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New group takes over Utah's Powder Mountain resort

Paul Foy, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A new group running Utah's Powder Mountain resort says it plans to add chair lifts and expand ski terrain but keep real estate development in check.

Summit Group, a limited liability corporation of young entrepreneurs backed by deep-pocket investors, announced Monday it has taken over and was buying the ski area known for its backcountry terrain.

The company sponsors the Summit Series leadership conferences that started in Park City in 2008. It has invested in Internet startups like the taxi service Uber and eyeglass supplier Warby Parker, and has raised money for environmental causes.

Summit plans to turn Powder Mountain into an "alpine Bohemian village" for innovative business thinkers and artists. It plans to ditch the far more ambitious real estate plans of the current owners that riled Ogden Valley residents worried their local mountain would turn into a glitzy resort.

The goal is to create a sustainable resort community, not a mega-development, said one of Summit's executives, Thayer Walker.

"We fell in love with the valley and the mountain itself," the 34-year-old Californian said Wednesday. "We're not looking into turning it into a giant corporate ski mountain. We're looking at doing it a smart way."

The group envisions a 500-unit village near the top of Powder Mountain but hidden in a mountain fold. Former owners had plans for thousands of housing units and motel rooms spilling over both sides of Powder Mountain in two counties.

The sale is contingent on the former group obtaining a zoning change for a recreational makeover, and should be completed by early next year, Walker said.

Powder was a family-owned ski area for 34 years until its 2006 sale by Dr. Alan Cobabe, who occasionally fixed skiers' broken bones himself.

Cobabe sold the area to Western American Holdings, a group of dozens of limited partners organized by Ogden lawyer Mark Arnold and Lee A. Daniels, now a marketing teacher at Brigham Young University.

Western American Holdings' plans for big development collided with local opposition and a real estate crash. Daniels said the mountain was turned over to a limited partner, Pronaia Capital Partners Ltd.

Steven N. Nielsen II, a registered agent for the private-equity fund, didn't return a message left Tuesday with his father by The Associated Press.

"I know there's been different buyers coming and going" for Powder Mountain over the years, Daniels said Tuesday. "It would be great if they (Summit) can pull it off."

Summit is running Powder, upgrading lodges and food menus, and has raised enough money from investors for a purchase. Terms weren't disclosed.

The ski area, about 20 miles northeast of Ogden, hopes to mark its season opening as early as this weekend if another foot or two of snow arrives, said Gregg Greer, the general manager for the past seven years.

Powder Mountains has no snowmaking, but receives about 500 inches of natural snow a year, making it a 7,000-acre powder paradise.

"We ended up with the best possible ownership scenario for this mountain. Someone was going to buy it — and most wanted to leverage it" into a huge resort, Greer said. "No one said, 'How can I do a minimal amount of development to make it sustainable?' No one even asked."

Summit is looking for more than just financial returns on Powder Mountain, which has been profitable even though its busiest day sees only about 2,500 skiers paying modest prices, he said. Lift tickets will sell for $65 this winter, one of Utah's cheapest rates. Discounts are available.