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How Summit Powder Mountain, a $40-million ski resort designed to be a utopia for the tech elite, skidded downhill

/ 3:15
High-end ski packages offer customers luxury perks
Anne Sraders
April 3, 2023·3 min read
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Four young entrepreneurs with a grandiose vision of building a utopia for the tech elite. A buzzy conference series attended by billionaires and celebrities like Harrison Ford and Jeff Bezos. Venture capital backers. A $40-million mountain ski resort. What could go wrong?

Summit Powder Mountain, a planned ski town on the top of Powder Mountain in Utah, was designed to be an eco-friendly community for techies, billionaires, creatives, and CEOs, born out of an idea from the young founders of the popular Summit series conference. But like many Silicon Valley moonshots, the plan ran into a litany of issues, and 10 years on, it’s fallen far short of its original idea. In her latest feature, my colleague Lila MacLellan dug deep into what Summit Powder Mountain, started in 2013, looks like today—and the host of problems that have hindered its progress.

If you’ve been around the tech ecosystem for a while, you’re likely familiar with the Summit conference series, founded by Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz. As Lila writes:

…The event has established its reputation in Silicon Valley as a kind of "TED meets Burning Man" confab. Speakers have included billionaires such as Elon Musk and hedge fund investor Ray Dalio; startup guys like the late Zappos founder Tony Hsieh; lifestyle gurus Marie Kondo, Brené Brown, and Eckhart Tolle; activists including Erin Brockovich, Tarana Burke, and Al Gore; prominent thinkers from author Malcolm Gladwell to psychotherapist Esther Perel; and Hollywood legends such as Shonda Rhimes, Quentin Tarantino, and Jane Fonda. There are founders and CEOs galore, and scores of deejays.

But the Summit founders had a grander ambition than their conferences:

They were building a community of people who wanted to fix the world’s ills by creating businesses that gave back. They were collecting people who accepted the Summit mantra "Make no small plans" as a personal creed. … The young men, in partnership with two venture capitalists, laid out a utopian vision of a "new urbanist" community, peopled with tech-industry wunderkinds, showbiz and sports stars, and "the billionaire set." It was to be a place where big, world-changing, philanthropic ideas would be hatched.

With the help of venture capital investor Greg Mauro, they raised more than the $40 million they needed to buy Powder Mountain, a remote ski resort in Utah, with other investors including Virgin Group founder Richard Branson; self-help author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss; and Beth Comstock, former vice chair and chief marketing officer at GE, joining in as founding members. But, as Lila notes, building a town is very different from a conference series, and troubles have popped up over the course of the decade since the group began work. Among the challenges the group has faced are the logistics of building a town at 9,000 feet, as well as delays related to the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, they’ve contended with multiple lawsuits, some of which are ongoing, and clashes with locals in the town of Eden. Lila also uncovered issues internally, including changes in leadership at the resort and "organizational dysfunction." Today, about 90% of the promised 500 houses haven’t been built yet, and lots are still empty or construction is unfinished. As Lila writes:

In recent years, the original Summit founders have been less and less involved with the mountain and have reduced their ownership stake. Changes in the structure of the group developing the resort leave its future in question. Everyone has started to refer to it simply as Powder Mountain again—removing "Summit" from the name.

The reality ultimately fell very short. Now, as Lila aptly describes, "It’s a 9,000-foot monument to the hubris of Silicon Valley’s big ideas." This feature is a must-read (and very entertaining), but I’ll leave you with one of the story’s key grafs:

It’s easy to see the appeal of the original plan for Summit Powder Mountain: a place that married altruism with hedonism, drawing some of the most creative entrepreneurial minds of our era. But did it ever make any sense? Can a group of founders and celebrities really change the world from an elegant ski resort? As Silicon Valley’s era of seeming omnipotence comes to a close—with bank failures, cryptocurrency meltdowns, and wave after wave of layoffs—this city upon a hill is starting to look like just another Silicon Valley moonshot that fell flat.

Read her full, and wild, feature here.

Special M&A Report from Fortune’s Luisa Beltran: Mastercard has put Transactis, the fintech it acquired in 2019, up for sale, two people familiar with the auction said. They specified that the company is targeting $100 million for Transactis with Goldman Sachs advising on the sale process and that Mastercard is seeking a strategic buyer for Transactis, and private equity is not invited to the process. PE firms typically cut costs when they buy companies. "[Mastercard] wants to make sure they find a good home for it," one of the sources said. "We don’t comment on rumor," a Mastercard spokeswoman said in an email while Goldman declined to comment. Transactis, which helps businesses deliver bills and receive payments, raised roughly $70 million in funding before it was sold to Mastercard.

We made it to April…Here’s this month’s cartoon from Ian Foley:

See you tomorrow,

Anne Sraders
Twitter: @AnneSraders
Email: [email protected]
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Jackson Fordyce curated the deals section of today’s newsletter.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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