sundance. Three things, which immediately come to mind when you hear the word are: Redford, art and environment. sundance – the place and experience tends to fit neatly in a box we’ve filed away in our minds about it, reserved mostly as an afterthought. But, this enclave just outside of tightly laced Provo deserves a place alongside our Cottonwood Canyon and Park City-centric thought process. Not just when it comes to skiing, as sundance truly shines providing an unmatched experience for a weekend getaway.
Resort marketers love to use the word experience in the context of “We’re not selling skiing, we’re selling an experience.” The LOVE it – I know, because I helped drive that boat once upon a time. As if their white snow and chairlifts are all that different from the resort a half mile away – or even a state away. And while the Canyons Resort “experience” is different from the Snowbasin or Snowbird one, each rightfully popular in their own right, it’s rare these experiences vary much from one to the other. Deer Valley and its stellar service model or Silverton and it’s lack of anything other than all-out skiing are the only real differentiation in the ski biz. Enter sundance.
The Owl Bar has been around since Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s day. Legend has it there is a bullet hole in the façade from an Old Western shootout. I gave up trying to find it after my third beer, but never grew tiresome of the photos on the walls from the movie of the same name, which Bob starred in. Many of sundance’s buildings feature walls adorned with historical photos from skiings early days or movie sets with a museum collection-like appearance.
What about Bob?
It takes humans at least three to five repetitions to notice most things – especially in our sensory-overloaded worlds. Then, you’ll see it everywhere. In this case, on the menu is Bob’ s burger. The Uinta Kolsch is listed as Bob’s Favorite Beer, which also seemed innocuous enough. A server referred to a painting in the gorgeous Foundry Grill as one Bob’s wife created. Then it me: Robert Redford is Bob. I doubt this is a corporate policy to drum up a faux down-to-earth star experience – they actually know the guy. Rober…Bob is as much a part of sundance’s history and legacy as he is a regular customer.
I knew about sundance’s commitment to environmental issues through a variety of unique promotions, such as a cutting edge glass-recycling program (which is re purposed on-site into art) or carpool incentives. Certainly, not by accident either, is this aspect of sundance’s mission one of the first impressions left on a visitor. Desks and flooring made from wood is common enough in mountain towns. Nearly everything that can be made out of wood here – is. Sidewalks? Check. Molding? Yup. Tables? Chairs? Bed frame? Uh-huh. It’s almost a piney, aspen overload. Almost.
Many lavish cabins and millionaire slopeside homes feature woodwork as the centerpiece, but what makes sundance different is that most of the wood is unfinished. As in give-you-splinters unfinished. I wonder if they have tallied how much energy was saved not milling, sanding and finishing the wood which did not need to be? Same goes for the gallons of lacquer not coated over each piece of lumber. Less is certainly more in this case. Looking at wood in its bare form creates a connection to the mountains you just don’t get in a “cabin” with radiantly heated floors.
The focus on food, particularly how and where it is sourced, is emphasized as much as preparation. As expected, the service and food for dinner at the Foundry Grill were spectacular. Plenty of local items were featured – everything from produce greens to game. The wine list, luckily, expanded outside Utah’s borders to Napa, as well as Italy and France. A bottle of red and bottle of white fit perfectly on our 109 year old table – I know, we counted the rings of the tree it was hewn from.
For a true gourmet experience, the Tree Room is a Zagat rated restaurant – one of the best in Utah. Named for the tree the restaurant was built around as opposed to cutting down, a meal here is unforgettable.
Skiing & Riding
Skiing is secondary. Maybe even further down the list, but I didn’t know if tertiary or fourthuary are real terms. Yes, they have skiing. A few older lifts conjure that nostalgic feeling of whichever resort or era you learned to ski in. It’s a total throwback, best experienced with a child or significant other: especially if said partner is still learning to ski. Faced with a long (10 minute) lift ride ahead, forces your runs to become more memorable. Slower lifts, in a way, require you to slow down the pace. Instead of ripping top-to-bottom, we pulled over and enjoyed the magnificent scenery of the Wasatch’s most breathtaking peak, Mt. Timpanogos – more Alps-like in stature than any other mountain in Utah.
As for riding – and I’m not talking snowboarding – there are miles of tacky singletrack accessed from the base area lift. Four of five runs take most of an afternoon and allows a rider to attempt most of the trails. A summer weekend retreat would be as enjoyable as a winter getaway – we plan to return this fall when the aspens in Provo Canyon begin to pop.
Since the economic crash, many peoples spending habits have changed drastically – mine included. The first item in discretionary spending to be cut out of our budgets is typically travel and leisure vacations. Local resorts, in order to make up for lost destination visitors, have put an emphasis on attracting locals for “stay-cations,” to varying degrees of success. It’s a hard bargain to convince someone to spend a hundred bucks a night on accommodations less than an hour from home. An overnight trip to sundance however, while only an hour south of Salt Lake, is truly miles away from anything else I’ve experienced. It’s romance, nature, skiing, art and amazing food all wrapped up into one. Plus, only at sundance will you wind up on a first-name basis with a Hollywood star – even if Bob doesn’t know my name yet, I know his.