Sundance brings the star power, but don’t overlook the supporting cast.
During the Sundance Film Festival each January, Park City resembles a martini.
That most cinematic of beverages—shaken, not stirred—can seem to pack more alcohol into a stemmed cocktail glass than should be possible. Sundance brings a similar high-yield buzz to Park City. When the former mining town, 30 miles from Salt Lake City, swells from its usual population of 8,000 to 135,000 strong—as it did during last year’s festival—it can feel more L.A. than, well, L.A.
On opening weekend, the slope of Main Street can be a snowy, slushy, slippery catwalk of “look at me” fashion, with loggerheads of limos and hired cars. In the new gig economy, the road down the hill from the transit center is lined with app-hailed rides, their Lyft and Uber lights aglow.
As one-time film critic for the Denver Post, I have a certain bleary-eyed myopia when it comes to Sundance, now in its 34th year. My version of the annual pilgrimage is almost too rutted. Get up; get dressed; swing by Starbucks (there are two near the Copper Bottom condos); hoof it to a theater or hop on one of the free shuttles that circulate among the theaters and Main Street; drop by a cocktail party or a dinner; squeeze in one last movie. Sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
During the two-week fest (which kicks off this year on January 24) you might not realize there’s anything to do in Park City besides moviegoing. Gyms and a library are transformed into cinemas. Multiplexes are overrun by A-list celebrities, deluded wannabes and everyone in between. Last year, the Sundance Institute took ownership of a one-time sporting goods store and remade it into one of its best venues: the Ray. The Eccles Center and the intimate Egyptian Theatre interrupt their year-round programs to make way for world premieres and other high-profile screenings.
With its emphasis on independent films, both American and international, Sundance has grown into a culture-shaping event. Even when movies critically acclaimed at the fest don’t light the box office ablaze, the festival’s cumulative power remains formidable. Its prescient New Frontier program (curated by Colorado native daughter Shari Frilot) has grown from a tech hardware showcase into a vital stop that wrestles with varieties of storytelling, including virtual reality.
In the early years of Sundance, fest-goers took time to hit the slopes. Maybe some still do. But none of them are tasked with writing about the behemoth. We, those lucky few, can only gaze at the lights twinkling on the snowy ski runs at night and listen for the strange morning thunder that comes from avalanche mitigation. Then it’s back to the darkness and popcorn.
For visitors not tethered to duty, there are plenty of ways to pair Park City’s fest offerings with skiing, eating and shopping. Here’s a cheat sheet of the Park City I know thanks to Sundance, and the one I yearn to take advantage of someday when I’m not taking in another octuple feature.
In the spirit of film loving, I’ll paraphrase The Graduate and distill all my worldly advice into one word: “Reservations.”
Hotel Park City. If you’ve visited Fort Collins’ hip yet comfy The Elizabeth Hotel, then you have a sense of what the Marriott chain is doing with its Autograph Collection. This all-suites property delivers rustic flourishes in keeping with the ski-lodge vibe, while lavishing the boutique perks. Each suite features a fireplace, king-size beds, jetted tubs and a private balcony or patio with views of the Wasatch Range. Don’t want to drive (and you shouldn’t the opening weekend of the festival)? It’s a short shuttle ride to Main Street, the transit center or the ski slopes of Park City Mountain. Don’t want to venture too far from that fireplace? There’s a Ruth’s Chris Steak House on the premises. 2001 Park Ave., 435.940.5000, www.hotelparkcity.com.
Newpark Resort. This attractive hotel is in a shopping center—but what a shopping center. If I weren’t such a creature of habit, I’d camp out at Newpark Town Center. In addition to the 120 guest rooms and suites, the property features 16 townhouses with a slew of amenities. The hotel lies on the Park City shuttle route, has dining nearby and is a five-minute walk from the Metropolitan Redstone 8 Cinemas for an easy festival fix. Want fresh air instead of Twizzlers? There are miles and miles of groomed trails nearby, many of them starting at the nearby Basin Recreation Center. Also close and beckoning: the 1200-acre Swaner Preserve and EcoPark. 1476 Newpark Blvd., 877.649.3600, www.newparkresort.com.
The Windy Ridge Bakery. Flaky croissants and good coffee—that would be more than enough. Yet many delights call out from the display case at this gem tucked in the parking lot behind the Windy Ridge Cafe. There’s no shortage of cookies, quiches, pies, cakes, pastries, macaroons (the yummy coconut, gluten-free kind) or grab-and-go fare. A fave: their mini chicken pot pies. 1750 Iron Horse Dr., 435.647.2906, www.windyridgebakery.com.
