Skylab in Portland, Ore. and built off-site by Seattle-based Method Homes. Its leasable space features a sunken circular living-room yurt, a dining yurt that seats 80, and an open kitchen plus full bar.

A sign on the wall, touting a recent event featuring Mike De La Rocha and John Forte, reads Living Rooms Across America, How Resilience, Courage and Love Will Transform Criminal Justice.

“We had a talk up here about criminal justice,” Walker said. “Unusual for a mountaintop, but that’s the idea, right? People are coming here as part of the community to learn and understand all sorts of issues and to get involved.”

In recent months, Summit hosted three-time Everest climber Conrad Anker, motivational hip-hop poet Sekou Andrews, and the legendary reggae band, the Wailers, at Powder Mountain’s ski resort.

“That was our preview year,” Bisnow said. “Next year we want to take it to a whole new level.”

Drawing from local talent

Ogden architect and Eden resident Ray Bertoldi has sketched out spec renderings for Summit, with some homes as small as 800 square feet, but full of windows and light.

“They’re very minimalist and that’s the idea,” Walker said. “The more understated and simple the architecture, the more apparent the beauty of the land.”

As Bertoldi sees it, Summit is taking a different approach in terms of land use and density by being sensitive to the site and the environment.

Bertoldi designed one of Eden’s first LEED Platinum homes, and said that experience dovetails into Summit’s design philosophy.

“It’s all the things we would normally want to do in a project,” Bertoldi said. “With different developers we might get some pushback, but here it’s the baseline.”

An avid skier, Bertoldi still hits Pow-Mow runs when he gets the chance.

“It doesn’t feel any different,” Bertoldi said. “I’m going downhill and it’s light, fluffy and fun.”

The view from below

In the cozy hamlet of Eden and beyond, many residents say they’re in “wait and see” mode regarding Summit’s plans.

“We’re certainly happy for their business,” said Tom Ferguson, co-owner of Eden’s Valley Market for the past nine years.

Summit chefs sometimes drop in to purchase in quantity and “they seem to want more organic items than the average consumer,” Ferguson said.

Eden resident and community activist Marion Horna described the Summit folks as “real savvy,” adding that “if they walk their talk, they’re going to be fine.”

Laura Warburton, who currently serves on the Ogden Valley Planning Commission, described Summit’s overall attitudes as “very fresh and new.”

“Every time I’ve worked with them, I’ve seen nothing but integrity, the highest and best use, and wanting to make the community better,” Warburton said.

Her 16-year-old daughter, Hannah Warburton, worked as a server at Powder Mountain this past ski season.

“We called ourselves a family,” Hannah Warburton said. “It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had” — which included rubbing shoulders with the famed Wailers.

Keith Rounkles, longtime operator of the Oaks Restaurant, served on the Ogden Valley Planning Commission when the preceding developer tried to incorporate a town on the mountain in order to sidestep their constraints. Summit’s path has been different, and Rounkles said he plans to “just watch and hope for the best” as they work through some difficult development challenges.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Rounkles said, “and I hope they recognize it — and crawl first, walk next, and run later.”

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or cmckitrick@standard.net. Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.


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