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Some of Utah's residential communities are so secret they can only be discovered by word-of-mouth.

Here’s what it’s like to live in Utah’s most exclusive residential communities

As you sip your coffee in the morning, you gaze out through your very own private portal: a panoramic view that opens up to a 360-degree display of untouched mountains and virgin trees. The entire world feels like it’s mine, you think as you turn towards the fire burning in your home―a sprawling, palatial blend of state-the-art modernism and old-world charm. 

Everything is in its place, every interior design detail is thought through to the nth degree. And even though there are at least 40 acres separating you from your neighbors, you still have everything you could ever want at your disposal: golf courses designed by the best in the industry, access to watersports on lakes nestled between peaks at an altitude of 7,000 feet, horseback riding through pristine trails, and a community of some of the most successful individuals on the planet who are happy to discuss world-changing ideas over dinner prepared by a private chef. 

Is it utopia? Close. Drop the last five letters and replace them with an A and an H. 

Utah’s exclusive, ultra-affluent communities are on the rise. And as a result of the pandemic, they’re growing rapidly―so much so that they’re becoming more and more tight-lipped in an effort to preserve their exclusive, members-only feel. Wasatch Peak, for one, is a new, super secret community in the works that won’t publicly disclose any information or even make mention that they exist; but that doesn’t keep them from selling homes upwards of $20 million to invite-only initiates. 

Some of Utah's residential communities are so secret they can only be discovered by word-of-mouth.
Promontory photographed by Doug Burke

Promontory: the country club on steroids 

Since the start of the pandemic, Promontory―Utah’s most luxurious vacation home community in Park City―has seen its total sales skyrocket. To be exact, they’ve gone from $214 million in 2019 to $490 million this year. When I spoke with Kelli Brown, Promontory’s general manager, it became clear that there are certain aspects of the community that make it one of the most desirable places to live in the country―especially now. 

First and foremost, Promontory’s amenities are a huge contributing factor when it comes to its recent boom in growth. “I don’t know of any other club that offers as many amenities as Promontory,” Brown says. “Sometimes we joke that it’s a country club on steroids because our developers really tried to think of everything you [could] conceivably want to do at a country club and make sure every member of your family has something to do every season of the year. 

“We have two signature golf courses: one designed by Pete Dye and one designed by Jack Nicklaus. Both of those facilities have their own dedicated golf clubhouse buildings. We have an equestrian center that’s just state-of-the-art―absolutely gorgeous. We have tennis, fitness centers, a spa, multiple pools, [and] a beach club―there’s really no other place I know that has a beach club at 7,000 feet.”

In addition to the altitude, the beach club is particularly unique because it includes a huge, stunning, negative-edge pool that flows out into a lake peppered with paddleboarders. After a day at the beach, families flock to The Shed: a clubhouse that includes a bowling alley, a movie theater, basketball courts, air hockey, and shuffleboard. Community members can choose from among five different restaurants to dine in, and when it’s time to ski, they can utilize two members-only ski lodges: one at the base of Park City Mountain Resort and one at the base of Deer Valley Resort.

“I think the driver during COVID is the ability to live a very robust, active lifestyle and not feel like you’re on top of other people,” Brown says. In addition to all-time high home sales, Promontory has seen its golf rounds go up by 30 percent and has also witnessed a boost in the use of its outdoor tennis and trails. “It’s actually been the busiest year we’ve ever seen at Promontory in the 20 years that it’s been in existence,” she tells me. 

When I ask Brown to elaborate more on why more individuals have been arriving from the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Texas, she answers that the ability to work remotely has also contributed to the influx of new community members. As people realize that they can work from anywhere, they decidedly want to work from one of the top communities on earth. 

“I think that the biggest reason people move to Promontory is that they can live the kind of lifestyle that they want to live and do it in fresh air and in a community of like-minded, affluent people. It’s a very, very high-end community.”

Promontory’s least expensive home is valued at $1.6 million―which, according to Brown, will give you a very small product―while its most expensive homes are valued at $12 million. For access to amenities, the community requires either a full membership or social membership, with full membership fees priced at $150,000. Payment, of course, can only come after a pretty serious vetting process that includes a background check and letters of recommendation. 

