Sundance is the world’s best independent film festival — but it’s so much more. Here are our secrets to making the most of your trip.
January 17-21, 2013
This year’s festival started Thursday, January 17 and ended on Sunday, January 27. We flew Delta from LAX to Salt Lake City. Something to keep in mind: Delta charges more for each bag you book if you don’t have status — $25 for the first bag and $35 for each after. There is Wi-Fi on the Delta flights from LAX to SLC.
We strongly advise private transportation for getting from Salt Lake City airport to Sundance. When we arrived on Thursday, the lines for the shared shuttle services were all the way across the airport. Even the private cars are a mess to find. If you booked in advance, be sure you have their phone number to locate, as there are massive amounts of them. Private cars are usually waiting outside door 13 by luggage claim.
Book your car far ahead of time — if you don’t, you may end up in a regular car or SUV, not a black car or town car. The private cars get sold out for Sundance so they must call in backup drivers. We used Peak Transportation, about $140 up to Deer Valley. Arrive early in the day to avoid some of this congestion at the airport and also choose a better room when you get to the hotel.
Where to Stay
Almost all hotel rooms must be booked through the Sundance website. Sundance books out all the rooms except for some at the major high end resorts. Since the festival takes most of the rooms, the hotels don’t give much priority except on a first come first serve basis — get there early in the day to snag your room. You’ll pay for the lodging upfront, usually just the first night and then the balance before you arrive. Expect rates around $800-$900 per night.
We stayed at what we think is the best lodge in town, Stein Ericksen Lodge in Deer Valley. Call Stein’s directly and they usually keep aside a few rooms. It’s even better to do this a little later, as they get some cancellations from the festival they try and backfill. Stein’s boasts the best ambiance and service in the state (it’s Utah’s only five star hotel) and has an old school charm that is unparalleled. The well-appointed rooms are equipped with mini kitchens so you can keep groceries in the room for breakfast and snacks. Shuttles to and from town every half hour make getting around a breeze. Stein’s is the best if you want the best ski in/ski out spot in Deer Valley. The hotel has ski in/ski out access in the center of the mountain and sells lift passes — you can literally ski right on the lift from the hotel! The après-ski scene at Stein’s is also fun, with great food and drinks.
Two other popular hotels for Sundance are St. Regis and Montage. St. Regis has a younger vibe, and the hippest après-ski bar in the area. It draws a lot of non-skiers as well. Montage has a much sleepier feel and, in our opinion, not as much character.
Best restaurants in town in this order: Talisker on Main, Riverhorse, Yuki Arashi and Shabu. Dinner reservations during the festival are a must so start booking them as early as possible — most reservations start on January 1. If you don’t want to handle it yourself, your concierge can book them for you. If you couldn’t get a reservation, try the sushi places. They’re the best spots without a reservation because they have bar and table space. Our favorites are Shabu and Yuki Arashi.
Each year brings pop-up bars, out-of-town bars that rent the actual bar and restaurant spaces on Main Street just for Sundance. This year’s pop-up bars were Nikki Beach, Tao, Gansevort and House of Blues among others. Tao operates every year and is the only place in town that can serve alcohol after 2 a.m. It’s by far the biggest and craziest party in town. It’s also very difficult to get in — this is the favorite party spot for all the celebrities in that scene — and you must know someone involved. Worth the effort though! Parties in Sundance wind down about Tuesday in the first week and town becomes much more mellow. Need a ride back to your hotel after a late night? Uber car service now works in Park City! Make sure you download it on your phone before you go.
The real secret of Sundance? The skiing is amazing. There are no lift lines at all since most people are at the festival. You can even get a free lift ticket at any of the ski resorts if you fly in and ski the same day. Just make sure you keep your boarding pass! Deer Valley has the best skiing (and great food) but doesn’t allow snowboarders. If you’re with snowboarders you have to go to Park City or Canyons.