A new experience in the books, Sundance was a completely new adventure I was lucky enough to take.
Sundance is mostly known for its film premiers, but there’s a lot more to be experienced in the winter wonderland of Park City. Cody and I were invited spend the second weekend of the festival with three other couples and we stayed in an awesome VRBO in Deer Valley, just a couple miles away from Main Street in Park City. To share on my first time at Sundance, I’ve broken it down into three parts: the films, the food and the slopes.
A good place to start, since the whole festival revolves around celebrating the films and the film makers. From Wednesday to Saturday I saw a total of five films including Wounds, Paradise Hills, The Hole in the Ground, Big Time Adolescence and The Report. Two of the movies, Wounds and The Hole in the Ground, were horror films that were sufficiently scary, not overly gory, and fresh with originality. I love a good horror film, and I wouldn't be surprised if both films made it to the big screens in the coming months. Paradise Hills was a fantastic sci-fi film directed by Alice Waddington, a 28-year-old female director from northern Spain that we got to hear answer questions on the film after the screening. With just a $10 million budget, the film was beautifully done and was truly captivating. Meeting the director was the Sundance experience I was hoping for. Before heading to Park City I had done some research on the featured films and Big Time Adolescence stood out to me with SNL’s Pete Davidson as the co-lead actor. I wanted a good laugh and that’s exactly what I got. Big Time Adolescence is a hilarious coming-of-age film with heart warming moments. Our entire group got to see our last film all together after some serious ticket gambling. The Report is a Vice Films political drama about the enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture, used by the CIA post 9/11. It was a well-executed, sobering film that showed the dark truth of the horrendous and ineffective tactics used by CIA operatives as counter-terrorism policy. The film also exploits the measures taken to cover the whole thing up. Lead actor Adam Driver (I pretty much always refer to him as Kylo Ren) plays Dan Jones, Senate staffer who lead the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and Annette Bening plays Senator Feinstein who supervised the investigation. The film has no shortage of star actors including Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Morrison. Keep The Report on your radar and go see it when it comes out in theaters.
We had a traveling group of eight, but with the pre-planning of some friends, we were able to get two reservations to two of the best restaurants in Park City. Our first group dinner was at Grappa, an Italian restaurant set in a rustic farmhouse with a cozy setting. The menu was a pick-two appetizers and one entree sort of place, so come hungry. I enjoyed the fungi crostini, beet salad, and roasted Branzino for dinner.
Our second dinner was my personal favorite at Twisted Fern, an eatery that focuses on minimally processed foods and locally sourced ingredients. They offered a wide range of farm-to-table appetizers and entrees, most of the dishes being plant-based aside from the high-end steak selection and the 12oz. lobster tail. For my entree I had their Zuchinni Purse, which was a grilled calzone-line zucchini pocket packed with quinoa and a sweet-potato hash that was packed with flavor. Definitely something I’d like to learn how to make at home. The real winners at the Twisted Fern, however, were the desserts. We ordered one of everything on the dessert menu, including their special, which we didn’t know existed until it showed up on the table. In order of best to not-the-best, this was the lot: warm butter cake, cast iron chocolate chip cookie (the special), mud pie, bread pudding, and the trio of ice cream including chocolate, bourbon and coconut sorbet.
Another notable meal was a lunch a few of us had at the St. Regis Hotel situated right on the ski slopes of Deer Valley. The best part was how we got there. To get to the restaurant at the top of the hill, you have to hitch a ride on the funicular. Once you get to the top, you can choose to sit inside next to a toasty warm fire, or sit on the outdoor patio and watch the skiers cruise down the slopes just feet away. It was a bluebird sunshiny day, so we opted for the patio under some heaters. Everything we ordered was phenomenal from the mussels, to the French fries. I particularly enjoyed my ahi tuna burger, which was cooked to perfection. If you’re in a rush, you might opt to save this experience for another day given the service is on the slower side, especially during peak times. Go for the views and the and the food, not for a quick cheap meal.
The bar scene was interesting in Park City. Several bars line Main Street and most of them were packed during the festival weekend. Utah is a state that limits the alcohol percentage in beverages to just 3.2% by weight. In most establishments, unless they are licensed to sell liquor, you can only find lite beer. Even hard-liquor is extremely monitored. If you want to buy higher-test beer or liquor, you have to head to a state liquor store, which we did to stock up our VRBO. All that said, you can still find bars that do serve your full-test favorites. If you’re looking for a cool and cozy spot, hit the High West Distillery. We had our group of 8 upstairs spread out along the cushioned benches and oversized ottomans. If you’re looking for a quick spot to get a drink and an appetizer, try Spur. Another favorite was the No Name Saloon, which has a long beer list and great people watching. Every time we walked by it was packed with people and seemed to be the most happening place for visitors and locals alike.
Even though thousands of people descend upon Park City for Sundance, the slopes are largely empty. Both Canyons resort and Park City were near-empty on the days we hit the slopes. Our first day skiing Cody and I took to Canyons. It was a beautiful sunny day and we took over half our runs completely by ourselves. Even though the mountains hadn’t received snow for several days, the dry weather kept the few inches of snow atop the packed powder nice and airy. Visibility was perfect and there was hardly any wind. It was a great first day skiing Utah.
We didn’t plan to ski another day until we looked at the forecast later in the weekend. Park City was expected to get 7 inches of fresh snow Saturday night and we were slated to leave town early Sunday afternoon. But what do you do when you want to hit the freshest of snow? You push back your flight. And that we did. We got up to the slopes a little later than we had wanted and even though most of the first tracks had been made, we trekked to find some fresh powder and float down some great hills. We were able to ski and board for a few hours until we had to venture to the airport. Totally worth it!
We’re already planning on hitting the festival again next year. We learned a lot as first-timers and if you’re thinking about making your first journey to Sundance, here are some tips:
Stay in one generalized area. Film screenings are broken up into three main areas: Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance. We chose Park City and rented a house very close to downtown.
Get your film tickets as early as possible. The eWaitlist on the official Sundance App is great, but a lot of the time everyone is counting on it to see a film, which means you’re competing to get a good spot on the waitlist line.
Check the online box office a couple hours before the film screening. We found out that some tickets get released right before the viewing that they might have been holding for members of the film or other guests, so you might luck out and score some of those.
Get dinner reservations early. Restaurants are often booked with large group parties and private dining experiences, so get your reservation in ahead of time.
Dress warm in layers. It’s the end of January, so it’s cold. The theaters packed with people tend to be warm though, so make sure you’ve got some removable layers so you can be comfortable during viewings.
Look out for a post from me mid-summer, when I plan on making my 2020 Sundance plans!