About an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, lies Utah’s Powder Mountain. The once sleepy mountain town is about to be reinvigorated as a destination for the world’s most talented creators, artists, entrepreneurs, activists, philanthropists and musicians.
After 5-years of hosting epic events for entrepreneurs including Summit Basecamp, Summit at Sea and DC10, The Summit Series team decided it was time to grow roots, and found its home in a place called Eden, Utah. Here, the 40-person Summit Series team, led by co-founders Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwartz, is anything but “settling down.” Today, the team announces that after 20 months, it’s officially closed the $40 million dollar deal to become the owners of Powder Mountain, the largest ski resort in the United States.
The historic purchase marks the Summit team as the youngest ownership group of any mountain in the country. Adding to this feat, is the impressive story of how a small collective of 20-somethings raised $40 million dollars from more than 40 people and pulled it off with the local county’s blessing in the form of an additional $18.5 million infrastructure bond to refurbish local roads, sewer and water systems.
In April 2008, the Summit Series’ beginnings began dubiously when 22-year old media entrepreneur Elliott Bisnow invited the nation’s top entrepreneurs out for a ski weekend to Utah’s Alta resort and put the entire bill on his credit card. In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Bisnow said, “Instead of calling them and trying to get a meeting, I decided to convince them all to come to Utah with me. I told them, ‘I will fly you for free and pay for the trip if you come.’” And come they did.
Since then, Bisnow and his growing Summit team have welcomed guests like Sir Richard Branson, President Bill Clinton, entrepreneur Mark Cuban, rapper Jazzy Jeff, Tom’s Shoes’ Blake Mycoskie, social media expert Gary V, Twitter’s Evan Williams, WordPress’ Matt Mullenweg, author Eric Ries and artist Peter Tunney.
From connections made between entrepreneurs, artists and investors, Summit events have raised tens of millions of dollars for business and nonprofit ventures. In late 2011, Summit rallied the community to raise nearly $1 million to create a marine reserve the size of Manhattan in the island chain that hosted Summit at Sea. They connected Founders Fund to Spotify, which catalyzed the music service’s North American launch. They helped the health technology company Basis raise its Series A through the Summit community. Summit also has it’s own investment fund which includes companies like Uber and Warby Parker.
On the hunt for a permanent home, the team looked at Soho House type models, beaches and other mountain communities. But once they saw Eden, Utah the decision to move solidified quickly. “It’s 55 minutes from an international airport and in the center of our country,” says Summit Team founder Jeff Rosenthal (pictured above, center with Summit Team Partner and former pro-soccer player Natalie Spigler and Summit Team Founder Elliott Bisnow). “There are no streetlights or stop lights in town. From the top of Powder Mountain, you can look out over 4 states. It’s an idyllic rural valley… It’s Narnian.”
The $40 million dollar investment to buy the mountain was secured from Summit Eden’s 40+ founding members including billionaire Peter Thiel; bestselling author Tim Ferriss; Elle Magazine founder Sunny Bates; Heroku founder James Lindenbaum; Particle Code founder Galia BenArtzi and TV host Dhani Jones.
The investment isn’t structured with equity in the resort but with plots of land on Powder Mountain (lots were rumored to have sold for $500K to $2 million a piece). Membership to Summit Eden includes access to a private lodge and ten thousand acres of skiing, riding, hiking and biking in addition to a year-round program of events, speakers and concerts.
When asked to spend $1 million on a home in Eden, the rationale from entrepreneurs is two-fold. There are the financial payoffs, as many can secure hundreds in thousands of dollars in new business in just a weekend. But most founders answered that it was this “connection to the creative spirit and the power to move things forward” that drew them in. One founding member called it a “tribe of creativity.”
