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Planning a trip to Park City for Sundance? Read this first

Jan. 18, 2020
10 min read
Main Street Park City Utah
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The who’s who of Hollywood will take over the picturesque ski town of Park City for the Sundance Film Festival from Jan. 23 to Feb. 2.

While some are there for the movies — more than 118 features are being premiered this year — most VIPS spend their time hobnobbing on Main Street, in the city’s luxurious five-star hotels, and in private chalets. There, exclusive parties and events rage all day and all night, some in hot tubs, and most with flowing Champagne. Whether you’re a Sundance newbie or you return year after year, here’s your guide to making the most of this year’s Sundance events.

What to expect at the Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival is spread across three locations: Park City, Salt Lake City and Sundance Mountain Resort. The movies are shown in 16 theaters, outfitted with the highest-level sound and visual equipment. Festival headquarters, where you can pick up your schedule and merchandise, is located in the Sheraton Park City.

The festival also sponsors exhibits and educational programs, most of which are in Park City. Don’t miss The Filmmaker Lodge, where you can listen to prominent directors and screenwriters discuss issues ranging from climate change to diversity. For a peak into the future, head to New Frontier (tickets required). You can put on goggles and watch virtual reality movies or browse artificial intelligence installations.

Click here to learn about all the Sundance venues and offerings, and remember: there’s a free shuttle to get around the town.

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Park City, Utah. (Photo by Rob Hammer/Getty Images)
Park City, Utah. (Photo by Rob Hammer/Getty Images)

Passes to get into everything cost up to $4,000 for the first weekend, when much of the programming takes place. But you can also buy tickets for individual movie screenings or to get access to certain locations. Check out the different options on the website. For the last several years, those with Chase Ultimate Rewards points at the ready can also use them to access various components of festival.

Related: The best starter travel credit cards

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Spaces to get warm and get inspired

At Sundance, sponsors are a big part of the festival. Hip brands from Canada Goose to Chase take over stores and restaurants on Park City’s Main Street and turn them into interactive spaces in which they throw some of the most sought-after programs.

From Jan. 24 to Jan. 31, for example, Chase is setting up your home-away-from-home. Until 5 p.m., the basement will be turned into a cozy coffee house with arcade games, complimentary hot chocolate and live music. Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card members can flash their card to get access to a VIP lounge with gourmet coffee and beer and whiskey tastings. There are also two parties for card members. Check the schedule for filmmaker panels as well.

At 558 Main Street, you'll find Canada Goose Basecamp, a lush spot open to the public the first weekend of Sundance. Warm up while trying on high-tech parkas. There will be talks with adventurer Colin O’Brady as well as the cast of "The Glorias" and "The Assistants."

The Audible Speakeasy, an enticing pop-up dedicated to sound at 692 Main Street, will have a daily sound bath at 9 a.m. (RSVP required) and a film-related panel every afternoon put on by the Los Angeles Times.

Lyft is turning Park City’s Meyer Gallery (305 Main Street) into a playful ski lodge. Inside there will be filmmaker panels, a DIY hot chocolate bar and fun spaces for photos. Last year there were puppies; fingers crossed they return for a second year. Sundance may be a good time to put the new Chase Lyft benefits and 10x points-earning (total) on the Chase Sapphire Reserve to good use.

Thought-provoking film events

Key players from the world of film set up shop in Sundance to give fans more insight into the industry and discuss key issues.

The Egyptian theater for the Sundance film festival. (Photo by Pureadiancephoto/Getty Images)
The Egyptian theater for the Sundance film festival. (Photo by Pureadiancephoto/Getty Images)

Vulture, a premier entertainment news website, is setting up a media studio from Jan. 24 to Jan. 27, where editors will interview and photograph top talent from the festival in front of an audience. Over 150 directors, actors and producers are already scheduled to visit including Alison Brie, Andy Samberg and Carey Mulligan. It’s invite-only, so reach out to Vulture for more information.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is opening an Impact Lounge from Jan. 24 to Jan. 27 at 825 Main Street. They're teaming up with Entertainment Weekly and The Atlantic to host live talks that explore how film can help us better understand our natural world. See the full schedule here.

