In 2008, Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeremy Schwartz, Ryan Begelman, and Jeff Rosenthal launched a new kind of global community they named “Summit.” It came out of a desire to find like-minded entrepreneurs, with the aim to foster a global community of kind, creative, and inspired leaders.
After starting with a small ski trip in Park City, Utah, they soon were hosting Summit experiences all over the world—from the White House to Tulum, and from Shanghai to the Bahamas. Its invitation-only annual happenings feature keynote speakers from disparate fields—tech, politics, sports, art, food, fitness, and culture.
Whitewall spoke with one of its co-founders, Jeff Rosenthal, about the evolution of Summit.
WHITEWALL: Summit celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2018. How has the aim of Summit evolved since you founded it alongside Elliott Bisnow, Brett Leve, Jeremy Schwartz, and Ryan Begelman?
JEFF ROSENTHAL: From the beginning, the intention of Summit was to connect and inspire the multidisciplinary creators of our time. We wanted to be exposed personally to these people, who were innovators in their various fields, and we built Summit for those who were also kind and open-minded; people we’d want to be around regardless of personal and professional success. From the first event, we learned the power of connecting these diverse, yet like-minded people, through the energy of the in-person experience, and through the friendships and collaborations formed that continue to this day.
Ultimately, we still have the same aim—we now manifest it not just through a single annual event, but through a global calendar of flagship ideas festivals, a local event series, the fund Summit Action, the non-profit Summit Institute, and Powder Mountain. These are the short, medium, and long term projects that we believe are all important to sustain and grow Summit, while establishing and maintaining the roots of our community.
WW: How are you hoping Summit will continue to grow?
JR: We see growth not through scale, but through the overarching quality of the events, and the places and people we build and bring together at Summit. We always look to increase the quality of our experiences and community in perpetuity, and we hope to attract an ever-evolving group of entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world from different generations, industries, socio-economic backgrounds, and belief systems. We believe that the more diverse the input, the more complex and impactful the output, which has no ceiling or finish line.
With Powder Mountain, the development is well on its way, building a mountaintop village, based around the values of Summit: collaboration, open-mindedness, and a focus on return for the community.
The project has close to 50 homes under construction, 10 homes completed, 5.5 miles of roads and infrastructure built, and new lifts and lodges. While we’ve hosted countless events for thousands of people over the past seven years at Powder Mountain, this is only chapter one or two.
The same is true in our view for Summit as a whole. We have many more miles left ahead of us. I could imagine us growing a membership offering, expanding our content and video programs, and adding new events in the coming years.
WW: You’ve described Summit as “social sculpture.” What do you mean by that?
JR: I like utilizing the framework of art or artists during the creative process for any endeavor. When you think about your work this way, it gives you greater creative license, more permission for experimentation, which creates a greater potential for innovative work.
The creation of “social sculpture” is the amalgamation of the people, places, narrative, order of experiences, sounds, tastes, and tactile elements. It is all of the various inputs you can use to create peak moments, surreal environments, and experiences that stand out in one’s memory.
“Eros,” to me, means the deepening of meaning of all things. The more interconnected and considerate all the various elements are towards goal of your gathering, the more authentic and memorable the experience. We’ve always found relationships to be built on a foundation of emotional connection, vs intellectual. The greatest way to form deep bonds with another person is through dynamic, shared experiences, which is ultimately the most important key performance indicator for us at Summit.
And once those bonds are formed, we have lifetimes of collaboration and friendship, decades of interconnected personal and professional networks that continue to have an impact long after the gathering itself has concluded.
Chapter 1 — Noteworthy
From the beginning, the intention of Summit was to connect and inspire the multidisciplinary creators of our time.
Summit looks to increase the quality of its experiences and community in perpetuity, and hopes to attract an ever-evolving group of entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world.
The deep bonds formed are ultimately the most important key performance indicators for Summit.
The next gathering is the Summit Mountain Series Winter Jam II, taking place Friday, March 1—Sunday, March 3, 2019. Over a hundred people will come together for a weekend of skiing and unforgettable experiences, including talks, workshops, performances, and events at Summit’s Powder Mountain in Eden, Utah.
Speakers and performers include Neurohacker Collective’s Daniel Schmachtenberger, comedian Ben Gleib, Venmo’s Andrew Kortina, musician Nikki Glaspie, DJ and Producer Equal, and artist Glenn Kaino.
Whitewall continued our conversation with Summit co-founder Jeff Rosenthal to learn more about what he’s looking forward to that weekend.
WHITEWALL: How will this year’s Winter Jam II in March on Powder Mountain compare to Summits you put on yearly?
JEFF ROSENTHAL: Our mountain series weekends are quite simple. It’s about bringing incredible people together around shared interests, great food, wellness, and art experiences while immersed in the great outdoors. It’s more intimate in size, about 150 people from all over the world gather for discourse, long table meals, connection, and of course skiing.
WW: What are you personally looking forward to this year?
JR: Actor Jesse Williams connected us with artist Glenn Kaino a year or so back, and I am excited to have him experience his first Summit event, as we’ve admired his work and the rigor and approach he takes to thought provoking narratives. We’re excited to see what he has to share about his latest project with prolific activist Tommie Smith and to begin the exploratory phases of a potential permanent installation at the mountain.
WW: How would you describe what you’re creating at Powder Mountain? How has this site impacted the mission of Summit?
JR: Powder Mountain is building a year-round, purpose built community, in one of the greatest natural settings we know—the Northern Utah Wasatch Range, and specifically Eden, Utah.
In addition to the incredible skiing (the most skiable terrain of any mountain in the US), art installations and architecture, our focus is on retaining the backcountry charm of this ski town.
While we are now developers, and are building our small village on top of the mountain, we have designed our community to be as conservation-minded as possible.
The previous ownership groups all had plans that called for at least three to five times the development we’re building, which would have greatly disturbed the local animal population, and significantly impacted the backcountry culture we fell in love with at Powder Mountain. We chose to package our development in a way that has preservation in mind. It’s built on tens of acres on the 10,000+ acres that make up PowMow, as it’s known locally, so the experience of the place is that of having a national park out your back door, that you can ski in and out of.
We’ve always had a great appreciation of nature and the environment, and throughout Summit’s history, more often than not, we’ve hosted our events in remote, natural locations. It is a change of pace from the concrete dominated city lives of so many of our community. We find that we think clearer, hurry less, and generally enjoy our lives more and focus on the things that matter the most, the more we’re in nature. And while this was a constant thread since our founding, we are all certainly more connected personally to the planet, and feel a real responsibility to do what we can while we’re here for our environment it and it’s progeny.
Chapter 2 — Noteworthy
The Summit Mountain Series is a more intimate gathering of people for a weekend of discourse, long table meals, connection, and of course, skiing.
The next gathering is the Summit Mountain Series Winter Jam II, taking place Friday, March 1—Sunday, March 3, 2019.
At Powder Mountain, they designed their community to be as conservation-minded as possible.