For 50 weeks out of the year, it is your typical ski town with great skiing in the winter and fantastic biking and hiking in the summer.
But for 10 days in January each year –Jan. 20-30 in 2022 – it turns into a showcase for independent filmmakers to display their work for Hollywood power players. And it’s showtime for the public, which can see potentially ground-breaking films as well as rub elbows with stars and celebrities.
It’s the Sundance Film Festival.
The festival has been held in Park City since 1981. In 1985 it became part of the Sundance Institute, adding international films to the lineup. In 1991 it was renamed The Sundance Film Festival. Eating, drinking, partying, mingling, late-night bidding wars and deal making is the name of the game at Sundance.
Parking It In Park City
Getting to Sundance is as easy as flying into Salt Lake City (SLC) and catching a shuttle. This is a much better idea than renting a car, as parking during the festival is next to impossible. There are many choices so it’s best to call ahead and make a reservation a few days in advance of arrival. Prices range from $30 to $60 each way.
Lodging during the festival is hectic but not impossible. Rather than looking for hotel rooms, the best way to stay is by renting a condo or townhome. Choose someplace close to Main Street, the center of all that is happening in Park City, and save the trouble of having to take a cab or catch the bus.
One thing about Park City is that its mass transit bus system is well run and FREE to the public. The buses are clean and it makes frequent stops around the city; the main transit center is just off Main Street. Hours of operation are 7:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
This is the way to go during inclement weather or coming or going to the slopes – or the bars.
For those looking to ski, the local mountains offer some of the best powder and runs in the inter-mountain West.
Three resorts – The Canyons, Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley Resort – are all easily accessible by the aforementioned bus system. There is even a chairlift that comes right down to the middle of town that goes to the middle of the Park City Mountain Resort.
But during those 10 days of Sundance, there is movie watching and partying to be done.
Park City Bars During Sundance
It’s easy to go bar-hopping in Park City, for all the bars (and restaurants) are concentrated on one little strip along Main Street. At Sundance, however, there are often lines for the bars and long waits at restaurants.
Two of the hottest places in town – and not just for Sundance – are No Name Saloon and Boneyard Saloon & Kitchen (a self-proclaimed “wine dive” just off Main Street).
Seeing Independent Films At Sundance
There are several ways to get tickets to many of the films. Festival passes to all of the screenings can be purchased on the Sundance website, but pricing can be steeper than the ski runs.
Individual tickets can be found by phone with pre-registration or by going to the main information store just off Main Street (literally the main street), and checking the main board to see what screenings are available.
Or, in some cases, just showing up to a screening site can result in getting a ticket due to no-shows.
Those screening sites are everywhere – in theaters, even offices. Getting into the corporate parties – the sizzle of Sundance for many – is not quite as simple. These big parties are thrown by some of the biggest companies in the entertainment industry.
The Sundance Parties
They are packed with A-list celebrities, offer bagloads of swag and have name bands as entertainment.
Most of these are by invitation only, and the “average” Sundance spectators are best advised to hit some of Park City’s fantastic eateries, bars and pubs. Sometimes, you can see celebrities in the restaurants or bars/clubs.
Still, it never hurts to ask around, so if you see people going into a party, politely inquire if you can get into it. Also ask others you see at the films, on the street and in the restaurants in bars.
Also be on the lookout for sponsor parties; a lot of times they are looking to push these on social media and need people to pose with their products.
Sundance Film Festival Top Tips
• Dress for the weather not for fashion, or combine the two.
• To see films during the festival, buy tickets early in the festival or try to wait outside before a showing for possible no-shows.
• During Sundance, all reservations are a half-hour late.
• Get ski passes in Salt Lake City to save money.
• Bring your own alcohol for the condo/hotel as Utah has “weak” beer. If you buy it locally, it’s stronger in the liquor stores than in the bars.
• Drinking at 11,000 feet (okay, 7,000; see comments below) is much different than drinking at sea level
• Remember bar closing time is 1 a.m.