How do locals feel about Powder Mountain turning luxury?

Bart Bruce, left, and his father Rick Bruce are pictured in Clinton on June 14. Rick Bruce worked as a ski patroller at Powder Mountain for 44 years, and Bart Bruce has been skiing there since he was 4 years old.

Bart Bruce, left, and his father Rick Bruce are pictured in Clinton on June 14. Rick Bruce worked as a ski patroller at Powder Mountain for 44 years, and Bart Bruce has been skiing there since he was 4 years old. (Laura Seitz, Deseret News)


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EDEN, Weber County — Rick Bruce remembers the first time he ever saw a snowboard on the mountain in 1983.

"Chuck, the mountain manager at the time, grabbed me, and he said, 'Hey, these guys want to show us this snowboarding thing.' And they had a couple of extras, so Chuck got on one. And so they snowboarded, and I skied next to them with my first-aid pack."

The following year, Powder Mountain Resort, located above Ogden Valley, started welcoming snowboarders, but each rider had to prove that they could navigate the runs safely. "They had to make a run with a ski patroller to prove that they were in control enough to be on the hill, and then we would sign off, and they could go back and buy a pass for the day."

The largest ski resort in North America, Powder Mountain opened its doors in Utah in 1972. Known for its locals-only feel and uncrowded terrain, the resort's 8,484 skiable acres are getting a makeover — an expensive one, that some worry could price out loyal locals.

Two years after Powder Mountain's opening, Bruce, a federal firefighter for Hill Air Force Base, began working part-time as pro-patrol at the resort and stayed for 44 years until retiring.

In September of last year, Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings purchased a controlling stake in the ski resort with the idea of turning it into a luxury private and public venture. For those who can afford it, the residential real estate starts at $2 million a plot with a yearly membership fee that ranges from $30,000 to $100,000. But with it comes 2,000+ exclusive acres of private skiing terrain not open to the general public.

"All of the independent ski areas are looking for ways to survive," Hastings told the New York Times. "Going boutique, higher end, private, is probably where they need to go."

"We're building a luxury experience on the private side of the mountain," he added. "But many of the homeowners will still ski the public side and want to experience the parts of Powder Mountain that you won't be able to get in the village."

Bruce was looking forward to the day he would get his senior ski pass for free, but that became a pipe dream after Powder Mountain went down the luxury route. A route that Bill Holmes, Powder Mountain's chief membership and community relations officer, said was necessary for the resort's survival.

"Our local community is a huge part of what makes this such a special place to ski and ride. We take our job as long-term stewards of this mountain very seriously. The reality is that in order to secure a future for Powder that kept it independent and financially secure, changes were necessary," Holmes told the Deseret News.

"Prior to Reed's ownership, the resort was losing money and piling up debt. The status quo simply wasn't sustainable. Our vision for Powder, where new private offerings fund improvements that benefit everyone, gives us that future and does so without having to join a megapass, keeping Powder uncrowded," he added.

Part of the new investment includes "new lifts on Lightning Ridge and DMI (which) significantly improve public access to some of the best skiable terrain in Utah."

A season pass will cost $1,349 for adults ages 65-100.

Competing with popular ski passes such as Ikon and Epic, Powder Mountains has two adult season pass options:

  • Winter season pass with full season lift access: $1,649.
  • Winter midweek pass with applied blackout dates: $1,099.

"You can't afford it," Bruce told the Deseret News. "I think the general feel is that they're pricing out the local guys."

He and his old co-workers still get together, reminiscing about the good old days and how much has changed in the last couple of decades.

Bart Bruce, left, and his father Rick Bruce are pictured in Clinton on Friday, June 14. Rick Bruce worked as a ski patroller at Powder Mountain for 44 years, and Bart Bruce has been skiing there since he was 4 years old.
Bart Bruce, left, and his father Rick Bruce are pictured in Clinton on Friday, June 14. Rick Bruce worked as a ski patroller at Powder Mountain for 44 years, and Bart Bruce has been skiing there since he was 4 years old. (Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

"It was a really fun, nice family resort. My family always thought it was our resort because there were many days we'd go up in the spring, and we'd have the runs completely to ourselves. There just weren't that many people, and it felt like ours."

