Forests of heat lamps. Acres of rented carpet. Speaker-stack towers and portable bar gridlock. Yes, the final preparations are now being made for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. And if you’re going, you have every reason to be excited. Founded in 1978, the glamorous two-week affair (January 22-February 1) descends upon the beautiful resort town like a snowstorm, and converts popular restaurants into film studios, parking lots into nightclubs and mild-mannered citizens into paparazzi. True, Sundance can be as intimidating as it is titillating. Tickets to the most highly anticipated films and panels can be hard to come by, as can invites to the most exciting parties and social events. Forbes Travel Guide offers this practical map to making the most of your time.
Unless you’re coming in by private jet, you’re flying into Salt Lake City International Airport, probably on Southwest or Delta. Get your first taste of the exceptional people watching at baggage claim, then head for the shuttle kiosks. While there is a light rail down in Salt Lake City proper, you’ll need a taxi, limo or shared shuttle to get up the canyon to Park City (it’s about 40-60 minutes). Book a private, chauffeured black car or shared shuttle through Park City Transportation or All-Resort Express. They’ll drop you right at your hotel, condo rental or chalet; you’ll want to pre-book those.
Where to Stay
Chances are you booked your accommodations about a second after deciding to attend Sundance. And that’s a good thing, too. Remaining rooms in Park City and Deer Valley proper are creeping toward the $1,000-per-night mark, and many hotels are already sold out. If you’re willing to compromise and get, say, two doubles instead of a king, you may still get lucky if you call around. Otherwise, you might want to start looking at vacation rentals in nearby Kimball Junction and even Heber. If you don’t mind a little more of a commute, you could even stay at Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford’s own retreat, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Sundance Mountain Resort. It’s about an hour away by complimentary shuttle, on a breathtaking swath of skiable canyonland. Maybe you’ll even brush elbows with the Sundance Kid himself!
Dining Do’s and Dont’s
Do you like to eat? You can bet the more than 45,000 Sundance attendees do, too. Rather than deal with the crush, many Park City restaurants take a buyout from a film or publicity company and temporarily become a satellite TV studio, a celebrity-gifting lounge, brand activation or private club. Today’s real estate office is tomorrow’s gluten-free pop-up. “Getting a table at High West during Sundance? Heck, I can’t even get a table there!” says David Perkins, owner of High West Distillery, only partly kidding. His is the world’s only ski-in distillery and gastro-saloon and, during Sundance, it’s busier than Times Square on New Year’s Eve. By now, reservations there and at many tony spots are filled, narrowing your options to delis, pizzerias and pubs. So if there’s a restaurant you have your heart set on trying, call ahead to first make sure they will even be open during Sundance, then secure reservations. And it never hurts to pop a protein bar and a 5-hour Energy in your pocket for emergencies.
What to Bring
Think layers, so you can peel’em off and throw’em back on. Also consider multitasking: That beautiful scarf doubles as a hood. Those convertible glove/mittens allow for critical back-of-line texting. Dress from the ground up. Park City is a casual, upscale resort town, so boots work here, as do jeans and leggings. (Gentlemen, this goes for you, too — boots, not sneakers or loafers.) “But [boots] must have rubber soles,” cautions publicist Kari Feinstein, whose eponymous style lounge attracts celebrities and movie stars each year. “Or else you end up ice skating all over Main Street. I see plenty of women in high-heel pumps face plant every year. Do not wear high-heel pumps.” Ladies, a long jacket might not be as cute as the little bomber you had in mind, but should you slip and go down hard on the sidewalk in front of No Name Saloon & Grill, you’ll be wishing you had a little more cushioning. Save the exposed skin for when you doff all those layers inside the party — no one will be looking at your Timberland Euro Hikers then.
Welcome to Swag Town, USA
A big part of Sundance — and one of which founder Robert Redford has said he’s not exactly a fan — are the celebrity gifting suites. Companies pay big bucks to get their brand in the hands of the celebrities who attend the festival. So, everywhere you look there are tents, lounges and pop-up branding experiences showing off the latest in headphones, wearable tech, leather goods and jewelry. But not all of them are strictly guest-list situations. True, you might not be carrying out a trove of complimentary goodies like Sarah Silverman (those brand reps are pretty strict about who gets the free stuff), but the events tend to still be well-catered stargazing opps unto themselves.
The Party Scene
Someone has to keep the movie stars entertained while they’re away from their regularly scheduled partying. All too happy to oblige, Tao Group secured a multiyear deal on a parking structure at the bottom of Main Street. Though the recreated Tao Las Vegas experience called “Tao presented by Absolut Elyx at Village at The Lift” (Sundance loves its long, brand-conscious event names) ended on January 25, the calendar remains stuffed with opportunities for a good time. Up in Deer Valley, for example, Live! At Montage returns with music in Montage Deer Valley’s Vista Lounge & Terrace. Through January 31, look for a rotating roster of musicians — popular acts such as KT Tunstall (January 31) will make appearances — at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star property. Unlike so much of Sundance, these events aren’t ticketed, so just show up early (6-7 p.m.) to secure seats.
The ChefDance dinner series is a five-night engagement (through January 27), each night presenting a cocktail reception and gourmet four-course meal cooked by guest celebrity chefs from Bravo’s Best New Restaurant. Chefs include Steven Fretz (The Church Key, L.A.), Parind Vora (Jezebel, Austin), Paola Dorigato (Dolce, Miami), Dustin Trani (Doma, L.A.) and Shawn Armstrong (Montage Deer Valley). The dinners are invite only, but you can enter to win seats at ChefDance.com.
By day, the ChefDance space (427 Main Street) does double duty as both a celebrity lounge with a Birchbox sampling station, cocktails by Anchor Distilling and coffee by Tim Horton’s, and as Huffington Post’s Live Video Lounge, live streaming interviews with actors, directors and festival insiders. You can also enter to win a copy of the entire Sundance party list (and, more importantly, the contact info of the gatekeepers) at SundancePartyList.com.
Movies? What Movies?
Oh yeah, movies! That’s the reason we’re all here, is it not? If you’re heading to the festival, you probably already have your tickets lined up. But if Sundance is more of a last-minute decision, you don’t have to be left entirely in the cold. Early morning and late night can be counted on as great times to fly standby for movie tickets that will go unused by folks who either partied too hard the night before or have chosen to party it up instead of going to the midnight showing of that next indie wunderkind’s first solo effort. You can also get lucky during meal periods. Speaking of food, popcorn, candy and refreshments are usually available anywhere a film is showing. But regarding those midnight shows, this would be an especially good time to deploy that flask you picked up on Huckberry last year. Download the official Sundance app to keep tabs on the film schedule. But if you’re still at a loss for what to do, “Go skiing,” says Perkins. “It’s the best time of the year: The slopes are relatively empty as everyone’s in a theater or at a party.”