Locals call them "PIBs," meaning people in black. Every year, PIBs descend on this picturesque ski town for Sundance, a 10-day independent film festival, which runs from Jan. 15-25 this year.
They come here to market their movies, smoke cigarettes, drink coffee, and talk on their cell phones. And yes, a lot of them are dressed in black. It's become so much of a cliché that a local marketing agency ran the following ad; "Sundance Film Festival. Welcome to Park City: 65,874 gallons of coffee, 84,038 cell phones, 9,387 black turtlenecks and plenty of wives for everyone." PIBs and a polygamist reference all in one ad.
Actor/director Robert Redford started the Sundance Film Festival in 1981 to provide a stage for the talents of emerging screenwriters and directors. Redford lives just around the corner in Provo Canyon at his Sundance resort and is seen by locals virtually every winter. The once-fledgling film festival has grown over the years, and this January hosts more than 40,000 film goers, exhibitors, directors, publicists, and actors.
Actors spotted along Main Street this year include Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Hank Azaria, Demi Moore and boyfriend, Ashton Kucher, Danny DeVito, Courtney Cox-Arquette of Friends, her husband David Arquette, and of course Redford to name a few.
Emerging Films, Bustling Bars
Of the 137 full-length films — 91 features and 46 documentaries — three or four seem to be emerging as standouts. There is Supersize Me, a documentary about a perfectly healthy filmmaker who eats three meals a day at McDonald's and puts on more than 30 pounds in a month; Garden State, a film set in, yes, New Jersey; Maria Full of Grace, and Redford's first independent film debut at Sundance, The Clearing.
The annual festival also attracts lots of traffic, parties, and overbooked restaurants. Although Park City has more than 100 bars and restaurants, it can be difficult getting into the good ones such as Grappa, Riverhorse Cafe, 350 Main, Easy Street Brasserie, and Zoom (another Redford venture). Locals know better and head away from Main Street to the Blind Dog, in Prospector Square or Morel's at the top of Deer Valley. The Snake Creek Grill is also good, though it is an eight-mile drive to Heber, Utah.
And by the way: Enough of this whining about the peculiar alcohol laws in Utah — it's easy to get a drink here. Some bars are required by law to ask you to buy a two-week membership for $5 because they're classified as "private clubs."
Beer bars require no such membership, nor do restaurants that serve alcohol with your meal. Check out the Wasatch Brew Pub at the top of Main Street for handcrafted beers with labels like Saint Provo Girl and Polygamy Porter (another takeoff on Utah's Mormon past and in some quarters, "present"). Yes, it's 3.2 percent alcohol beer but at the 7,000 to 10,000-foot altitudes around town and in the mountains, the "effects" are the same as 6 percent brew at sea level.
Escaping the Black-Clothed Crowds
Now here's the inside news that locals may not want you to know. January usually provides some of the best skiing conditions of the season and this year, the snow totals are breaking 20-year records. How about an 80-inch base at Deer Valley, Park City, and the Canyons?
Not just any snow either. This is the best white stuff in North America. They call it "Utah champagne," the driest, lightest powder on the continent. It's one of the reasons the Winter Olympics were held here. Even the license plates here advertise it as the "Greatest Snow on Earth."
And the best news of all is that PIBs, or at least most PIBs, don't ski or snowboard. So, all that terrain is wide open and waiting for you. It is one of the best kept secrets in the ski business. At Deer Valley, they limit the number of skiers per day to 5,500. I skied on a day when more than 4,000 lift tickets were sold and it still seemed pretty non-crowded.
Sampling the Ski Terrain
If you do come up to sample the terrain, here's a guide to the resorts and what to expect.
Deer Valley is known for groomed, manicured runs. Because the resort features runs cut on the fall line, this can be a very fast place to ski. Groomed packed powder also adds to the speed. Deer Valley is renowned for its service and perhaps the best day lodge food in the industry. Deer Valley also has an excellent ski school for kids.
Park City Mountain Resort is best for snowboarding and wide open cruisers. The dining is not as spectacular as that found at Deer Valley but it's a lot more affordable. The Canyons, which is the largest ski resort in Utah is known for powder, trees, and more varied terrain. Try skiing off the top of the 9,990-foot lift. It has good moguls too.
Head 30 minutes down the freeway to Snowbird and Alta for even more challenges. The back bowl at Snowbird which opened only a few years ago is sensational.
Alta is great for powder and a more laid back attitude. It's just up the road from Snowbird. All of the resorts have Web sites and can provide you with up to date snow conditions and lift ticket prices (see below).
Best and most expensive lodging is probably Stein Erickson's Lodge in Deer Valley, although a lot of folks prefer Stag Lodge, also in Deer Valley, which is right on Success Run and roomier than Stein's. Also good is the new Hotel Park City and any of the Marriott properties (there are three), including the new one at Park City Mountain Resort. Not to be overlooked is the Sundial Lodge at The Canyons.
And finally, feel free to bring your snowboard. With the exception of Deer Valley, "single trackers" are welcomed everywhere. The Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort feature "Superpipes" that are considered world class. There are also Winter Olympic facilities left over from the 2002 games for those who want to try bob sledding and ski jumping. Cross country skiing is also big in Park City and in Soldier Hollow near Heber, Utah.
Come to think of it, I've never seen any PIBs at those facilities, either. They mostly hang out on Main Street. In fact, there are so many "Sundancers" in town this year that 'cattle guards' line the sidewalks. I spotted five television crews in two blocks, witnessed the arrest of an unlicensed pan handler, and rolled up the window driving past a noisy protest by animal rights activists upset about the fur trade though there was no fur in sight. Guess they were more interested in the TV crews.
Sundance can be a lot of fun and both the city and state are grateful for the $46 million in business it brings in each year. But if you're looking for truly great skiing and boarding, which is what this town is really all about, head to one of the resorts and experience the freedom and exhilaration of sailing down the snow packed mountains during this, the best winter since, well, since Sundance and the PIBs came to town.
If You Go:
Getting There: Park City is a 45-minute drive from the Salt Lake City International Airport. Take I-80 east to well marked exit signs. Delta Airlines has a hub in Salt Lake and offers the most flights.
Film Festival: Sundance Film Festival (www.Sundance.org)
Lift ticket information: It can be pricey. Deer Valley (www.deervalley.com) and Park City Mountain Resort (www.parkcitymountain.com) list adult lift ticket prices at $69.00 a day. The Canyons (www.thecanyons.com) will save you five bucks a day, at $64.00. Multiple day tickets are the best bet and can save you significant money. A good resource for all of the resorts is www.skiutah.com which lists links to ticket prices, lodging and snow conditions.
Lodging: There are lots of lodging companies. Deer Valley Lodging (www.ski-deervalley.com) (1-866-838-3531) is a good one and can provide information on hotels, condominiums, and rental homes. Beware of high season prices (Christmas, Dec. 27 to Jan. 3 and Presidents Day weekend Feb. 14 to 21).
Local Information: Radio station KPCW 91.9 FM and the Park Record newspaper.
Bill Redeker is an ABCNEWS correspondent.