Three months after announcing that he’d step down as CEO of Netflix, Reed Hastings has found his post-retirement project: He just became a co-owner of Powder Mountain, a troubled Utah ski resort that, as Fortune recently reported, was once touted as an eco-friendly utopia-in-the-making for socially conscious founders, stars, and ultra-wealthy ski enthusiasts.
Hastings, who is worth an estimated $3.5 billion, and his wife, Patty Quillin, bought a plot on the mountainside and built a modernist wooden cylindrical home there eight years ago. Avid skiers and snowboarders, the couple become seasonal neighbors to Martin Sorrell, founder of the marketing behemoth WPP, and Ken Howery, a cofounder of PayPal. They were among a long list of prominent business figures drawn to the vision for an alpine Shangri-la laid out by the young founders of a glitzy conference series.
Now Hastings has bought out those founders’ stake and will play a central role in deciding what comes next for Powder, according to a news release on Monday. He is “looking forward to being a part of Powder Mountain’s future” and wants to “safeguard what makes this place special,” the Netflix cofounder and executive chair said in the release. Reed did not respond to requests for further comment Monday evening.
The end of a dream
Powder Mountain was a fading ski resort in 2013 when it was purchased by the four then twenty-something founders of Summit Series, a hedonistic invitation-only conference for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and celebrities. Summit Series events include talks by headliners such as Jeff Bezos or Bill Clinton; performances by The Roots and other stars; epic dance parties and celebrity-chef prepared meals; and immersive seminars on lucid dreaming or psychedelic mushrooms.
The Summit Series founders—Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeff Rosenthal, and Jeremy Schwartz—were still in their 20s when they raised $40 million from their high-flying network to buy Powder Mountain ten years ago. They formed a collective with a venture capitalist named Greg Mauro and his partner Robb Hutter, and laid out a vision for a year-round home base for the Summit Series conference business and an elegant town for people who shared their ethos: “Make no small plans.” As Fortune reported, Summit “was to be a place where big, world-changing, philanthropic ideas would be hatched.”
On the parcel of nearly 9,000 acres, the group planned for 500 ski-in, ski-out single-family homes and a four-acre eco-friendly village with co-working spaces, restaurants, and upscale hotels. There was talk of building a Montessori school, an alternative university, high-tech greenhouses, and wastewater-recycling systems that would allow the mountain community to be self-sufficient.
Although the project attracted hundreds of investors and buyers, including business executives, sports stars, and founders, the most of what was promised has not materialized. A decade after the mountain purchase, fewer than 50 of the promised 500 single-residence homes on the mountain have been constructed and the village exists only in architects’ renderings: There are no restaurants, hotels, or shops. The jobs and economic development that the out-of-town developers promised county officials when pitching their plan also didn’t pan out.
What went wrong? Building a community at 9,000 feet accessible only by one of the steepest roads in the country is no easy feat, and the COVID pandemic and supply chain problems didn’t help. To make matters worse, the resort developers clashed with some in the local Mormon community in Eden, Utah. But several sources told Fortune that bitter power struggles between Bisnow and Mauro explained most of the delays. (Both men denied that there was bad blood, claiming they may have had ups and downs, but not more so than in any such complex project. Neither responded to requests for comment Monday evening.)
An impulse buy?
Hastings doesn’t seem to share the original developers’ utopian ambitions for a bustling ski resort for socially conscious movers and shakers. In January, he told Fortune that he and his wife love the mountain’s isolation and “pioneer” vibe, and that he sees Powder now as a traditional real estate project “without pretensions to Summit’s ‘We’re going to change the world with our interactions’” ethos.
“At some point, it was save-the-world stuff,” Hastings told The Salt Lake Tribune in a conversation about his newest splurge. “And I think now it’s: have an incredible ski mountain that’s uncrowded where you can get multiday powder.”
The Tribune reports that Bisnow approached Hastings about buying the Summit Series founders’ stake only two weeks ago. “‘You’d be the perfect owner from our point of view in terms of loving the mountain and appreciating it for what it is,’” Hastings said Bisnow told him.
Hastings will assume one of the five seats on the board, where he will help oversee the mountain’s management and operations. Mauro remains a co-owner, according to the news release. Powder Mountain did not disclose how much Hastings paid for his piece of the ski hill.
“Elliott Bisnow and crew had a big dream that partially came true,” Hastings, who remains executive chair of Netflix, said in the news release. “Greg and I are excited to improve Powder Mountain further.”