“We want to subvert resort culture,” says Sam Arthur, design director for Summit. “This is a blank slate to work with: we have a 100-year vision to create a town which is enduring and meaningful.”
Summit intends to create a hip and select ski resort with a difference: one with arts and culture at its core, featuring contemporary architecture, which will blend with and complement the spectacular surroundings.
Formed eight years ago by a group of four young entrepreneurs – Elliot Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal and Jeremy Schwarz – Summit organises invite-only social mixers, the Summit Series, with the aim of “building a community and places that catalyse entrepreneurship, creative achievement and global change to create a more joyful world.” Speakers at the events could include the founder of Wordpress, Uber or SoulCycle and the seminars are always complemented by food and entertainment from trendy, emerging chefs, artists and musicians. Immersive experiences, such as yoga, diving and skiing, are also part of the format.
The Summit Series started out as nomadic: taking over a tropical island or a cruise ship for the weekend, but as the Summit community grew, the need for a headquarters became clear. In February 2013, Summit bought Utah ski area Powder Mountain, with a view to creating a permanent home for the community, and as a destination for its events.
“The Summit founders felt like the community would benefit from having a place to invest in long-term, to build its culture,” explains Sam Arthur. “This project could have been in New York, on an island, or in a lot of different places; it just so happened that here in northern Utah the founders found a raw, beautiful, up and coming area.”
The Summit team were introduced to Powder Mountain by a member of its community, Greg Mauro, a venture capitalist who is also a partner in the project. The acquisition was achieved using funds raised through crowdsourcing within the Summit community, who bought in to the ski resort dream.
Formerly a privately owned and operated ranch, the evocatively named Powder Mountain is already a functioning ski area, with 7,000 acres of skiable terrain. It is much beloved by adventurous regional skiers, drawn by its uncrowded slopes and untracked powder, and it hosts 120,000 skiers/riders annually.
Its full potential as a ski resort has never been realised, partly because the local community have fiercely guarded its integrity: they have already driven away two development companies who wanted to build 2,000 houses and three golf courses. Apart from a few cabins by the main ski area there is little in the way of development at the resort, so most skiers come for the day.
Although Powder Mountain will serve as the headquarters for Summit and host its events, it is also important that it will function as a ski village in its own right, with day visits and tourism part of the ambitious plans going forward.
Construction of a new village will start this summer, comprising a main street down the middle, with restaurants, cafés, artisan retail, artists’ workshops and working studios on either side. Food will be at the core, as many of the Summit community are involved with the catering business, so the restaurants might change operators regularly and will reflect the seasons.
“It will be a culinary institute where there’ll be seasonal restaurants, and the operators will rotate,” says Arthur. “There will also be third party operators, but we’re not bringing in national chains to anchor the experience. There won’t be stores for high-end designer clothing brands. There will be a lot of interesting partnerships and brands, but not the formulaic type – only those that align with the values and ethos of our community.”
As part of the crowdsourcing arrangement, members of the Summit community paid between $1m and $2m for a one to two acre plot. There will be around 500 dwellings and several hotels.
Fifty founding members bought into the vision initially; this has now risen to around 110. “People very much believe in the community of Summit; investing in continuing and empowering that community was the logical next step,” says Arthur.
Building a community
All houses will be limited in size to 4,500sq ft, because Summit doesn’t want people to build castles which they don’t emerge from; they want them to be mixing in the village. “This isn’t a place to get away,” says Arthur. “It’s a place to lean in closer, like gathering around a campfire. It will be an incubator for ideas and friendships and will catalyse goodness in the world.”
In addition to the privately-owned residences, there will also be a mix of tourist accommodation. Arthur says they want to be “wealth agnostic” so are building affordable accommodation as well as some high-end hotels, the details of which are still under wraps. Drawing on its community, Summit has worked with LifeEdited, which specialises in experiential design and branding and focuses on small scale urbanist living, to design the micro-units.
“To keep it affordable we have put an emphasis on the social spaces,” says Arthur. “The living room, the hearth and the kitchen are scaled up, while the sleeping experience is scaled down. Bedrooms are only as big as they need to be and there will be bunkrooms and shared bathrooms.”
The approach to interior design is less about luxury and more about experience. “The architecture will recede into the landscape, to be part of the bigger whole and the interiors will allow guests to enjoy the view and the sunset. The interest will come from the people inside,” says Arthur. “The materials will be humble, earnest and unpretentious, ergonomic and functional.”
Design and architecture
Fifteen residential projects are about to break ground in phase one of the build. At the same time, a couple of key venues and lodgings will get underway. Arthur says these public buildings will be humble and fit with the landscape: “They will be wood clad buildings, which are not yelling for your attention. Warm on the inside and friendly on the outside, not asking too much of the landscape, or being too opulent.”
The village will be densely clustered, all the buildings will be orientated to make the most of the views and the light. Building sustainably is a given, but the buildings will also be modern in character. “Our goal is to create new mountain architecture, which will be subservient to the natural landscape,” says Arthur.
In keeping with many European resorts, the focus at Powder Mountain will be on pedestrian activity, with cars kept to a minimum; Arthur says they don’t want big car parks.
“Many US ski resorts are based on prosperity and sprawl, so they’ve become hollow experiences,” he says. “For us, restraint and focus and building stuff we really believe in, and which people want to use, is how we will be different. The expectation is that people will come and participate: ski, have a blast, meet people, share stories and be actively involved in making the next part of this place, as it grows and changes.”
The dream has been set out, but now the challenge is to bring it to fruition and the next focus is on the build. For a team of entrepreneurial creatives who expect to see quick results, the progress has been slower than hoped.
Services and infrastructure need to be brought in, village amenities and the dwellings have to be built, plus three or four more ski lifts to reduce the dependence on snow cat touring.
“Construction will take some time,” says Arthur. “We’ve got a lot of the nitty gritty work ahead of us, before we can have the curtains-up reveal. Lots of our planning is based around choreography: how we can build the place, but also fill it.”
After the initial crowdfunding, the development is now being funded by income generated from the Powder Mountain ski area, as well as Summit’s events business.
“We continue to sell ski-in-ski-out real estate ranging from small cabin sites nestled between old growth trees to larger estate lots with panoramic views,” says Arthur.
The Summit community sounds desirable and edgy, but as members mature, can they continue to keep up the same levels of energy? Arthur says the community will continue to evolve, welcoming new people with fresh ideas.
“You can’t hold on too tight. You have to set it up for success, so interested, passionate people can get involved. We learn from the more tenured people and listen to the younger people and put it all together to create the best experience we can.”