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January 18, 2011

Departures' Guide to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival

A step-by-step insider’s guide to navigating the annual Sundance Film Festival—and what to pack for the trip.

Every January, the streets of Park City, Utah, fill with actors, producers and cinephiles from around the world who’ve come to eat, drink and socialize their way through the Sundance Film Festival’s ten days and nearly 200 independent films. Those in the know find their way around a scene that, to the novice, can quickly become frustrating: sold-out showings, fully booked restaurants and guest-list-only parties. Here, a guide to Main Street and beyond.

Film Screenings

For true cinephiles, the Express Pass A ($3,000; sundance.org) provides access to all festival events, but early risers and night owls can opt for the newly minted Adrenaline Pass ($400), which provides entry to screenings between 11 p.m. and 11 a.m. If you haven’t already purchased advance individual tickets, try the Main Street Box Office on the day of the show: Every morning at 8 a.m., the festival releases tickets for that day’s sold-out showings and all the first screenings for the following day. If that fails, there’s always the waiting list outside each theater, which opens two hours before the start of each show (sometimes earlier for bigger films); tickets are released about 30 minutes prior to showtime. The best option is knowing someone with an industry badge; he or she can request tickets from the office the day before a showing.

Where to Stay

This year will be all about Deer Valley, with the year-old St. Regis (from $975; stregis.com) and the month-old Montage (completely booked at press time; montagedeervalley.com) holding court in the ski-only resort. Even if you don’t book a room, make sure to check them out; the St. Regis’s Remède Spa will offer Intraceuticals Infusion facials (from $195) and oxygen inhalations (from $30), great for beating the altitude and jet lag (and late nights out), while the Montage will host Sundance’s opening dinner. At the Canyons resort, the year-and-a-half-old Waldorf Astoria (from $1,720 for a two-bedroom suite; parkcitywaldorfastoria.com) has a Golden Door Spa; try booking the Mountain Salvation sports massage ($155) with the Szekely Herbal Wrap ($125). The Sky Lodge (from $1,150 for a one-bedroom residence; theskylodge.com) has the most convenient location, right on Main Street at the base of Park City Mountain Resort, but large groups would do well with a Park City rental from Identity Properties (from $930 for a one-bedroom condo; pclodge.com).

*All room rates valid as of press time

Where to Eat

It’s best to avoid the concentration of restaurants on Main Street, since most industry dinners are held there. A see-and-be-seen alternative is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s J&G Grill at the St. Regis (dinner, $50; jggrilldeercrest.com), which serves locally sourced dishes like parmesean-crusted Niman Ranch poulet rouge. For something more low-key, try Squatters Roadhouse Grill (dinner, $30; squatters.com) for burgers or brunch, or El Chubasco (dinner, $15; elchubascopc.info), which supplies the Los Angeles contingency with a salsa bar and stellar fish tacos. If you do feel like braving the Main Street madness, always try to make a reservation (but plan on waiting regardless). Some standouts are Reef’s Restaurant (dinner, $40; reefsrestaurant.com), which serves fresh Mediterranean fare, and the year-old High West Distillery & Saloon (dinner, $45; highwest.com), which happens to be the world’s only ski-in gastro-distillery (it currently produces small-batch vodkas and whiskeys). And Deer Valley club Talisker recently debuted its first restaurant open to the public, Talisker on Main (dinner, $65; taliskeronmain.com), serving haute comfort food like buttermilk-fried chicken and short-rib shepherd’s pie.

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It’s True—No One Ever Skis

If movies aren’t your thing, this is the perfect time to hit the slopes, since they will be relatively empty. Try fitting in some mountain time toward the end of the festival, when things have calmed down. Park City Mountain Resort (parkcitymountain.com) is the most convenient option, since you can ski right down to Main Street, but it’s Canyons (thecanyons.com) that will be buzzing, with its 300-plus acres of new terrain and a new high-speed quad lift with enclosed canopies and heated seats. Snowbasin Resort (snowbasin.com), located 50 minutes north of Park City, is another solid option; it has a fantastic lodge that was built for the 2002 Olympics, when it hosted men’s and women’s downhill events.

The Best Parties

For the past few years, Las Vegas nightclub TAO has taken up residency at The Lift, hosting celebrity-packed parties, and actor Danny Masterson’s Main Street club, Downstairs (downstairspc.com), is sure to do the same (DJ Paul Oakenfold played in 2009). Most of the industry parties are held at The Yard (theyardparkcity.com) and The Sky Lodge (theskylodge.com) and tend to die down early.

Apps to Get You in and Around

Sundance Film Festival 2011: The festival’s official app lets you search for films by title, category, date, location or director. This year, it’s available on the Android and the iPhone.

Gowalla: The location-based social network has teamed up with the festival by creating special-edition stamps for your Gowalla Passport that users can earn by checking in at locations around Park City and during film premieres. There’s also an email digest called “Your Day at Sundance Film Festival,” which showcases everything you’ve done.

Ski Utah Snow Report: In case there is time left in the day to hit the slopes, this app has high-res trail maps and detailed weather reports. There is even a “powder alarm clock,” so you’ll never miss the freshest snow.