“This is no ordinary real estate project; it’s an effort to create an epicenter of culture, innovation, and thought-leadership. Our founding group includes an Iranian-refugee-turned-neuroscientist, one of the top snowboarders in the world, the leader of a non-profit dedicated to ending war in the Congo, one of the most successful female producers in Hollywood, a best-selling author, the former head of UNICEF, and some of the most influential entrepreneurs of the last 50 years,” says Thayer Walker, Summit’s Chief Reconnaissance Officer.
To get a more visual understanding of where they’re going, check out this video for Summit Eden:
“The Summit team makes Powder Mountain feel like the next Aspen,” explains Rameet Chawla, a “Summiteer” and the founder of Fueled. “Everything from the celebrity chefs, powder skiing, famous DJs and the people (some of the most successful in the world). And these kids are building it from their hearts. They aren’t private equity backers attempting to overbuild and maximize profits. They’re delivering a curated experience rich in detail and delivery, which is what people are most attracted to.”
Summit’s development plan is modest in comparison to the strip malls and golf courses other developers had in mind, and includes 500 single family homes (the largest home is around 4,000 sq feet), a small mountain village with a recording studio, art galleries and bohemian retail shops, a few boutique hotels, a members-only lodge and a mountain-top activity center. The mountain will otherwise be left untouched, allowing for enjoyable skiing. Walker says they’re the first development group that hasn’t had plans to pincushion the mountain with a dozen or more new lifts.
“I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want to own.”
“We’re more influenced by Silicon Valley than traditional developers or the ski industry in general, so we’d like to incorporate some of that disruptive ethos into Powder Mountain,” Walker says. To this effect, the Summit team has already discussed the ideas like using drones for avalanche control, search and rescue. Kale will also be introduced to the mountain’s menu (but the chili bowls aren’t going anywhere).
While the Summit team is just getting started, they have some exciting community plans in the works. “Right now, we’re focused on developing local partnerships and integrating the expertise of the Summit community into Utah’s community,” says Walker. For example, Summit is a partner in Learn Capital, a global education fund with the largest portfolio of ed-tech companies around the world, including Edmodo, General Assembly and Udemy. Through their Learn Capital partnership, they’re working to get cutting-edge education technology into local schools.
Local entrepreneur Alex Lawrence predicts that Summit’s influence on the area will mean that Northern Utah will have more startups than ever before, specifically Ogden where organizations like StartUp Ogden already exist. We spoke with DODOcase founder Patrick Buckley, a founding member of Summit Eden, this past weekend while he was in Utah scoping out land for his future home. Buckley is in talks with the local community and hopes to build a manufacturing incubator in nearby Ogden, Utah.
For the thousands of Summit members who can’t afford million dollar-housing, plans for home shares, need-based lodging and subsidized cabins are in the works. The Summit team has already announced their summer plans to invite back the rest of the community for weekend retreats now that the investment is locked down.
“It’s really important for us to have artist residencies and homes for writers, non-profit founders, and people who are innovating culturally but they can’t afford it. For a cost comparable to going to a Summit event, they will receive a fractional timeshare in one of the cabins,” explains Rosenthal. The team is also working to bring in the young, next generation of nonprofit founders; not necessarily 16-year old app creators but the 16-year olds curing cancer kind of innovators.
For those who want to get involved in Summit, invitations are given on a word of mouth basis. They’re looking for people who are disrupting their fields and framing their work in terms of social enterprise. “A big component of Summit is ‘great people doing great things’. It’s an inclusive community for anyone that’s on that path,” adds Rosenthal.
“At Summit Eden, we envision a recording studio +at 9,000 feet; literary, artistic, and scientific residencies; a start-up incubator and innovation lab; and place to host micro-conferencing and peace and reconciliation talks. It’s salon culture as a tool to drive innovation and creation,” says Walker.
True to their tagline of #MakeNoSmallPlans, the Summit team is on a mission to build a community around a shared ethos, one that can drive positive, disruptive growth at a global level. And so like a tree that now has its roots, it seems the Summit community will only grow stronger and taller in the years to come.