Welcome to Powder Mountain- a utopian fraternity for the millennial upper-clas

When these young entrepreneurs bought a remote ski used in Utah, they dreamed of an exclusive, socially conscious parish. Is this the future, or Mt Olympus for Generation Me?

Jeff Rosenthal is standing near the highest level of his snow-covered mountain wearing a fluffy jacket, fingerless gauntlets and rent jeans.” It’s surreal, humanity !” he does, shivering as he canvasses the landscape of newly laid roads and half-built homes.” That’s Ken Howery’s house, the co-founder of PayPal. Awesome house !”

He rosters the other investors who are transforming this remote Utah community into a crucible of” generational dogma, innovation and entrepreneurship “. Richard Branson will have a mansion here, and so will the world’s most powerful market executive, Martin Sorrell. The Hollywood producer Stacey Sher and the actor Sophia Bush is likely to be their neighbours, as will Miguel McKelvey, a co-founder of WeWork, and the renowned technology investor and columnist of The 4-Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss.

The impudent real estate activity- labelled Powder Mountain– becomes an mecca for altruistically thoughts members of the world-wide elite.” The objective will always remain the same ,” says Elliott Bisnow, Rosenthal’s business partner:” To be a lighthouse of inspiration and a light-headed in the world .”

Bisnow, Rosenthal and three pals, all entrepreneurs in their 30 s, dreamed up the strategy after expending times guiding Summit, an exclusive meet is a description of insiders as a” Davos for millennials “.

Applicants to Summit are screened and interviewed to ensure they expose the remedy “psychographic”( or mindset) for the events. It is pitched as an entertaining notions carnival, comparable to TED and Burning Man, featuring speakers such as Quentin Tarantino, Jane Fonda, Peter Thiel and Jeff Bezos. Guests money $3,000 – $8,000( PS2, 200 -PS5, 800) for access to three-day flagship occurrences, hosted everywhere from beaches in Tulum, Mexico, to ocean liner in the Caribbean.

Having finessed the artistry of persuasion rich people to pay to join these getaways, the founders convinced their friends to assist them to buy an entire mountain in Utah, ended with 10,000 acres of some of best available ski terrain in the US.

They bristle at the idea that they’re trying to build a high-altitude utopia for plutocrats, but then casually refer to a segment of their clientele as” the billionaire mounted”- and don’t hesitate to mention that their mountain happens to be located between towns mentioned Eden and Paradise.

The beautiful smothers and unique mix of people, Rosenthal feels, will create the” exponential opportunities of the future “.” I have this whole rap with Gertrude Stein, Katharine Graham, De’ Medici, Bauhaus. There’s this rich history of groups coming together, where the whole is more than the sum of the roles, right ?” he adds.” I think that’s what’s happening here .”

Such hype might seem to depart from world, but it is much in vogue among the technology sector’s new generation of millionaires and billionaires, who seem lament to distance themselves from the selfish excess of their predecessors from 1980 s Wall st.. They picture less interest in super-yachts or sports cars; instead they speak about spiritual enrichment, a link with quality and purpose. It is against this backdrop that countless Summit-like galas, departures and communities have emerged in and around California, promising to help wealthy patrons find a better version of themselves.

Further Future, a gathering in the Nevada desert attended by the ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt, which has been described as” Burning Man for the 1 %”, predicts a culture of” mindful optimism, speculate and journey “. Scott Kriens, the chairman of the technology multinational Juniper Networks, lately opened a retreat for self-improvement and introspection in a redwood wood near Santa Cruz, California, recognizing that, despite very great improvements, the internet” did not help people connect to themselves “. And Esalen, an academy perched on a cliff in Big Sur that has been a magnet for a bohemian adjust searching for spiritual enlightenment for half a century, is now immediately courting guilt-laden tech administrations.” The CEOs, inside they’re hurting ,” the administrator, Ben Tauber( a former Google produce administrator ), recently articulated of his clients.” They wonder if they’re doing the right thing for humanity. These are questions we can only answer behind closed- door .”


Summit dignities itself on its progressive “content”, with talks about global warming, inequality, racial disagreements and the battle in Syria, but there is a fame outline, with talks such as” Jessica Alba on withstanding promises” and” Andre Agassi on scaling change “.

