About Utah: Park City's films are packed, but the slopes are wide open

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 26 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

PARK CITY — Want to get away from the Sundance crowds? Want to find a place to park? Want to not run into Joan Jett?

You might try the ski areas.

"There's kind of a joke among the locals; the best time to ski is during Sundance," says Amanda, an employee of Park City Mountain Resort who is working the ticket window at the Town Lift — in the heart of old town — and looking downright bored doing it.

"They party, they watch movies, they stay up late," Amanda says, motioning in the direction of the black-clad festival-goers on Main Street. "But none of them ski."

None might not be exactly accurate. Just last year, there was an eyewitness account of Robin Williams on a snowboard and Robert Redford, the film festival's leader, likes skiing so much he bought a ski resort and also named it Sundance.

But other than try not to slip on it, the movie makers and movie watchers who come to Sundance largely leave the Greatest Snow on Earth alone.

It's just one of those oddities of life. Park City, now that it's no longer a mining town, is first and foremost a ski town — except for 10 days every January, in the middle of the ski season, when it turns into a movie town.

Although Deer Valley, Park City Mountain and The Canyons — the three resorts that peer down on the annual film festival with their 10,000 acres of skiing, 55 lifts, 375 runs and six terrain parks — do make a terrific backdrop.

The irony, of course, is that January is an ideal time to ski and snowboard here. Particularly this January, with more than five feet of new snow falling on the Wasatch.

"Conditions couldn't be better," says Bill, another Park City Mountain Resort employee who, for the past six years, has acted as a volunteer mountain host.

Bill is standing in the plaza below the Payday Lift, with no one to host. He's the source who tells me Robin Williams was here a year ago.

"There are people I know who come here specifically to ski this time of year," he says, repeating the local's big secret. "It's quiet, the mountain's wide open and you never know, you might bump into a celebrity."

Then again, you might not. Juan, a lifty at the Town Lift, says since Sundance began last week, he's loaded three people he's absolutely sure are celebrities — Sean Connery, Tom Arnold and Rachel Ray (not all at the same time) — and not one of them came to ski. They rode the lift up and then rode it back down.

Then they were off to the movies.

Just to see if the ski runs are as quiet as they're made out to be, and in the interest of solid investigative journalism, I personally made my way to The Canyons Monday afternoon.

Sure enough, the parking lots had plenty of room, the lifts were wide open, there were no lines.

I got to the top of the Dreamcatcher Lift and stared down a run I like called Boogeyman. I looked to my left. No one. I looked to my right. No one.

Down below, the wait list lines snake double file around the block. But up here, you can have The Greatest Snow on Earth all to yourself.

Lee Benson's column will run through the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com.

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