The Summit Powder Mountain project offers sustainable living in the remote mountains of Utah
By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
Lockdowns made many of us who live in the city miserable. With no outdoor space, we were deprived of fresh air, Vitamin D and a feeling of freedom. No wonder many people are now looking for an escape, and are moving to the countryside and other remote areas.
Elliott Bisnow, one of the co-founders of Summit Powder Mountain project, knows that feeling well. For that reason, he has designed Summit Powder Mountain project (SPM), a remote eco community (and ski resort), nestled in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains.
The community was specifically conceived to promote communal living, sustainable development and conservation. This intrepid real estate project has the goal to attract like-minded residents to the mountain, who can fully appreciate the environmentally conscious design featured in the sustainable cabin homes.
Their design is not just aesthetically beguiling, but preserves the native landscape with carefully located buildings. More specifically, these cabin homes are built with lightweight steel stilts that don’t feel invasive in the magical mountain landscape. They are also functional for massive snowfall.
All residents must all follow set of strict ecological design guidelines in the development of their home. This is to encourage more clean, modern designs and prevent the proliferation of the huge, ostentatious lodge-style homes that usually characterise ski towns including restricting home sizes. Bisnow’s approach revolutionises the concept of membership neighbourhoods, coalescing exclusivity with sustainability.
Here, he shares the philosophy behind this awe-inspiring project.
Summit Powder Mountain Project
What inspired and how did this project come about?
The Summit Powder Mountain project was conceived by the Founders of Summit (myself Elliott Bisnow, Jeff Rosenthal, Brett Leve and Jeremy Schwartz) and an education investor, Greg Mauro. Our original intention was to save Powder Mountain from over-development as proposed by a previous owner.
We are creating an intentional community for purposeful living, preserving the resort’s uncrowded recreational experience in perpetuity and bringing a unique heritage modern design aesthetic to this incredible mountain-top setting.
The concept of Summit Powder Mountain was developed over several years with the involvement of some of the top experts in resort community development and in collaboration with an inspiring group of founding Neighbours who believed in the vision of Powder Mountain.
Utah has been the home of various innovative initiatives, as attested by Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival. How do you feel its natural beauty can harness this location to be a year-round place for a community to gather and innovate?
The setting of the Summit Powder Mountain project and its awe-inspiring vistas seem to naturally compel those who visit to want to think differently about themselves and the world around them.
What else is special about the project?
Most mountain resort communities are wedged into canyons or valleys that limit views (except to the surrounding slopes) and experience darkness in the morning and late in the afternoon.
At Powder Mountain, you experience the first rays of morning sunlight and the last rays of the western sunset, expanding one’s perspective of what is possible and connecting one to the mountain and its environs in a very special and personal way.
How do you feel your Summit Powder Mountain will reshape the Millennial generation that might join it?
While several of Powder Mountain’s neighbours are millennials, we’ve attracted neighbours of multiple generations who are inspired by our philosophy of innovation, creativity, cultural enrichment, and environmental conservation. The community helps inspire each other by offering diverse viewpoints and initiatives shared by passionate entrepreneurs who are constantly exploring how to better themselves, their communities and the world around us.
Our community events are immersive and thought-provoking, from potluck neighbour dinners to shared recreational adventures to curated events, explorations and activities.
These are weaved into everyday life at SPM, with as much thought given to the community’s social infrastructure as to its physical infrastructure.
Can you describe how your project of creating sustainable cabin homes in the Wasatch Mountains contributes to sustainable development and conservation?
We have taken an integrated approach to controlling where development occurs within our community, how it is executed and then how it operates and lives on a daily basis. All with the goal of being responsible environmental stewards of our fragile mountain-top environment.
Neighbourhoods are clustered into relatively compact areas of land disturbance. This allows the vast majority of the mountain to remain undisturbed and pristine. Each neighbourhood is then carefully laid out with roadways and residences sited to minimise impact to the landforms and vegetative communities in that area. Then each building and the associated site-work is carefully designed with that site in mind.
Building sizes are capped and specify the amount of liveable area that can be exposed above-grade. Massing and roof-forms are required to align with the adjoining topography. And all new development must meet a minimum Silver Threshold of the National Green Building Code.
What will the guidelines be for the eco-design of these architectural developments?
We start with the creation of a special heritage modern design ethos that views architecture and the built environment as subservient to the natural landscape.
This aesthetic encourages the use of architectural precedents and materials from the surrounding region, but utilising them in a very modern and minimalistic way so that development is cohesive and merges with the natural landscape. We then add restrictions that reduce the palette to natural materials and colours, limit reflective surfaces and address the effects of snow and wind that are prevalent in our high alpine setting.
The result is a uniquely indigenous and functional architecture that feels like a modern sculpture garden tucked into a national park-like setting. More about our vision for the community can be found here.
How do you ensure that this project doesn’t trigger speculative development and construction in a place of raw beauty?
First, we are blessed with a mountain-top setting that is naturally separated from the adjoining developable land in the Eden Valley. This limits the ability for any ancillary, sprawling development that is so common in the down-valley areas.
Next, we have committed to preserving over two-thirds of our private land in dedicated open space and conservation easements, protecting our critical environmental systems in perpetuity.
Third, we layer in our operational restrictions that cap day tickets and season pass sales to limit the amount of recreational visitors at any one time to make sure that the experience is both uncrowded and kept well below what the environment can sustain.
Lastly, we build awareness and conservation-minded care for our fragile high-elevation vegetation, wildlife, soils and water through our design ethos and construction activities restrictions.
Where do you see Summit Powder Mountain project ten years from now?
Now that our phase one is complete and nearly sold out and our phase two is under development, our focus turns to our Village Core area which will include unique restaurants, shops, and working spaces accompanied by a wide-range of residential unit-types to meet the needs of our growing community.
In addition, we will be adding additional community amenities and gathering spaces, basecamps for entrepreneurial collaboration and outposts for expanded recreational offerings.
Our goal is to attract the cutting edge ideas for how eco-communities can and should be created and evolve to meet the needs of our neighbours.
Photos courtesy of Summit Sotheby’s International Realty