Utah’s Powder Mountain Moves to Semi-Private Model

If the results of SKI Magazine’s annual Reader Resort Survey are any indication, Powder Mountain is a special place. The soulful, no-frills ski area rocketed to top of the rankings this year, showcasing comments from SKI readers who value its authenticity, great snow, old-school vibe, and focus on the skiing rather than the off-slope bells and whistles.

“The locals who ride and ski here keep it real,” said one survey respondent. “Lining up to drop in at Timberline with a bunch of die-hards who arrived before the sun was one of my happiest memories this year.”

Now the very thing that makes Powder Mountain so special might be in jeopardy. The beloved community-minded ski area with over 8,000 acres of terrain announced that it will be moving to a hybrid business model of both public and private slopes for the 2024-2025 season. New Powder Mountain owner and Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, who bought a majority share of the ski area earlier this year, shared a December 10 blog post outlining the new plan and why the 50-year-old ski area would be going down this path.

According to Hastings, who said back in April when the sale was announced that he decided to buy the ski area because he and his wife are longtime homeowners and that they “love this mountain community and want to see it flourish,” Powder Mountain will be moving to a semi-private operational plan that includes private slopes attached to real estate sales as well as trails open to the public.

Not surprisingly, it all comes down to money. It’s no secret that Powder has been struggling to make ends meet. From its humble beginnings as a local ski area founded by local doctor Alvin Cobabe in the early 1970s to a failed attempt in the 2000s to turn it into a massive destination resort, Pow Mow has thwarted all attempts to bring it into the modern age. In fact, the vast majority of comments from SKI readers in our 2024 Reader Resort Survey say that’s exactly why they love it so much.

“Best place I’ve found to ski great stuff and never wait,” wrote one such skier. “Powder lasts for days and the people are so friendly. It’s no Deer Valley with amenities but you won’t starve.”

“Why would you go anywhere else?” said another Pow Mow fan. “No crowds, no lift lines, everyone is friendly, powder for days.”

You get the gist.

But high praise doesn’t keep the power on, leaving Hastings and team to find a way to make Powder profitable. The answer appears to be exclusive, multi-million-dollar homes, which, instead of amenities such as a pools, golf courses, or fancy clubhouses, will come with their own private ski slopes.

“In order to pay our bills, we need to sell more real estate, and to do that we are introducing private homeowner-only skiing a year from now,” Hasting said in the press release. “We will be designating the Village and Mary’s lifts, which serve beginner and intermediate terrain, plus a new lift on Raintree, for this private skiing, starting a year from now.” The Raintree slopes were single-serve expert cat-skiing terrain.

Powder Mountain
With over 8,000 skiable acres, including its sidecountry terrain, Powder Mountain is the largest ski resort in the country. (Photo: Powder Mountain/Ian Matteson)

The ski area is also replacing two old lifts with high-speed versions, plus adding a new lift up Lightning Ridge, the location of more of Powder’s inbound cat-skiing terrain. The new lift will serve up intermediate and expert trails, and provide a route from Timberline back down to Sundown. They plan to move both cat-skiing operations to different, not-yet-shared parts of the mountain.

According to Hastings, this is the most sensible path to keeping the mountain operational without joining the Ikon or Epic bandwagon (cue the crowds) or selling to a corporation, which would likely look to turn it into a built-out megaresort. “We believe this blend of public and private skiing secures us decades of exceptional uncrowded skiing for all, funded partially by real estate,” he explained.

This public/private hybrid isn’t new in the ski industry. There are currently at least two other ski areas—California’s Homewood and Windham Mountain, in N.Y. ‘s Catskills—considering a semi-private model, for the same reasons: They can’t sustain their operations on the sale of lift tickets alone. And real estate—be it through hotel and condo development or home sales—is always the rainmaker at all successful ski resorts.

Then there are the fully private ski resorts, such as Montana’s Yellowstone Club, Colorado’s Cimarron Mountain Club, and the currently embattled Wasatch Peak Ranch in Utah. Of course, the big difference with these is that they were built and sold as private communities with their own slopes, not carved out from longtime ski hubs with their own dedicated fan bases.

Reactions from Powder Mountain skiers have been few so far, as the ski area has yet to share the plans on its social channels, but as the news spread on Tuesday, the Pow Mow faithful weighed in on unrelated posts. “Get it while you can,” said one skier via Instagram. “The homeowner-only access coming next year is going to turn this into another private resort for the super rich.”

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