A scene of the gradients on Powder Mountain, which was bought for $40 m in 2013. Photo: Hardy Wilson for the Guardian

During the February weekend I attend( a smaller retreat on the mountain, which costs around $2,000 ), there are only three talks, each lasting an hour; the remaining three days are spent skiing, snowshoeing, eating and drinking, loosening in yoga or spa seminars, or partying in army hot tubs.

For all its intellectual swagger, a big request of Summit has always been recreational. Food is provided by Michelin-starred chefs, and top musicians are piloted in for dance defendants; the Summit crowd contains a dedicated contingent of Burning Man aficionados, known as “Burners”, who are adept at lending fuel to the festivals.( Rick Glassman, a comedian fly from LA for a 10 -minute set, induces howling of laughter when he articulates Summit had educated him that” everyone does mushrooms “.)

The meetings are also notoriously fruitful networking possibilities; Rosenthal had told me I would be immersed in a community of “polymaths” and “savants”, but they would be a humble bunch.” If parties are really like’ oooh ‘, showing off, showing you pictures of their supercars or some shit at the dinner table? Maybe not a culture fit at Summit ,” he suggests.” What superstars do you are familiar, who you interact with, who are now self-aggrandising these days? I don’t know anybody that strolls around pumping their own chest when they’ve accomplished something- at the least in our generation. It’s just, like, useless .”

Like others, I had been calmly schooled in the unwritten social regulates. Requesting person what the hell is do is considered a faux pas( the socially acceptable alternative is” What is your ardour ?”). Business cards, I was alarmed, should not be exchanged in a blatant way.

After dinner one nighttime, I encounter an investment banker, two venture capitalists, a famed TV host, a sex manager, a cannabis entrepreneur, a follower who claimed to have developed a new method for brewing coffee, and Facebook’s head of counter-terrorism. Most of them are chatty, extrovert kinds, but none of them seems out of the everyday. The foreground of the weekend is a representation about the search for extraterrestrial life, led by Kiko Dontchev, an engineer from SpaceX, who explains why his boss Elon Musk wants to” become life interplanetary “.

” Earth is the only neighbourhood that we have right now, so if we want to guarantee the existence of the human race beyond the next 100 or 200 times, it is really important for us to become a multiplanetary species ,” Dontchev tells, as his audience, parcelled into a yurt-like lodge on the summit of the mountain , nods approvingly.

Kiko Dontchev of SpaceX opens a performance on his boss Elon Musk’s vision of an interplanetary life. Photo: Hardy Wilson for the Guardian

The presentation opens and shuts with a video Dontchev shot four daylights earlier to capture his joyous reaction as Falcon Heavy‘s rocket boosters successfully returned to their landing docks in Florida. The gathering erupts into frenzied clapping.” Yeah baby !” one gentleman wails. Another softly pictures off a text meaning he’s received from the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has a competitive spaceflight company. I ask an astronomer, who appears on stage with Dontchev, who exactly might colonise Mars in the event that Earth becomes uninhabitable.” Unfortunately, I anticipate, the same lane it always happens ,” she says.” The parties with ability and money .”

Later, I ask Bisnow if he has any interest in living on another planet.” Not in the slightest fragment ,” he announces.” I’m really, actually very interested in Earth. I necessitate, Mars is horrifying, it is truly a bad scene out there. Like, I’m gonna go live in a bubble on Mars ?”


The story of how Bisnow and his pals- Rosenthal, Ryan Begelman, Jeremy Schwartz and Brett Leve- came to dominate their bubble on a mountaintop in Utah has become something of a mythology. It began in 2008, when Bisnow, with the boundless confidence of a 23 -year-old businessman, cold-called entrepreneurs he admired and invited them on an all-expenses-paid errand to Utah. Bisnow shouldered the costs of the 19 -strong gathering on his credit card, then repeated the trick with another get-together in Mexico, racking up $75,000 in debt. Bisnow and the others promptly coalesced a sort of” mutual aid society” for young, well-connected entrepreneurs, which in the early days included the co-founders of Twitter and Facebook and the real-estate heiress Ivanka Trump.

