Festival the Right Way

Tips for Surviving Sundance

How to make the most of your time in town without getting completely swept away by the chaos.

By Michaela Wagner January 17, 2018

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Guests on Main Street at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

So you're coming to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival. Congratulations, you're going to have a blast! The festival has so much to offer, from the amazing atmosphere and people to the groundbreaking storytelling being showcased. This is literally the busiest time of the year in Park City and it can easily get overwhelming, so here are a few tips for making your festival experience smoother.

Stay hydrated and use a water bottle

This might seem obvious, but drinking water is super important, especially in Park City where we sit at 7,000 feet above sea level. Sundance gives out reusable water bottle (or bring your own) to credential holders and have lots of stations where you can refill. You might not feel as thirsty when it's cold out, but forgetting to hydrate can lead to a number of medical issues and, of course, missing out on what you came for. 

Dress appropriately--it's cold in Park City

In case you didn't know, Sundance takes place in the heart of Utah's winter and Park City is known for its stellar snow activities. Yes, we understand you want to look cute in all those celebrity selfie photos, but ditch the stilettos and short skirts and opt for something more weather appropriate. Locals know that Sundance always brings the snow and temperatures can fluctuate from the single digits to almost 50 degrees. Your best bet is to dress in layers instead of just one big puffy jacket and don't forget to wear a hat, gloves, and scarf. 

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It will snow during Sundance. Dress like a local!

Forget a car and use the bus (or walk)

Do not bring a car here! Park City boasts a stellar free public transportation system year-round and it only gets better during the film festival when Sundance and the city team up to bring even more shuttle and offer additional late night routes to keep festival goers on schedule and ease the traffic. If you are staying in Salt Lake City either take the 902 bus up ($4.50 - see schedule here) or park your vehicle out in Kimball Junction and take the electric express bus into town. Don't forget to thank your bus driver, they are working over time to make your festival experience great. Park City isn't very big and you can easily walk between venues if you're not afraid of being in the cold for a bit.

Bring lots of snacks

While Park City is home to numerous restaurants, most of them definitely aren't bargain bites and you better believe they are nearly impossible to get into during Sundance. Unless you've made reservations well in advance, don't count on getting a table. The solution? Hit up the grocery stores for healthy and transportable snacks. Fresh Market (1760 Park Ave.) grocery store in the Holiday Village is a major shuttle hub and also the stop for a number of Sundance venues, including the new Ray Theater and the Double Tree Hilton.

Let go of the fear of missing out

Being at Sundance for the first time is similar to visiting Paris for just one weekend. Accept the fact that you're not going to see or do everything and just enjoy the moment. If you catch a really great film or listen to an enlightening discussion on filmmaking, be happy and cherish that experience. There are dozens of spectacular experiences going on at any given moment at the festival, that's what makes it collectively so special. 

Be courteous to the volunteers and listen to them

Sundance has a staff, but it's the 1,000+ volunteers who keep the festival moving. They stand out in the cold, shovel snow, deal with lost and confused (and demanding) visitors, and deserve a great deal of thanks. In their ranks you'll find both locals and out of towners from around the globe. They are here to help you so be kind, courteous, and forget your ego (no matter who you are) and let them help you. 

Check out the NEXT, Indie Episodic, Short, World Cinema, and Documentary section screenings

Yes, we know there are some massive movie stars at the festival, but if we're going to be completely honest with ourselves, we know those films will get distribution and be out in theaters (or on Netflix) in the next couple months. If you want to catch films pushing the boundaries that you may not have a chance to see later on, take a gander through the aforementioned categories.

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A Celebration of Music and Film with the stars of 'Twenty Feet From Stardom' at The Sundance House in Park City, Utah during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

There's more to Sundance than movies

Of course the movies are the big draw of the festival and for good reason, but there are also lots of other cool things going on. Pop into the New Frontier at the Ray and Kimball Art Center and have your mind blown by all the way virtual reality is pushing storytelling to new boundaries, tune into the conversations at the Cinema Café or one of the panels, and rock out to the free performances at ASCAP Music Café.

Don't be afraid to check out other things Park City has to offer

Our quaint little mountain town does have a life outside of Sundance and people flock here year round for a number of reasons. We know you are here for Sundance, but if you need a break from movies or stalking celebrities on Main Street, hit the slopes or take a lesson if you've never skied or snowboarded. Who knows, you may even find yourself on a chairlift with a movie star because they do take breaks! Prefer not to get on the slopes? There are also a plethora of other options if you don't think sliding down hill is for you.  

Save money by doing Sundance in Salt Lake City

If you're at Sundance more to indulge in the bounty of avant-garde cinema and prefer to stay way from the crowds, try experiencing Sundance down in Salt Lake City. Every film that screens up in Park City also gets a day down in Salt Lake. Other perks include the cheaper accommodations, expanded dining options, and the mellower, less chaotic experience. 

Come during the second week

The opening weekend is, without a doubt, the most well attended at Sundance. It's when all the biggest stars come to town and show their film, when Sundance groupies are all over Main, when the rowdiest parties are popping, and when everything is the most congested. For an experience more focused on the filmmaking, come for the second week. It will be less crowded, you'll have an easier time getting tickets, and access to more of what the festival has to offer. 

Be nice to the locals

Many locals love Sundance and are more than happy to share their town with visitors, but keep in mind it is also a big hassle for them. The festival makes traffic a nightmare for local commuters, many of who have to drive to get to work and the restaurants are all packed, not to mention a number of other inconveniences. So be respectful and treat locals with the kindness or strike up a conversation--a smile can go a long way!

Finally, have a terrific time and come back to visit Park City again!

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