ON January 19, Park City’s usually calm, charming streets change as paparazzi, celebrities, ‘scenesters’ and film aficionados descend on the town to celebrate the opening of the Sundance Institute’s annual Sundance Film Festival.
Founded by Robert Redford in 1981 as a platform for independent artists to explore their creative pursuits free from commercial and political pressures, the Sundance festival has grown to become America’s largest independent cinema festival.
For 11 days in January, the Utah city showcases new work from American and international independent filmmakers hoping to inspire, challenge, delight, startle, move and thrill viewers.
From animations and dramas to cults and documentaries, the festival features films that cross cultural, political and language barriers. Park City in winter offers more than thought-provoking cinema and a quick glimpse of Hollywood’s hipsters, however.
Just 50km from Utah’s capital Salt Lake City and more than 2100m above sea level, Park City is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, adventure seekers, culinary admirers and history buffs alike. The city is well accustomed to being inundated with crowds of people; more than 130 years ago, people first flocked to Park City hoping to cash in on Wasatch Mountain’s abundant silver resources. At the peak of the mining boom, the mountains yielded US$400 million worth of silver and created 23 millionaires, but when the Great Depression hit in 1930, the once flourishing city was left nearly a ghost town. Facing desperate times and noticing a rising interest in skiing in America’s west, the miners gave up their heritage and, in 1963, opened a ski resort. Since then, the city has been home to a steady stream of tourists seeking outdoor adventure and activities. In 2002, Park City was put firmly on the map when it helped host hundreds of thousands of spectators and sports stars during the Winter Olympics.
Named by Forbes Traveler Magazine in 2008 as one of the 20 “prettiest towns” in the US, Park City is a unique blend of old and new. More than 1900km of tunnels once used by miners still wind through the surrounding mountains, and heritage buildings stand alongside luxury hotels, state-of-the-art sporting facilities and premier golf courses. Every year, the town is flocked to for Sundance, but travellers less interested in cinema can see for themselves why Park City is the American Southwest’s most popular ski town.
In January, the ski season will be in full swing. With 58 lifts dotted across 40sqkm of mountainous terrain, boarders and skiers can tackle 426 runs, bowls and parks on what is known as ‘the greatest snow on earth’. The mountain’s three world-class
resorts – Canyons, Park City Mountains and Deer Valley – offer terrain for everyone, from beginners’ slopes to moguls, chutes, cross-country trails and heli-skiing courses. Thrill-seekers can head to the tube park for some family fun that continues well after dark, or take an adrenalin-filled trip on a snowmobile for a spectacular view of the Rocky Mountains. For an even better vista, a hot-air balloon ride above the Wasatch Mountains is a must.
Off the slopes and just 13km from the town centre, Utah Olympic Park features an array of sporting facilities and visitor areas for those seeking an extraordinary Olympic experience. Almost 1.6sqkm, the park is now the training centre for the US’s Olympic sportspeople.
Visitors can watch athletes in training, explore the Alf Engen Ski History Museum and the 2002 Eccles Winter Olympic Museum, race 130km per hour down a bobsled track, and participate in an introduction camp to master the skill of steering a skeleton or luge.
When it’s time to take a break from all the adventure and sporting memorabilia, travellers can wander through the quaint shops and galleries on historic sloping Main Street. Everything from handmade furniture, art collectibles and antiques to books and sportswear can be found there. After a big day exploring the ruggedterrain and charming shops, guests can relax and refresh at one of Park City’s world-class luxury spas, and then cap off the night with a sumptuous banquet at one of the many award-wining restaurants.
During the first half of the Sundance Film Festival, accommodation prices soar, restaurants are almost impossible to get into and movie tickets are hard to come by, but travellers who want an unforgettable holiday without having to mortgage their house shouldn’t despair. Towards the end of the festival, Park City is at its best, the slopes are practically deserted, the hotels have slashed their prices and the restaurants have opened their waitlists.
To snag some last-minute film tickets travellers can line up outside the theatre at least two hours before a screening, where they will each be given a number based on their place in the line. With a number in hand, punters are free to leave, but they must return no later than 30 minutes before the show to gain entry. Those willing to wait in a queue can pick up tickets for just US$15. Park City is a 35-minute drive from Salt Lake International Airport which services more than 800 flights per day. While there are no non-stop flights from Perth to Salt Lake International Airport, connecting flights are available through Los Angeles via Australia’s eastern states. Several transport companies offer fast and convenient transfers between
Park City and Salt Lake International Airport. For a more scenic route, Park City is about a 90-minute drive from many major international airport hubs including Utah, San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Phoenix.
The Three Resort International Pass is the most economical way for international guests to experience each of Park City’s unique resorts and allows visitors the flexibility of choosing where they wish to ski each day rather than deciding in advance. Adults can expect to pay US$480, for a six-day pass, which can be used during a 10-day period. Child passes are US$288. Tips and service charges are customary in America, where the general rule in bars and restaurants is 15 to 20 per cent of the bill. For taxi drivers it’s 15 per cent, while bellmen and porters expect US$1 per bag. For snowmobile and ski guides, massage therapists and hair stylists, US$5 to US$10 per person is customary.
Australian citizens do not require a holiday visa for the US, however travellers must pay A$14 and complete an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation at least 72 hours before leaving Australia.
By Kate Christou