The much-hyped annual Sundance Film Festival burst into Park City, Utah, at the usual time this year. Local lodgers, retailers, and barkeeps all braced themselves for the hordes.
"You keep your head down and make it through," one Park City bartender told OnTheSnow on the eve of the big event. "It's crazy crowded." Sundance began Jan. 20 and continues through Jan. 30, 2011.
Anecdotal reports from Park City this year indicate that most of the prime lodging space is filled, including the famed Stein Erickson Lodge and The Montage at Deer Valley, the newest five-star hotel in the area that was reportedly full for the first festival weekend before construction was completed this fall. More than 800 films got exposure at Sundance. About 200 were shown in Park City alone while others were spread around down in the valley in an attempt to keep commuting traffic off of Park City's narrow, snowplow-challenged streets.
It wasn't so busy up on the hill, however, where ticket-sellers, instructors and liftees could get pretty bored for lack of business, said resort officials. Regulars to the three mountains above Park City typically avoid coming around this time of year (powder days excluded, of course) or figure out a way to sneak in the back door for some of the most uncongested carving of the year.
"Our skier visits are as expected and the slopes are not very crowded," said Emily Summers, of Deer Valley. "It's great for local skiers, especially if they access via I-40, they don't have to drive into Park City."
One reason may be that the Sundance organization controls all aspects of the event, from placing ads to scheduling limos to booking flights and rooms. Therefore, some in town don't feel much difference, other than thousands of "people in black" jamming their streets and staying up to all hours.
"We don't have anything really special to do, other than our regular work," said Craig McCarthy, of the chamber bureau. "Sundance takes care of it all. Many of us take off for a while."
What's somewhat surprising is that not many of the 40,000 glitterati, paparazzi, and rubber-neckers who attend the 11-day marathon strap on boots to take a few runs on Park City Mountain Resort, Deer Valley or The Canyons. After all, festival founder Robert Redford is a skier and ski area owner, Park City hosted a Winter Olympics, and Hollywood has had a long love affair with the winter-resort setting.
Not that they don't spend money. A report from the 2010 festival organizers indicated that of the $62.7 million estimated to have been spent in Utah during its run, the festival generated $25 million for accommodations and $10.5 million for meals. Only $7 million went to sports and recreation. The report didn't say how much went for lift tickets.
Much of the festival's impact comes indirectly, and in time. State commerce officials take the opportunity to play up business-friendly Utah to anyone who will listen during the festival period. City newspapers reported on several meet-and-greets between politicians and visiting corporate executives and venture capitalists.
"It's plenty of publicity for the destination of Park City," SkiUtah's Nathan Rafferty told OnTheSnow..
Check out this video from the opening of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for an overview: