Destination Sundance: The Big Tips for Surviving the Festival

If you’re not familiar with the Sundance Film Festival, here’s the gist: It’s the largest indie film fest in the United States and it’s held in the midst of awards season in Park City, Utah.

Why should you go? Because it’s LIT.

As you’ll find if you take a trip to the fest, Sundance is about more than just the films that are shown there. It is a full-fledged entertainment experience and there are plenty of things to do when you want to step away from the theater.

So, what should you do, what should you wear, and where should you stay when you go to Sundance? These suggestions and tips will give you a jump start on other Sundance newbies.

1. Watch at least one film while you’re there: This is going to sound silly, because it’s the Sundance film festival. But there are so many events going on day and night, that you can actually run out of time to see a film during your stay if you don’t allot time for it in your schedule. There are great films at Sundance, so you should plan to see at least one.

If you don’t get tickets ahead of time when festival passes go on sale months ahead, don’t fret.

There are often tickets available for films day of show. Usually, you have to go to the Egyptian Theater on Main Street at 8 a.m. to get those, but you can also show up at the theater that is showing the film you want to go to and buy a ticket if they have any left. Advanced ticket sales for individual tickets usually open up the second week of January on the Sundance Film Fest website, and are $20-$25. There are also passes you can buy that range from $450 – $3,000. For your first time at Sundance, I would advise going the advanced individual ticket and/or day of sale route.

2. Ski: I still haven’t made it skiing yet at Sundance, and every year at least one person asks me what I was thinking for not putting it in my schedule so that it would happen. Here’s the thing, though. You can’t just jump out onto the slopes and start skiing. You need to take lessons. I’ve been told that you need at least three days of lessons before you brave the elements. If you’ve got that covered, hit the slopes. If not, try to test things out at an indoor ski training spot before you get to Sundance.

3. Stroll down Main Street while you’re at Sundance: If you’ve never been to Sundance, one of the first things you should do is go to Main Street and pop into different places on it. It’s a great way to meet people and network. Also, there are a lot of day parties and nighttime events that have lists. If you’re not on the list, it can never hurt to be nice, smile, and try to talk your way in there. You’d be surprised how often it works.

4. Dress Warm: Bundle up, dress warm, and check out our Fab Sundance Fashion Breakdown for full details on what to wear at the fest.

5. BONUS–Take a Quick Trip to Midway Ice Castles:  You HAVE to do this. The first year that I went to Sundance, a couple of new friends sitting across from me at Chefdance (hello, who doesn’t bond over food) mentioned a magical place outside of Park City that looked like a castle made of ice, as the name suggests. My jaw dropped when they showed me photos of Midway Ice Castles. “I can’t leave here without going there,” I said, before spooning my dessert. Although tickets were sold out by then, I bought them ahead of time last year for everyone staying in my suite…and when we got there, our minds were blown.

Midway Ice Castle is exactly what it sounds like  – an ice castle – and it’s breathtaking. You walk through ice caves into a main area where there are ice thrones and chairs that you can sit on if you want to get your ice queen moment on for the ‘gram. There are even ice slides, which you can slide down solo or with a friend. While I was there with my friends, I heard a five-year-old kid say “This is the best day ever!” We were so on the same page.

The BIG Tip:

Sundance is not for procrastinators, friends. You have to be ahead of the game in order to make it the most enjoyable experience possible.

Once dates are announced for next year’s Sundance, start looking for hotels/houses near Main Street (where all the action happens). I’m not even kidding – do it as soon as dates are announced. Those places are the most convenient and go the fastest. If you start getting your group together now and lock in a place to stay, you can beat the rush and always cancel later if you need to (don’t forget to check your cancellation policy to make sure that’s a possibility).

When to Go:

Per my experience at Sundance, the bulk of the events and action happen during the first weekend. From Friday of the first weekend of Sundance until Tuesday is the sweet spot. Book your trip for that time span if you can.

Budget Savers:

Don’t drive, but, Beware of Uber/Lyft surges: Driving around Park City can be a pain, so I wouldn’t advise you to rent a car if you don’t have to. Keep in mind that Uber/Lyft surges can get crazy as the weekend progresses (yes, I’ve seen 300 percent surges), so try to take advantage of the free shuttle/bus in the area. If you’re traveling in a group of two or more, it makes the surge less painful since you can split it. This year, Uber/Lyft pick-ups were so much more organized, so it wasn’t an ordeal to get one and we also didn’t deal with any surges. I hope this is a sign of things to come.

Getting to and from the airport: Park City is about 33 miles away (roughly 45 minutes) from Salt Lake City Airport. You can either take Uber or Lyft to get to Park City, or if the surge is too high, sign up for one of the shuttles in the baggage claim area (about a $45 flat rate). Before you even touch down in Park City though, you should try to book your shuttle back to the airport for your return flight. There is a chance you will be hit with a high surge on your way back to the airport that could cost you around $70-$160. Booking your shuttle ahead of time will help you lock in a $40-$45 flat rate instead. Just remember you’ll have to do it 24 hours in advance.

Click these links for more specifics:

What to Wear 

What to Do

Where to Stay


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