Soon, Bisnow and his friends were running dozens of closed-door occasions dedicated to creating “positive impact”- and hosting their flagship meetings on cruise excursions that sailed from Miami to the Bahamas. Those occasions acquired a reputation as liquor cruises for grey, male tech bros, so only a few years ago Summit decided it was time for a rebrand. They interposed cheaper tickets for women aimed at improving gender rate, and vacated the Caribbean for a more down-to-earth locating: Los Angeles.” Not Santa Barbara. Not Beverly Hills ,” Rosenthal answers.” But downtown LA- where you’re literally in the throes of gentrification and homelessness .”

For years the team worked remotely in Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, New York, Miami and Barcelona. They would mix work with snowboarding in Montana and surfing in Nicaragua. But by late 2011, the friends were approaching 30 and starting to travel less. They were living and working out of a mansion in Malibu and, Rosenthal withdraws, hosting” amazing dinners that became moderately culturally significant in LA at that time “.

Three of Summit’s five co-founders,( from left) Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve and Jeff Rosenthal. Image: Hardy Wilson for the Guardian

It was around this time they sounded from a Utah-based venture capitalist that Powder Mountain was for sale and incubated a is our intention to transform their considerable social uppercase into real estate.

The plan was enacted months later, after a congregate they hosted in Lake Tahoe. They chartered a Boeing 737 and flew about 75 of their wealthier patrons from north California to a tiny airport in Utah’s Ogden Valley. From there, it was just a short drive to the top of Powder Mountain. They arrived in time for sundown, lighted a bonfire in the snow and to be laid down their vision.

Each investor who helped them buy the mountain would receive a plot of land- and, usurping the proposal cultivated, their money back at a future date. They bought the mountain for $40 m in 2013, but it is only in recent months that the wooden shells of the first 26 owneds have mushroomed out of the mountainside, together with roads, bridges and ski lifts.

Much to the frustration of some neighbourhoods, machines have been drilling shafts deep into the mountain in search of water. One period there will be 500 residences on the mountain, and a village with coffee shop, juice forbids, eateries, a reverberate studio and a five-star hotel.

Rosenthal takes me on a driving tour of the mountain, to explain how they plan to create a community that is different from exclusive resorts such as Aspen, Colorado. Restrictions prevent anyone from building a residence larger than 4,500 sq ft, and residents must use vetted architects to ensure that their home is” subservient to the tract” and in a form that has been called ” patrimony modernism “.

” None of the architecture should show preference or wealth ,” Rosenthal enunciates , nodding to the recognize that will become a center boulevard.” That is a exceedingly walkable prime street- we will have soft Italian kerbs .”

I steer the conversation to the subject of how completely detached from the real world elites seem to have become.” Elitism, the space I would define it, is obtainable ,” he replies.” All that stands between you and being elite is your own investing in yourself .”

I tell Rosenthal that I’ve met numerous people in America who work as hard as him and his sidekicks- harder, in fact- but are working to make ends meet. He acknowledges that he’s benefited from substantial advantage, but insists we now live in an age in which” the internet is the great equaliser “.

” What are you doing to create the practicality for yourself? Are you interposing beings so they can collaborate ?” he adds. Struggling Americans, he contributes, might want to” emcee a dinner. Invite 10 strangers. Understand what happens .”

Rosenthal presses on with his thesis, telling me there are just not sufficient people around the world who will” overly commit “peoples lives” to something. Journalism, cheese, vehicles, whatever. Rocket ships – perfect example. Everyone wants to work at SpaceX , no one wants to go to engineering institution .”

We drive to the top of the mountain. Rosenthal reflects on its future.” Is a great album going to be recorded here ?” he asks.” Is the film-maker of our times going to think of the movie they’ll become? Will a company get formed that becomes the next Google ?” He contributes:” It’s just sort of an limitless pool of opportunity for the world at large .”

Altruism is a potent commerce brand, and Rosenthal and his acquaintances have become experts at exploiting the relevant recommendations to promote their business. But when I expect exactly what they’ve been doing for the public good outside of their meetings, little appears to be happening.

Summit is quick to say that it grew $500,000 to help the Nature Conservancy to keep naval life, but that was partly an effort to compensate for the damage caused by their Caribbean sails. Now that their flagship gatherings are being held in LA, Rosenthal tells me the company furnishes” 50,000 meals to the unfed” in the city.( When I look into this claim, I discover the donation actually committed 30,000 banquets for lineages displaced by California wildfires- and they were paid for by the LA Chargers football squad , not Summit .)

Four years ago, Summit caused a much-touted not-for-profit firm, to be” more intentional” about its social and philanthropic action. The Summit Institute facilitates fund awards for people who could otherwise not attend happens, and legions workshop happenings for NGOs and kindness. The institute’s co-director, Kathy Roth-Douquet, worsens to say to me her plan, but calculates “its by”” maybe around the couple of hundred thousand-dollar grade- if that “. The Summit Action Fund, by comparison, which is a “boutique venture capital fund” for the friends to invest in startups such as Uber and the sunglasses company Warby Parker, was valued at $25 m.

Rameet Chawla, left, CEO of an app-design firm, to speak with Summit co-founder Jeff Rosenthal. Picture: Hardy Wilson for the Guardian

Still, several Summit aficionados tell me that the community’s claimed commitment to improving the world is the very thing that sucked them in. Rameet Chawla, the chief executive of an app-designing busines, told me there’s” clearly a Kool-Aid” around the notion of wallop at Summit.” I would say I’m happy to booze it .”

Chawla is a minor personality on Instagram. Various years ago, he composed a incite with the launch of an app called Lovematically that automatically “liked” every pole on a user’s feed. He’s also an achieved technologist who has designed software for corporations such as Coca-Cola, American Express and Porsche.

When I hitch a ride in Chawla’s SUV, he tells me how he came to invest in Powder Mountain. He had just been on a disappointing expedition to Verbier, a used in the Swiss Alps where the food was ” not that progressive “. Utah, he enunciates, done for a refreshing change.” I bumped into 30 of my friends. I didn’t have to do anything. The food was amazing ,” he supposes.” There was a moment when they sufficed coconut irrigate .” Coconut water was the very thing he’d been praying in Switzerland. At that instant, he thought to himself,” These people simply get me .” He adds:” I envisioned, you know what, I’d love to support this project .”

But it was an experience on a Summit cruise ship that Chawla pronounces prepared the biggest mark. He was on the deck, casually talking to the founder of a not-for-profit company whose busines had been devoted” to constructing schools in Africa or something like that “.” I find very embarrassing to answer,’ Oh, I run a technology firm, I build apps .’ It used to be so purposeless. It find so greedy, what I was doing .”

Chawla supposes the first thing he did when he got off the ship was set up his own( now defunct) not-for-profit firm: Kindnes Swear Box. It was a website are attached to Twitter that would monitor how often a user swears in their tweets, and recommend they make a donation to benevolence.” I would have never spent the time and great efforts to do that had I not come to Summit ,” he says.

I tell Chawla I’ve heard he’s opening a secret inn in the Hudson Valley, New York regime.” How did you know that ?” he questions, a little startled.” It’s not so secret if everyone starts talking about it !” He tells me about the 250 acres fitted with” cute bungalows and the house and greenhouses and flowers and vegetables” where clients can stay for about $525( PS380) a nighttime. He requires them to learn about meat, farm and nutrition, and plans to be” diverse enough” to appeal to a wide array of clients.” I’m going for the corporates, and then I’m going for the yogis ,” he says.

The secrecy, he justifies, is planning to” play with the idea of resentment … There’s no publicized photos of the hotel. The public can’t journal it. So you were supposed to email and mention who you know that’s connected to the dimension. Then you can come .”


Bisnow invites me to his compartment. It is no other finished belonging, a classy, minimalist opening with a stove suspended from the ceiling and a ladder that Bisnow asks me to ascent so we can talk in his favourite recognize: a cubbyhole tucked into the ceiling.

The five Summit co-founders describe themselves as equal marriages, and all have equity in the company that bought the mountain, but Bisnow is the linchpin- merely he sits on the members of the security council.” It “re all very” womb-like when you look out of the window here ,” he does, watching air divert the snow into junk. He points to a wooden organize masked in tarpaulin beyond the trees.” That’s Martin Sorrell’s house right there .”

Bisnow thinks aloud what will happen when his neighbour moves in. Perhaps Sorrell and his wife will exactly consider the place like a second dwelling, he articulates. But Bisnow foresees” another itinerary” in which Sorrell, one of the highest-paid chief executives in the UK,” truly gets the mission” and rents out his home for a few months a year- or maybe even allows low-income masters to stay in it for nothing.” Unexpectedly this becomes a really incredible residence that’s accessible, open, affordable ,” Bisnow adds.” It could go in either direction .”