Riverhorse on Main. Creative seasonal dishes and live music in a renovated Mason’s Hall. Under the inventive guidance of executive chef and co-owner Seth Adams, this Park City mainstay—18 years and counting—doesn’t rest on its many laurels. Think short ribs with oxtail, mushrooms, pappardelle pasta, gremolata and burrata, or espresso-rubbed pork belly with polenta, apples and pumpkin seed pesto. Too meaty? Riverhorse welcomes vegetarians with offerings such as stuffed acorn squash, crispy tofu bites and veggie risotto. 540 Main St., 435.649.3536, www.riverhorseparkcity.com.
The Eating Establishment. This Main Street restaurant has been serving up breakfast all day for decades. My first visit: 1992. The menu distinguishes between “light breakfast” and “house specialties” because the latter make for hefty meals: huevos rancheros, pork hash, a dish dubbed “the hungry miner.” 317 Main St., 435.649.8284, www.theeatingestablishment.net.
Five5eeds. Australian transplants Tiffany and Andrew Percy and their team are proving that they, too, know a thing or two about the most important meal of the day (or “brekkie” as it’s called Down Under). Try the Shakshouka (Moroccan baked eggs), the pulled pork benedict or the smashed avo on toast. 1600 Snow Creek Dr., 435.901.8242, www.five5eeds.com.
The Eccles Center. During Sundance, the parking lot in front of the Eccles is something of a stocked pond for star fishing. This performance venue often hosts the first public screenings (often world premieres) of the fest’s most anticipated films. But before and after Sundance, the 1250-seat Eccles presents lectures and performances. Some of the thinkers and performers headed to Park City in early 2019 include Jaron Lanier, an inventor of virtual reality and, of late, a critic of technology’s power; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jodi Kantor; the Parsons Dance troupe; and the deep-folk band Birds of Chicago. 1750 Kearns Blvd., 435.655.3114,
Egyptian Theatre. When Sundance doesn’t have the run of the town, this intimate venue on historic Main Street is a stop for well-known musicians. Right before Sundance kicks off, Rita Coolidge and Canned Heat have gigs. After the fest, singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, Mary Wilson of the Supremes and Shawn Colvin are slated to drop by. 328 Main St., 435.649.9371, www.egyptiantheatrecompany.org.
Comet Bobsled Ride at Olympic Park. Whoosh! “Weee!” “Omiggggaaa!” Enough said? Maybe not. This joy ride for three passengers, piloted by an expert, takes place on the same icy track that lugers and other daredevils hurtled down during the 2002 Winter Games. You can’t be pregnant, and kids must be 16 or older to ride. Best, most cautionary line from the Brave Ski Mom blog (www.braveskimom.com) about the bobsled run: “I LOVED it. I couldn’t move my neck for three days.” That’s enough said. 3419 Olympic Pkwy., 435.658.4200, www.utaholympiclegacy.org.
Dolly’s Books and Gifts. All the best mountain towns boast an appealing indie book haunt. Park City has two. Atticus Coffee & Tea House is sweet, but for browsing and inspiration, Dolly’s is my place. During the fest they display books sure to resonate with cinephiles. They also host film-related events. Did I mention the bookstore shares a door with the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory? 510 Main St., 435.649.8062, www.dollysbookstore.com.
Wait, is there a film festival in Park City? No, there are two.
2019 Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 24-Feb. 3: If you’re reading this and haven’t yet purchased tickets for Sundance, you still have a shot at dipping your toe into the roiling festival waters, especially if you set your sights on the back end of the festival. Opening weekend is madness. Individual tickets go on sale in early January; packages have been on sale since early fall. Or catch a last-minute screening through Sundance’s eWaitlist. For more information, check out the ticketing details at www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/get-tickets.
Slamdance, Jan. 25-31: Every institution has its rivals. Is it any surprise, then, that as Sundance grew in reputation, a band of filmmakers (happy rejects, they boast) pushed back with a show of their own in the same town, during the same time period? Twenty-four years after the inaugural event, it’s still going. Among the films Slamdance has championed: adorable doc Mad Hot Ballroom, horror breakout Paranormal Activity and African-American filmmaker Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned. Ticket info at www.slamdance.com.