As different owners took over the mountain throughout the years, the price changes of season passes did not go unnoticed. "When it got to like 70 bucks, everybody was having a heart attack," Bruce recalled. "Because you know, it used to be like 20 bucks. And it just slowly climbed up to that, but I remember when it went from $75 to $79, people were outraged."

"But it's too bad," he added. "Because I don't think as many locals can go up now," he added. "Talking to my friends, there's nobody that I know and hang out with who will pay 250 bucks for a day pass."

His son, Bart Bruce, and many locals within the region share a similar sentiment.

However, Holmes explained that Powder had to go boutique if it wanted to have a future. The model the ski resort was previously following wasn't sustainable.

"We've made a number of major changes in the last year that will benefit all of our pass holders and we've got more coming. We understand that uncertainty and change pose challenges, and in our case required tradeoffs, but the entire pass holder community will reap the benefits in the form of new lifts and infrastructure that will greatly enhance the experience," he said.

Holmes added, "We're already seeing tremendous interest in an experience that combines elements of both public and private ski resorts and there's no reason to think that will change."

The Village lift is pictured near existing homes and homes under construction on Powder Mountain in Eden on June 14. Powder Mountain announced that it will be moving to a hybrid business model of both public and private slopes for the 2024-25 season. The Village and Mary’s lifts are included in the private skiing.
The Village lift is pictured near existing homes and homes under construction on Powder Mountain in Eden on June 14. Powder Mountain announced that it will be moving to a hybrid business model of both public and private slopes for the 2024-25 season. The Village and Mary’s lifts are included in the private skiing. (Photo: Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

Are 'billionaire conservationists' overtaking ski resorts?

Hastings isn't the only wealthy investor to put his wealth into winter sports recreation.

In 2013, Louis Bacon, the founder and chief executive of Moore Capital Management, bought Taos Ski Valley. In the years that Bacon has owned it, he made many needed upgrades, including two high-speed chair lifts. But the locals seem to roll their eyes in frustration over access.

"Bacon has been said to close portions of the mountain so that he and his pals can enjoy it in peace. The townsfolk even have a name for his favorite terrain: 'The Bacon strip,'" per The Wall Street Journal. "Whether these mogul-loving moguls are hailed as saviors or seen as powder-grabbing profiteers depends largely on whom you ask — and how the changes affect their property values and their access to the mountain."

"Obviously, there are changes that need to be made to improve Powder Mountain that can now happen with the new ownership," Bart Bruce told the Deseret News. "And I understand that it's a business, too, but will it feel the same? Who knows?"

Bart Bruce and his sister would tell you that they were raised on the mountain. Growing up, he said, it took skiing at Alta once never to want to ski anywhere besides Powder again.

"There were never lift lines because it is such a big area. During the week, I would never stand in the line, ever. Because there's just so many places to ski," he said. "When I was a teenager, I skied more than 30 times a season."

Once its original owner, Dr. Alvin Cobabe, sold the resort in 2006 to Western American Holdings, Bart Bruce said it definitely became more commercialized and expensive, but the improvements, including a high-speed quad and built lodging, were welcomed by the locals.

However, with the latest price increase, the father-son duo will not be returning to their beloved mountain.

"I will miss it there because that was where I skied. Looking to buy passes at other resorts just seems so weird and wrong," Bart Bruce said. "But skiing at Powder Mountain is now for a bracket of wealth that is unfamiliar to me."

"I don't really have anybody else to ski with besides my dad, and he's not spending money to go ski Powder Mountain," he added. "It's sad, but it's just how things are now."

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