While there is no one way to describe a Promontory community member, Brown says that there are a few underlying commonalities: members are “family loving, very successful in life, [and] value their freedoms and ability to do what they want to do. They are people who have been very, very successful. We have captains of industries here and people who hold very prominent positions in Fortune 500 Companies. And we of course have some celebrities.”

Even though Brown could not disclose the names of her most prominent community members, she said that Promontory is particularly unique because it establishes a sense of legacy: “I think when you’re in a community like this where there’s something for all of your family members to do, you inherently get people that want to bring their family here and want this to be a legacy club for future generations,” she concludes.  

Sanctuary: the invite-only community for visionaries 

Tucked away in the Wasatch mountains is one of the planet’s most well-kept secrets. To find it, you’ll have to look for a secluded neighborhood hidden among three ski resorts, the Pineview Reservoir lake, and the Monte Cristo Range’s wide-open backcountry. This is Sanctuary―the aptly named community designed for those who cherish the gorgeous, natural environment so much so that by living here, they actively participate as stewards of the wild world they inhabit. 

“We are in an incredible environment which can never be changed or altered with [development],” says Tim Charlwood, Sanctuary’s founding visionary and owner. “We’ve put 89 percent of the land into a conservation trust so that people can’t spoil it.” 

But Sanctuary’s sustainability efforts don’t stop there. “Every home has geothermic energy―which is a very big deal― and all the waste systems are zero contamination,” Charlwood says before telling me that this waste management project took a year-and-a-half to get approved and established through the Utah Division of Water Rights. “We’re doing all the right things environmentally, and we have something that we’re preserving and looking after.”

Charlwood, a UK transplant, has decades of experience building utopian communities. As a founding member of Mustique Island in the Caribbean―a private island for high-net-worth individuals―and multiple ultra-affluent developments in Europe, he is uniquely qualified to create a state-of-the-art neighborhood focused on enlightenment. 

“We have the vision. It has always been about bringing the corporate and the high executive world together to have their special times together,” he says. “It’s about the experience that we can generate for them. The real estate is obviously important, but it is secondary to the experience that we promote.” 

Charlwood knows that these powerful individuals want to end their days with “a really good chef and a really good evening together. They’re all executive leaders of the world and they have very private times together―that’s their inspirational time and their creative time amongst the business world.”

Sanctuary’s ability to unite top individuals is something that has naturally led to unique, intellectual gatherings for community members. Whether the conversations are tiny get-togethers or events led by leaders of the Silicon Slopes, they are designed to stoke innovation and creativity for all who are lucky enough to attend. 

And according to Charlwood, the community is invitation-only: “We invite people to invite their friends so that we are a community of people that all understand and know each other. It’s important that we have an invitation process. It’s so cool to see that community. They look forward to coming to their home and meeting their friends and having community time together, but with every exciting recreation that you could imagine.”

Charlwood is referring to heli-skiing, backcountry snowmobiling, wake boating, and jet skiing―activities that are known at Sanctuary as “high-altitude recreation.” As a matter of fact, Sanctuary is, according to Charlton, the only private community in North America where heli-skiing is offered. Additionally, it has its own Olympic-designed Nordic trails and over 12,000 acres of open-space land that community members can access. 

Each home is built on 40 acres of private land, lending a level of privacy that is unparalleled when compared to any other community in the state. Plus, the community’s architecture, by James Carroll, is designed specifically to stand the test of time and meld with the beauty of the natural environment. Charlwood tells me that there is tremendous “purpose and meaning for everything in [each] home,” and his wife, Michaelle Peters, a brilliant artist and interior designer, curates the spaces to perfection. 

“Leaders consistently say it’s the best home that they’ve ever seen in Utah―even the world,” he says. “We’ve had a number of big leaders come to us and they never leave. That’s the biggest thing that’s been extraordinary.”

