It’s been the start of a pretty dismal winter season around the country. Very few resorts have claimed any powder days, and even mellow groomers are fast, hard-packed and crowded. But in Park City, Utah, where they are ramping up for the Jan. 19-29 Sundance Film Festival, there are plenty of reasons to visit right… now.

To get your trip started off right, Park City wants your entire clan to ski or ride for free. Fly into the Salt Lake City International Airport on any major airline and get a same-day QuickSTART lift ticket voucher for any of the three resorts in Park City: Deer Valley, Park City Mountain or Canyons. The airport is a short 35 minutes from Park City, which gives the ambitious traveler an entire day of free skiing or riding with an early-morning flight. And because Park City Mountain’s night operations run until 9 p.m., there’s no excuse to NOT give your legs a warm-up ride on your arrival day.

Park City Mountain has upgraded to high-efficiency snow guns in the past few years, and the investment couldn’t be more noticeable this season. Park City is operating with nearly 60 runs and is covered top-to-bottom in man-made white stuff. Head over to King Con to rip some steep groomers or take some scenic cruisers on Motherlode. Don’t forget an aprés snack before heading back to the condo: stop by Cobra Dogs' new permanent hot dog shack at the base of the Superpipe for a tasty sausage (ask for it "Cobra Style") and watch the kids huck a few tricks through the Three Kings Park until 9 p.m. 

Cobra Dogs_courtesy Park City Mountain Resort

Cobra Dogs. Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort.

For skiers only, head over to Deer Valley, where it’s been consistently ranked No. 1 by readers of SKI Magazine, and for one large reason: service. It’s great to have free ski valets help you load and unload a car full of skis, or to sit down to a gourmet lunch from the natural salad bar or a steaming bread bowl of their signature Turkey Chili. But where Deer Valley shows its first-class service is on the trails. The resort manages to transform bad, icy conditions into manicured slopes that perfectly hold an edge—a welcome amenity, especially this season.

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Park City and it's resorts are known for some of the lightest powder in Utah. Photo Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort.

Canyons began the New Year by slowly rolling out more terrain, but the steep-and-deep 9990 area—where the resort's vertical shines—still has slim coverage. So stick to lookers’ right of Red Pine Lodge for long cruisers off Condor and Sun Peak lifts. Or jam a few laps in Canyons’ Transitions top-to-bottom terrain park with a flowing line of creative features.

 

Newpark Hotel Lobby

The main lobby at the Newpark Hotel. Photo Courtesy Newpark Resort and Hotel.

Off the mountain, Park City during the Sundance Film Festival can be frustrating to navigate, especially if your visit is on short notice. From lodging to dinner reservations, Park City amenities have likely been booked for months. But exploring outside of Main Street and the Old Town area unlocks all the local hideouts during the festival. Head to Kimball Junction for accommodations at the Newpark Hotel, which is surrounded by a pedestrian-friendly urban hub that doesn’t attract as many festival-goers. Bowl a 10-pin frame at Jupiter Bowl down the block and catch the sport du jour that’s playing on the big screens above each lane, then head over to Maxwell’s sports bar for friendly locals and the most-savory New York-style pizza you’ll find in Park City. But if Sundance movies are your thing, you can still grab affordable, last-minute tickets for up-and-coming blockbuster hits.

Sundance Film Festival_Courtesy Park City Chamber and Visitors Bureau

Park City comes alive during Sundance. Photo Courtesy of Park City Mountain Resort.

Before the day ends, don’t forget a stop at the Gorgoza Park tubing center for a giggle of winter fun. Afternoons can be busy, but the park is open until 8 p.m. for lift-served tubing under the lights. Small kiddos will get their thrills at the pint-sized Fort Frosty zone.

For adults, brave the Sundance crowds on Main Street and pony up to the Wasatch Brew Pub or No Name Saloon for tasty local brews. Just remember to take the free bus into town or be prepared to fork over $20 for the limited downtown parking during the festival.