Deep Skiing, Deeper Thinking At Summit – Powder Mountain, Utah
by Rob Story
“Mount Millennial” – Powder Mountain, Utah
Ever been hugged by a clerk while checking into a ski lodge? Me neither. ‘Til last March that is, in the Summit Powder Mountain welcome center at Powder Mountain, Utah. With yoga music sounding from discreet speakers and pitchers of cucumber water sweating in natural light, I approach the reception counter, which is in fact an antique table. That’s when Justin — a handsome young man with bright blue eyes and long blond dreadlocks, wearing a Himalayan scarf and paisley pants — stands and opens his arms wide. He gifts me a warm embrace. “How was your journey today?” he asks, with almost embarrassing sincerity.
I think back to my rental car railing the little-patrolled serpentines of Utah Highway 46 earlier this sunny Good Friday in the American West, and sputter, “Great!” The affirmation pleases my earnest young host, though it’s doubtful he truly meant to inquire about the juvenile joy of gunning 20 miles per hour over posted limits. He hands over my room key.
Forbes called the snowbound conventions “The Hipper Davos.”
Justin is compassionate, progressive, tech-savvy, engaged, and surely born in 1982 or later. By any measure, he portends millennial. No wonder he works — or “goal-sets,” as his generation might say at Powder Mountain, a once-sleepy family resort now pioneering a brave new synthesis of skiing and millennial culture.
Sitting an hour and a half drive from Salt Lake City in the biblical sounding town of Eden, Powder Mountain lures but 120,000 skier visits a year. It has remained rustic and low-key since sheep farmers built it in 1972. But things began changing in 2013, when a group of twentysomethings collectively known as the Summit Group bought the ski resort for about $40 million.
For several years, Summit has brought together young entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers at invite-only motivational conferences. According to its mission statement: “Summit builds community and places that catalyze entrepreneurship, creative achievement, and global change to create a more joyful world.” That’s a lot of creating for a single sentence, sure, and it just might sound pretentious. Still, Summit Series’ conferences draw return business and great reviews. Forbes called the snowbound conventions “The Hipper Davos.”
While Summit has held conferences in the nation’s capital, on cruise ships, in the Hamptons, and at other ski areas, it sought to establish a permanent home. Hence, the Powder Mountain purchase — emblematized these days by magnificent Skylodge.
A brilliant blend of stone, glass, and yurt canvas, Powder Mountain’s Skylodge occupies an aerie overlooking an infinity of blue-white Wasatch Mountains. A flagstone patio leads inside to buffets of farm-to-table food. The bar proffers fresh juice and organic soda. The lodge highlight: its fantastic, Jetsons-esque circular conference room, where designer pendant lights beam down on a blond-wood piano and about 40 rapt conference attendees lounge on Moroccan floor pillows.
The fortysomething curmudgeon in me delights to find a seat in an actual, true-blue chair. The man on my right picks up a microphone I didn’t know he had and introduces himself as Keith Ferrazzi, the founder of relationship psychology ethos and the author of Who’s Got Your Back? and Never Eat Alone. Why conduct a lecture from a simple chair? I guess because it’s 2016, when podiums come off as paternalistic and controlling.
“Everyone in this room can lead people,” Ferrazzi urges. “There’s a possibility for you or me to create a more authentic person. Don’t fear the 12-step program. 12-steps are among life’s most beautiful things: Where else does a group of random people show up and support someone they don’t know?”
Eventually, Ferrazzi commands we listeners look into the eyes of a stranger and say, “He is Risen.” The speaker’s theme this Easter Sunday, see, is rising from one’s difficulties. I depart the discussion a bit later. I harbor no desire to look ever again into the eyes of a stranger and say, “He is Risen,” for one thing: For another, the skiing outside rules.
At 7,000 skiable acres, Powder Mountain, Utah is America’s largest resort. The peaks roll away into endless sagebrush horizons. I release my edges and drop into wide-open drainages, executing swooping, cowboy turns around well-spaced trees and boulders. There are deep canyons and mushroom knobs crowned with bristlecone pines. It’s not the steepest terrain, but it could be the least populated. For three days on Powder Mountain slopes, I often ride the lifts alone. At Ferrazzi’s talk, I was one of only three people in ski boots. Powder Mountain’s 167 runs and 500-plus inches of “real snow” each winter are not necessarily draws for people attending $1,000 per weekend Summit Series events.
Ferrazzi commands we listeners look into the eyes of a stranger and say, “He is Risen.”
For the flanks of these white Wasatch peaks, Summit has yet another ambitious plan: the addition of 500 ski accessible homesites linked with a village full of cafés, boutiques, and galleries — all sharing Summit’s stated philosophies of innovation, creativity, cultural enrichment, and environmental conservation. This new residential community “explores what it means to build responsibly in nature,” Summit’s website says. Words bandied about in the press include sustainable, futuristic, artisanal, and even utopian. Millennials, I’m told, are buying into it.
Back inside Skylodge, I rejoin Gen Whys lost in wellness and yoga sessions, TED-like talks, and chef led classes preparing farm-to-table cuisine. None of us who attend the Lake House performance Saturday night of Sekou Andrews and Saint Motel will soon forget it. Andrews is a former teacher turned National Poetry Slam champion; Saint Motel is a foursome from L.A. making ethereal but grooving “dream pop.” In the darkened downstairs great room I write extensive notes on Saint Motel’s excellence. Later I discover these notes are absolutely illegible, which, I suppose, is why millennials take notes on magic glow boxes.
When the evening ends, I ask myself this question: Does skiing really need a thing like Summit? Skiing has worked just fine, thank you, as an upper-class leisure. The sport already bequeaths communions with nature, healthy exercise, cathartic lactic acid, dopamine-fueled euphoria, and the ultimately false credo that man shall hold dominion over the land. Why bring “Deep Thinking” into it now?
Precisely because it is 2016. It’s okay to evolve. Have you any idea how refreshing is a ski lodge that serves farm-fresh arugula dazzled with mango-soy vinaigrette instead of charred hockey pucks of ground beef from Big Ag? The clientele is also much more diverse, with faces from Africa and Asia and Oceania, as well as the expected Caucasians. What’s wrong with a ski area that appeals to human conscience as well as taste buds and muscle memory?
I depart the vast slopes and hugging receptionists of Summit Powder Mountain, Utah in a happy, heady mood. I possess a new tan and abundant new thoughts, one of which goes: There’s far too much conformity in ski resort land to resent a refreshing, oddball newcomer. You kids can go ahead and play on my lawn.