This is one place where we have control over the whole valley. With this control, we intend to build up this area compatibly to the requirements of the community. We love this area and want it to be what the people would like to have most.
Robert Redford - December, 1968Since Aug. 1, 1968, when Robert Redford and several partners bought the 2000-acre Timp Haven ski and recreation area in Provo Canyon and rechristened it "Sundance" - after Redford's role in the film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" - the actor/director/producer/environmentalist has been trying to balance that initial commitment to provide what the people want most with his own vision of what Sundance should be.
That hasn't been easy. Redford's supporters say he's kept the faith in not selling out to blatant commercialism. His detractors say he's failed in giving the people what they want. Almost everyone, even seemingly Redford himself, has had trouble answering the basic question: What, exactly, is Sundance?
The simple answer would be to say "It's a ski resort," and let it go at that, but no one has ever heard Bob Redford use that term. (Redford eventually bought out his original partners to gain full control and increased the land he owns or controls to 6,000 acres.)
On the contrary, those closest to him say "ski resort" is the last thing Redford wants people to think of when they hear the Sundance name.
Redford, they say, believes the primary role of Sundance Enterprises is to be an incubator for the dramatic arts - the Sundance Institute - and a focal point for his attempts to "foster a more balanced approach to the development, use and conservation of America's natural resources" - the Institute for Resource Management.
If the skiing, dining, hiking and rental housing part of the operation - Sundance resort - can support itself, so much the better. If it can turn a profit to help boost the activities of the two non-profit institutes, icing on the cake.
But profitable winter/summer public resorts don't just happen, as Redford well knows. Somewhere in the equation the dreaded (to him) "D" word - development - has to be figured in if the project is to remain even marginally competitive with the Park Citys, Deer Valleys, Altas and Snowbirds of the world.
Thus, with Redford's credo "Small Is Beautiful" ringing in their ears, Sundance Resort management has been given the green light over the past two years to move slowly and carefully ahead in turning the complex away from being something like a semi-private retreat into a full-fledged (albeit small) winter/summer resort.
Along with a triple-chair ski lift, the most visible proof of this renewed commitment to developing the resort are the 36 new Sundance Cottages (if you value your health, don't ever tell the Sundance Kid he built "condos"), which translate into 75 bedrooms. When coupled with the 100 or so private homes in the Sundance rental pool, the word "resort" takes on more credence.
"The cottages have definitely added the necessary critical mass to make the place viable," agrees Terrell J. Minger, a former executive at Vail, Colo., who has been president of the Sundance Institute for Resource Management for 2 1/2 years and who 11 months ago assumed the presidency of umbrella organization Sundance Enterprises as well.
"It's probably the single best thing that has been done in terms of making it work," said Minger, a long-time friend and associate of Redford. "We just went through the U.S. Film Festival (sponsored by Sundance Institute) and for the first time, instead of staying in Park City, a lot of (out of state) people stayed at Sundance and commuted to Salt Lake and Park City rather than the other way around."
The recent capital improvements have also helped give Sundance bragging rights in terms of its contributions to Utah's economy. Sundance directly or indirectly provided 301 jobs in 1988; hosted 80,000 skier visitors, 45,000 summer guests and 12,000 conventioneers, including the Sundance Institute participants; and provided a $3.04 million economic impact through employee and construction worker salaries.
Not bad for a place that purposely limits its parking lot to 600 spaces, shuns multi-unit housing, mostly prefers to let people "discover" the place on their own, wouldn't know a gondola from a gorilla and has an owner who thinks real estate developers are fine as long as they stay in Orange County, Calif.
But expect to see an expanded and more aggressive marketing program for Sundance in the future, said Minger.
To futher the renewed effort to make the Sundance skiing operation the best it can be, Redford and Minger have recently brought on Jerry Warren, an 18-year associate of Utah ski industry legend Junior Bounous at Snowbird. Warren has international renown in his own right for his skiing teaching techniques and video training programs.
Walter Sive, formerly director of Olympic National Park in Washington state, has been hired as the new general manger of Sundance Resort. "Everything has turned over," said Minger of the Sundance management team.
Nevertheless, he assures, as long as Robert Redford remains the owner and spirit guide of Sundance, the resort operation will be merely one aspect of Sundance Enterprises, and not the most important one at that.
"Sundance is a place where the arts and film and the enviroment all come together and those things, not skiing, are what drives it," said Minger. "We want to develop the skiing part of it, give the place new emphasis in terms of recreation, but it will not be the driving force.
"This (the 1990s) is going to be the decade of the enviroment and we are positioning to be a part of that. Sundance can increasingly be a place wehre those issues and other new ideas can be discussed. That's Bob's dream and it's finally coming together."
What kind of environmental issues and ideas? Everything from global warming to offshore drilling, said Minger. Environmental from global warming to off shore drilling, said Minger. Environmental activists will be brought together with oil company executives, Native American Indians with energy developers, Soviet scientists with their American counterparts.
And it won't be Robert Redford, radical environmentalist, vs. the big business princes of darkness, assures Minger. If that rap on Redford even was true, it isn't any longer. As Redford noted in a 1987 article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review:
"There is an inherent loss of humanity when super stances are taken - when opposing sides push to be right rather than work toward a blend of common interests. One thing is certain, concern for the quality of life is our common ground. This we all share....In recognizing we are also a development-oriented society, it becomes a matter of finding the balance between what we preserve for our survival and what we develop for our survival.
In light of all this, it becomes clear that 20 years after its creation, Sundance still resists easy classification: ski resort, summer retreat for movie stars, artist colony, environmental think tank, Provo's favorite hiking trail, outdoor summer theater, back yard of Utah's most recognizable resident... it's all those things and more.
And that's probably its strength. Not every Utahn agrees with Redford's philosophy of life nor with his vision of what his secluded little corner of Utah County should be. But most acknowledge that Sundance is a beautiful and relatively unspoiled place, where interesting things happen and where the sometimes heavy hand of the developer has, in this case, been laid gently and thoughtfully on the land.