Surviving Sundance | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Surviving Sundance 

An insider's take on the sights, sounds and tastes of Sundance.

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Park City during Sundance can be a magical place. There's an energy and buzz. The little mountain town feels like the adopted home of everybody who's anybody in the world of entertainment. Star sightings abound. It can also be crowded, impossible to get around, expensive, exasperating and exclusive—with "exclusive" meaning, "You're not on the list."

Whether you're somebody with a festival credential, have tickets to some screenings or just want to go see what all the fuss is about and enjoy a day above the Salt Lake Valley inversion, consider these hacks to help make your time in PC more enjoyable.

Save driving time: Park City's layout and historic charm are good for many things, but hosting a large festival where tens of thousands of people show up is not one of them—especially in the winter when snow is piled everywhere.

Step 1: Find a parking space. Any space. Doesn't really matter that much where. Step 2: Grab the space before somebody else does. Step 3: Take one of the many shuttles that go everywhere you need to go. There are friendly volunteers at every stop to help you, and most of the stops have heaters. The shuttles run constantly in all different directions. There's even an app you can download on your phone to get schedules. On your ride, you'll also get the feeling of really being at a festival, as you hear a bus full of people talking about films, stars and events.

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If you are driving—especially into the congested Main Street area—consider using Deer Valley Drive as an alternate for driving out of Park City, avoiding at least a portion of Park Avenue during the typical evening rush-hour traffic jams. The more you can stay away from the busiest routes, the better.

Spend time walking up and down Main: Even if you have no tickets to screenings, don't know anybody who could get you into a big-shot party or aren't interested in spending any money, you need to stop by Main Street during the first few days of Sundance. The place is a swag fest.

Festival sponsors and film organizations take over stores, clubs and restaurants up and down the street and give away free stuff. If there's not a security guard standing in front of the door with a list, just walk in and see what's available. You don't need to spend money buying hats, scarves and gloves for your family. An hour of strolling, and you'll have enough for everybody for the next two years.

The highlight venues for this year include the Festival Base Camp presented by Canada Goose (475 Swede Alley) just off of the main drag. Visitors can try on or buy one of the Sundance staples from the company that keeps Canada warm during the winter, or grab a free cup of coffee, tea or cocoa and some Canadian snacks. There are also food trucks, live music, free Wi-Fi and, most importantly, charging stations for your phone. If your tastes run to something a little colder, check out the Stella Artois Filmmaker Lounge (364 Main), where the namesake beverage is available.

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Eat cheap: There are plenty of fine restaurants in Park City. Trouble is, during Sundance, many of them are either closed, rented out or charging what the market of Hollywood big spenders can bear. However, there are still quick, easy and cheap options available for getting good food. El Chubasco (1890 Bonanza Drive, 435-645-9114, elchubascomexicangrill.com) in Prospector Square is where Park City locals go for Mexican food. The 20 different salsas made fresh daily are just one of the reasons the restaurant got voted "Best Cheap Eats" for the past two years in the town's newspaper. Dine-in or take-out on burritos, street tacos, chile rellenos or the spicy shrimp house specialty, "camarones a la diabla." Davanza's (690 Park Ave., 435-649-2222, davanzas.com) is right near the action of downtown PC, but since it sits on Park Avenue, one block over from Main Street, it isn't overrun with Sundancers. The main crowd for this place—which serves pizzas, burgers and sandwiches—consists of skiers and snowboarders who hop off a nearby lift and walk over to grab pizza-by-the-slice between runs.

Be nice and tip well: Wherever you end up, treat the bartenders, restaurant staff, hotel people or any other locals you should happen to run across with consideration. Park City citizens and workers put up with their town getting completely taken over by the outside world for 10 days every winter. They do it because many of the people who visit are very famous, very rich and tip extremely well. If you are neither very famous or very rich, this is not the time to stiff somebody on a tip, or make a big point about not liking the way your cocktail got mixed.

Kathleen Curry and Geoff Griffin host the Travel Brigade radio podcast.

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