Sundance Mountain Resort offers year-round family friendly activities
When most of us think of Sundance, we think of the film festival founded by Robert Redford in the 1980s. The indie filmmaker event moved many years ago to nearby Park City, Utah, but still today Sundance Mountain Resort remains a beacon for creatives and independent spirits, and it has become known as a wonderland for families, where they can spend quality time together and make lifelong memories.
Purposefully kept small, true to Redford’s vision when he took over the former Timp Haven in 1968 and developed it to create this idyllic resort, Sundance prides itself as a sanctuary committed to the balance of art, nature and community.
Many families we met at Sundance say they vacation year after year at the resort because of its smallness and the appeal of its family friendly offerings, such as a top-notch children’s snow sports school, art and pottery classes, wooded paths and mountain streams for exploring, and activities such as evening snowshoe hikes with owl spotters.
The wild, wild best
The resort sits on 5,000 acres of beauteous mountain land just outside of Provo, Utah, on the slopes of Mount Timpanogos in Utah’s Wasatch Range. Locals and those who return year after year to this best-kept secret in Utah ski country refer to it as Shangri-La.
A true testament to an enterprise that is well-managed from the top down, the staff, from the hotel check-in clerks to the ski instructors, are impressively professional and enthusiastic about their work. And like a dedicated CEO and true believer in his mission, Redford himself skis at the resort at least a few times a season, ensuring the resort runs at peak level.
Accommodations are limited to approximately 400 guests at the privately owned or leased 115 cabins and a dozen mountain homes at the resort. Our ski party of two adults and two kids stayed at one of the resort’s chalets nestled in the wooded property, which felt like a private retreat. Paths from the villas lead to the restaurants and other resort buildings, or guests can utilize the resort’s fleet of SUVs to shuttle around the resort.
The chalets on the property speckle the woods of the hillsides, and in a heavy snow they are barely visible except for their rooftops and chimneys. After one snowy night we awoke to a fresh foot of powder on our doorstep, perfect for snow man making and a snowball fight in our front yard.
Inside, the cabins are luxurious yet designer-rustic. Each feature breathtaking views of the mountains, a private deck, expansive floor-to-ceiling windows, wood-paneled and slate stone walls, an open floor plan with a climb-up loft – a favorite with the kids, a kitchen, large fireplace, and rooms outfitted with alpine chic pine and leather furniture and hand braided rugs.
Our cabin was also stocked with board games, which we played by the fire, until the tired kids passed out before 8 pm, after a day on the slopes.
Mountains of food
When it comes to dining, you can’t go wrong with any of the resort’s restaurants, which all have stellar reputations for their culinary excellence. The romantic candlelit Tree Room Restaurant is the most formal offering, yet the ambiance is comfortable and inviting. Décor includes Native American art from Redford’s personal collection.
For more casual and family friendly dining, the frontier-themed Foundry Grill features fresh hearty fare and pizza from its open kitchen. Après ski and into the night, the late crowd can enjoy drinks and live music at the Owl Bar, the site of the original Redwood Bar where Butch Cassidy’s Hole in the Wall Gang hung out. For quick pick-me-ups, the Creekside Café offers sandwiches and soups at the base of the mountain, and for the adventurous, the Bearclaw Café is a treat at the top of the back mountain, for skiers skilled enough to get there.
Snow, snow on the range
While the dining is superb, it’s the mountains that are the main attraction of Sundance. For those old enough to remember the Redford classic “Jerimiah Johnson,” these are the mountains that provided the stunning backdrop for the film. Though quaint in size compared to other local resorts, such as Park City Mountain and Deer Valley, Sundance holds its own when it comes to the quality and variety of terrain for all levels of skiers and boarders, and the resort boasts four chair lifts and a beginner tow lift, with the newest quad lift, Reds, carrying 500 people uphill per hour.
During our visit near the holidays, which is peak ski season, the staff remarked that the “crowds” were large, but not once did any of our party wait more than five minutes for a chair lift; and even during the busiest hours for renting and returning skis, we did not experience any long waits more than 20 minutes.
Heading for the hills
Sundance is easily accessible, about an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City airport. Rather than brave the mountain roads after dark when we flew in at night, we opted to stay overnight at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. If we had not been so eager to get to the mountains, we would have certainly stayed longer at this gorgeous hotel, which offers the only five-star luxury accommodations in Salt Lake City and features one of the most beautiful displays of holiday lights and Christmas trees in the world during the holidays.
Sundance’s proximity to the airport makes it an easy ski-in, ski-out resort, but its location lower on the mountain range, at about 12,000 feet, means the resort has a shorter snow season than its neighbors at higher elevations.
The compact season is a boon to the resort, as the resort hosts more guests after the snow melts. When other area resorts are winding down with dwindling crowds for spring skiing, Sundance is gearing up for its busiest time of year, when spring and summer vacationers come for horseback riding, mountain biking, zip tours, and, of course – for fans of Redford’s “A River Runs Through it” — fly fishing.
Like the plot of that film, the great outdoors and the notion of family is treated as sacred at Sundance. The resort’s fame may be born of its celebrity owner and the Hollywood-once-removed SWAG-circus festival that bears its name, but otherwise this serene retreat is an escape from city life, and a place where visitors can reconnect with nature, and their families.