"Powder’s really known for its adventure skiing: there are only four lifts, so you have to earn your turns."
Summit Series, a four-year-old annual conference for young business, non-profit, and entertainment leaders—think TEDTalks meets Davos meets Lollapalooza—has announced that it's inked a deal to buy Powder Mountain in northern Utah, a 10,000-acre powder hound's playground. The group plans to build 500 home sites and a conference center on the backside of the ski resort, which is known for 500 inches of annual snowfall and a distinct lack of lift lines. The group hopes to build a residential think tank-cum-playground for the type of people who attend their conference series, which have, in the past, featured performances by The Roots and Jose Gonzalez, and a chartered cruise to tag sharks in the Bahamas. We caught up with Summit's Thayer Walker to find out what comes next.
Forbes called you guys the "hipper Davos." How'd you move from conferences to ski resorts?
Since we started in 2008, we've hosted an annual event that's come to include about 1,000 people—an incredible spectrum of multidisciplinary change-makers, from astronauts to entrepreneurs; athletes, scientists, conservationists, writers, journalists—anybody who's doing something to change the world and looking to use their talents for good.
We bring all these people together for talks and discussions and musical events. In 2011, we chartered an ocean liner for 1,000 people, sailed out to the Bahamas and went shark tagging to help with research at University of Miami. Branson was there. We partnered with the Nature Conservancy and ended up raising $1 million to create a marine reserve in the island chain where we dropped anchor.
So we’ve been throwing these really incredible events over the past four years, and we’ve raised tens of millions of dollars for business ventures, creative output, non-profits.... We started to ask ourselves what we could achieve if we could create this kind of environment year-round. When Powder came up for sale, one of our attendees, Greg Mauro—a venture capitalist and an Eden, Utah, resident—said we should check it out. And we were like, Holy cow, this would be perfect.
How do you decide to buy a mountain?
Powder Mountain is just spectacular, and the Ogden Valley is a really beautiful place. I hadn’t skied it before we arrived last February, but there are just limitless outdoor opportunities out here. We wanted to create a place where people can come together to create, but also relax in a spectacular natural setting.
Its 10,000 acres make up the largest skiable area in the country. Last year, we averaged just 900 skiers per day. So it’s pretty wild how much powder you can get.
What has the local response been?
It's been pretty positive. Powder was founded in 1972 by a sheep rancher, so it’s got this very old-school type of vibe to it. Instead of coming in and putting up 15 lifts, we want to preserve the character as-is. It’s a really exceptional place. It’s rare to find a mountain of this size that doesn’t have 20,000 people on it every day.
Powder had been purchased several years ago, and there was tremendous local opposition to the planned development. The group wanted to put in 10,000 units, two 18-hole golf courses, tons of new lifts. But what makes the mountain special is the open spaces—I mean, you can see four states from the top of it, and a week after a storm you can still get fresh tracks. It really feels like a national park up there.