Where to party during Sundance

TAO Park City will be the place to see and be seen from Jan. 24 to 26. Casamigos serves free cocktails to guests. Whispering Angel is creating an ice bar and igloo. The party goes late into the night with DJ sets by Brody Jenner & Devin Lucien, Vice and DJNVM.

There's a special preview event at TAO Park City for Chase cardholders on Thursday, Jan. 23. It's part of Chase’s Sound Check music series: a way to give cardholders access to their favorite artists around the country, and will feature a private performance by Mark Ronson. Tickets are free for cardmembers and can be found here.

If your idea of a party is an elaborate meal by a star chef, ChefDance is for you. This group throws culinary feasts for five days and nights during the festivals. And it’s not just food on the menu. Expect discussions with film experts, surprise performances and musical guests. Notable chefs participating this year include Gabriela Camara, Melissa Perello, Galen Zamarra and Shawn McClain. Head to the website for tickets and the full schedule.

ChefDance Storytellers Dinner Series. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for ChefDance Storytellers)
ChefDance Storytellers Dinner Series. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for ChefDance Storytellers)

Bars up and down Main Street are packed with fashionable film buffs at all hours of the day. Don’t miss the High West Distillery, the world’s only ski-in, ski-out whiskey distillery. To escape the crowds head to the St. Regis Deer Valley for their famous 7452 Bloody Mary or the The Après Lounge at the Montage Deer Valley where you can guzzle Veuve Clicquot by a fireplace in a yurt.

Where to stay during Sundance

Luckily, some of our favorite Park City hotels are part of major loyalty programs. Room prices can double (or triple!) during Sundance, so if you can stay on hotel points -- you'll be getting a great redemption value. Unfortunately, many area properties have been fully booked for months, but it’s worth calling at the last minute for cancellations.

There are also some hotels that still display award availability -- though that can change at any moment. For example, on multiple festival nights, the St. Regis Deer Valley has rooms available for upwards of $1,000, or 85,000 to 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

St. Regis Deer Valley (Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Marriott Bonvoy members can also check for availability at the Hotel Park City, an Autograph Collection property. Every room comes with a private hot tub, and the hotel lobby is usually buzzing with excited festival-goers. If you want to be in the middle of the festival action, Marriott’s Summit Watch is on Main Street.

Rooms are also still available for select dates at the Waldorf Astoria Park City, so you can splash out for 89,000 Hilton Honors points per night or upwards of $1,068 per night.

Related: How to choose the right Hilton credit card for you

If you end up having to spend cash, consider booking a stay through the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program, cardmembers a card such as The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, can get complimentary benefits (early check-in when available, room upgrade when available, breakfast for two, late check-out and a unique amenity worth at least $100) at many Park City hotels. The trendy Montage Deer Valley is on the list, as is the historical Stein Eriksen Lodge. Book through American Express or directly with the airline so you’ll earn 5x Membership Rewards points.

Park City is also full of impressive chalets you can call your home for the week. Utopian Luxury Vacation Homes has some of the best properties in the area — and some are still available. The company provides a concierge who will grocery shop for you, rent your ski equipment, arrange for an in-home chef, and more.

If these properties are out of your budget, try Airbnb for last-minute deals. Pro Tip: The farther you get from Main Street, the more likely a hotel is to have availability. Look near The Canyons Resort.

Also, be sure and line up some dining reservations or you may find yourself left out. Even many of the hotel restaurants fill up and are closed to those without reservations during the busy festival weekends.

Bottom line

It’s not too late to hop on a plane to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival, but you’ll want to be flexible with your hotel location.

If you’re determined to see movies at the festival, shell out big bucks for the all-inclusive festival pass. If you’re there for the socializing, skip the pass altogether and head to Main Street. Arrive at programs and events early as Park City has strict capacity laws. This is not a place to be fashionably late.

Sundance is also a great time to enjoy the world-class skiing Park City offers. Resorts are emptier than normal this week as most of the crowds are there for the movies, so enjoy having the slopes to yourself. Put that Epic, Ikon or Mountain Collective pass to good use on area slopes between screenings. For more tips, read this guide to planning your ski trip with points and miles.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.