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Cache County fast-tracks ski resort’s shift toward exclusive oasis for the rich

Free skier tumbling through deep powder snow photo
Cache County Council members voted to let Powder Mountain Ski Resort build two new ski lifts ahead of the upcoming season.

A Utah ski area expanding its terrain for a wealthy customer base will get to buck Cache County zoning requirements to make good on its promise to install new lifts for next winter as it shifts from a family-run hub for winter sports to a partially private resort geared toward affluent skiers.

The Cache County Council voted 4–3 on Tuesday to allow the resort to bypass the usual zoning rules during the construction of its new Lighting Ridge and Raintree lifts — one of which will be private. This will enable the lifts to be installed in time for the 2024-25 season — a timeline deemed “critical” by the resort’s chief development officer, Brooke Hontz.

“What we are trying to do,” Hontz said, “is isolate this season.”

The decision follows Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings’recent acquisition of a controlling stake in the resort, with goals to turn it into a luxury private and public skiing destination. Beginning this winter, Hastings plans to restrict access to more than 2,000 acres of previously public skiing terrain, making it available only to private members with membership fees ranging from $30,000 to $100,000.

The private terrain will be accessed via the previously public Mary’s and Village lifts, as well as a new Raintree lift. Raintree, which connects to newly acquired territory, is one of the four new lifts Powder Mountain wants to build this summer. All are part of $100 million in new investments Hastings pledged in September, shortly after investing in Powder Mountain.

The other three are public lifts. Only Raintree and Lightning Ridge are not included in the resort’s master plan, so Powder Mountain needed permission to start construction early. The council’s vote on Tuesday means the necessary zoning changes can be considered after the full master plan is ready.

Adult passes for the next season are priced at $1,649, making the resort one of the most expensive in the state.

Hontz said the quality of the resort’s ski lifts justifies the steep prices.

“The experience you have,” she said, “is far greater than any dollar amount that we could put with that.”

With the acquisition of the Davenport area in March, Powder Mountain became the largest ski area in North America with about 12,000 total acres.

While most of the resort is in Weber County, the two new lifts approved Tuesday will be constructed in Cache County. The three dissenting council members expressed concerns about entering a development agreement, fearing the county might not be fully compensated for commercial skiing within its bounds.

Council member Nolan Gunnell requested the council review the agreement over the next couple of weeks before making a decision, but Hontz cautioned that even a two-week delay could disrupt the construction schedule and lead to environmental issues.

“Pardon my hesitancy to open the doors and say, ‘We’ve got to go ahead because of development and weather,’” Gunnell said. “But at the same time, we’ve got to sit here and say what’s best for the county.”

Council members Barbara Tidwell and David Erickson agreed, but others felt ready to move forward.

Hontz said she will be presenting the resort’s full master plan in the coming months.

Clarissa Casper is a general reporter at UPR who recently graduated from Utah State University with a degree in Print Journalism and minors in Environmental Studies and English.