Guests assemble for dinner at a Powder Mountain restaurant. Photo: Hardy Wilson for the Guardian

His other neighbouring state is likely to be Richard Branson, who he calls his “hero”. Much like Branson, Bisnow were part of supporting and well-connected parents. His mother, Margot Machol Bisnow, is the author of a parenting template entitled Raising an Entrepreneur. “His fathers”, Mark Bisnow, dedicated a real-world sample of how a mother might go about doing just that when he made Elliott, who lowered out of college, a co-founder in his business.( The family business, Bisnow, which produces real estate trade publishings and incidents, was sold to a private equity conglomerate in 2016 for a reported $50 m .)

I expect Elliott Bisnow if he has any sadness. He replies:” Just so much of my life being part of the problem. For so many years, just going through “the worlds” in a kind of ignorant , not musing , not present channel. Not listening. Not learning. Not attending about my smothers. Precisely attending about me. And my success. And being like the prototypical capitalist. It’s, like, so lame .”

He tells me he’s” still evolving “. He’s been meditating, read, to know … … ecology and sustainable farming. If Bisnow is committed to altruism, why is the Summit Institute, the not-for-profit wing of his empire, so minuscule, with an annual budget that is a fraction of what it cost to build his house?

” We’ve just been so busy with so many things, we pondered there’s no scoot ,” he replies.” Why not only gradually ramp it up ?”

I tell Bisnow that his alpine town for wealthy societies could be perceived as dangerously detached and exclusive. He says he’s” genuinely not into exclusive communities”, before taking a few moments to study the meaning of the word exclusive.” It is one of those words like’ luxury’ or’ utopia ‘,” he adds.” It is one of those statements that is very billed. Maybe there’s a yoga withdraw for people who are really great at yoga, and I can’t get into it. Does that mean that it’s exclusive ?”

He tells me he’s open to the suggestion that his parish is elitist-” these reviews, there’s a truth to them”- and insists that he strives to make authentic connections with people from all marches of life. For precedent, he speaks, earlier in the day he met a worker at the ski resort who was taking clients on a tour.” I literally could have said,’ All claim, has only one breathtaking tour ,’ and instead I was like,’ So, you’re here all time ?’ And he goes,’ No, I’m actually from New Orleans .’ And I’m like,’ Really ?'” Bisnow says he reacts the same path with servers in eateries. “[ When] you start to engage with these people you realise the humanity in everyone and how fantastic the objective is .” Then he explains how he ever sits in the front seat of Uber taxis, talking to dozens of moves a week, hearing” the most remarkable storeys “. He intent up hanging out” with a significant number” of his moves. I expect how many Uber operators he’s invited to Summit. He doesn’t remark, but instead tells me an anecdote about a chef he invited to Summit after filling him” at this ramshackle castle in England “.

The conversation reminds me of so many I have had in and around San Francisco, in which millennials stirred rich through technology relay snippets of revelatory exchanges they’ve had with Uber operators, some of whom live and sleep in their cars. It is as though the taxi-sharing app is one of the last remaining lines retaining the brand-new elites connected to everyone else’s world. When Uber wheels out its self-driving vehicles, even that unstable acquaintance will be broken.

There is stunning stratification in places such as San Francisco, I add; municipalities that seem increasingly to depart from the real world.

” It is a big problem ,” he agrees.” That’s why a lot of successful people like living in New York, because in New York you’re just always in it. You just go down to Manhattan and you’re right there, back in civilization .”

I get the sense that Bisnow doesn’t quite understand my moment. But he insists he knows where I’m coming from.

“ It’s not good when the world structures illusions and loses linkages. But I feel like that’s unfortunately been a big part of the history of the world. As you become more successful, you get your house and your gate, and you move into your bubble and your best friend, and you only absolutely lose bond. And I think that’s clearly what we’re viewing in front of us .”

Contact the author: paul.lewis @theguardian. com

* Observation on this part? If you would like your statement to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazine’s letters page in etch, please email weekend @theguardian. com, including your name and address( not for publication ).

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