It makes sense: Sanctuary’s landscape is nothing short of breath-taking. The sense of ownership, stewardship, and vision that each member has access to acts as a breeding ground for uncanny inspiration and world-changing ideas. “You come to the Sanctuary and it’s mind-blowing in terms of visuals,” Charlwood says. “Looking at your own mountain is a story in itself.” 

Some of Utah's residential communities are so secret they can only be discovered by word-of-mouth.
Promontory photographed by Doug Burke

Summit Powder Mountain: where authenticity is the new currency 

When I speak to Summit Powder Mountain’s director of real estate, Brian Williams, he immediately tells me what makes the community so unique: “One of the first things that sets us apart is the view corridor,” he says. “When we’re building at 9,000 feet (on average) on a ridgeline, virtually every homesite we offer has these panoramic views from the sunrise over the Uintas all the way to the sunset over the Great Salt Lake and north clear out to Cache Valley. From an aesthetic standpoint, I don’t know anywhere else in the United States that has these drastic vista views.”

That gorgeous, expansive gaze is certainly something that makes the homes at Summit Powder Mountain unlike anywhere else in existence. However, the view corridors are just a small feature of the community’s signature architecture. The style is something Williams calls “heritage modern,” and it refers to the fact that “we want our homes to be the shape of a modern home, we want them to use the most high-tech materials they can from a sustainability perspective, but then we want to clad their exterior with natural materials to make them look like they’ve been there forever.” 

This is where the community gets the “heritage” side of “modern,” and Williams says that here, “You won’t find the typical heavy ‘timber and lodge’ look that exists in most mountain communities.”

In addition to its spectacular architecture, Summit Powder Mountain is also dedicated to adhering to strict design guidelines. Each home is skin-in, ski-out, and is built within 30 feet of the roadways. Winding driveways and extended rock walls are strictly prohibited in an attempt to preserve the natural beauty of the mountain. Summit Powder Mountain also limits the number of homes that can be built so that the community’s impact on the mountain is low. 

“You basically have this very defined pie and if you want a slice of it, you do pay a premium,” Williams says. 

However, it’s not just the way that Summit Powder Mountain is built that sets it apart. Williams explains that, while the community is pricey, ostentatious displays of wealth are not encouraged on the mountain. When it comes to building inside the neighborhood, community members are urged to build homes that are modern and stately but still softened by natural materials that blend in with the surrounding environment. 

In fact, authenticity is a major factor that defines the community as a whole. While these members are highly successful people in their everyday lives―people who bring in tremendous wealth and who are often seen in a suit and tie―they are invited to leave that all behind and lean into their truest selves. 

“When they come to Powder Mountain, it is culturally acceptable to let your hair down, shed that suit, and put on some comfy clothes,” Williams says. “You may have all the means in the world, but at the same token, Summit Powder Mountain is a place where your sweats and slippers walking around the lodge are just as acceptable as anything else. What we find from that is people get back to their more authentic selves when they’re not having to wear that “suit”―a word he uses not to only describe a literal suit, but to describe a disguise that these highly successful individuals use to delineate their social status. 

“Here, our social circles are ‘come here and relax,’ ‘reconnect with your own soul,’ ‘connect with mother nature,’ ‘connect with the beauty that’s around us,’ ‘connect with your neighbors,’ [and] ‘spend more time asking questions about other people and less time talking about yourself’” he says. “That’s the culture of Summit Powder Mountain, and no pun intended, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

That sense of authenticity that’s so lauded at Summit Powder Mountain is certainly something that makes the community so extraordinary, and it’s certainly something that Williams intends to maintain. When newcomers come for a tour, he likes to set the tone right away and let them know that Summit Powder Mountain is first and foremost about driving purpose in its community through meaningful connections. 

“We would like all of the people who live on the mountain―whether they’re full-time or part-time―to know each other and like each other and communicate on a regular basis and then gather together and brainstorm ideas for how to make the world a better place,” he says. “Summit Powder Mountain definitely separates itself by being a place where being real and authentic is the preferred behavior.”

Some of Utah's residential communities are so secret they can only be discovered by word-of-mouth.
Promontory photographed by Doug burke