Due to very light seasonal snowfall, this year's buildup to Sundance has brought more anticipation than precipitation. As of Jan. 1, Lake Tahoe, Calif., was at 9 percent of normal, and snowpack in the Park City area has been stalled in the 20-to-30-inch range. But the festival remains primetime for skiers who know that throngs on Park City's Main Street mean scant crowds on the slopes, where snowmaking is at full tilt. Meanwhile, hope springs that deeper winter will bring deeper snow. Good thing there are plenty of other ways to enjoy Utah's ski enclave as well as the increasingly high-end California resorts.
PARK CITY/DEER VALLEY
Who Goes: The whole town right now; part-time residents Jeffrey Katzenberg, Brad Grey and Will Smith, who owns a swank spread in the Colony, where houses fetch $7 million to $20 million; Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, who cut figure-eights on the ice rink at Park City Mountain Resort earlier this winter with Jaden Smith.
Where To Stay: After a two-hour flight from LAX to Salt Lake followed by a 45-minute drive, travelers have a slew of new luxury resorts to choose from, including a St. Regis, a Montage and Park City's Sky Lodge. But the petite newcomer that's winning hearts is the WASHINGTON SCHOOL HOUSE (from $700, 543 Park Ave.). Born in 1889 as, yep, a schoolhouse, the limestone building has been transformed into a boutique hotel, with a heated pool and spa etched into the mountainside. Among the 12 Gustavian-design-inspired rooms done in silver and cool blue velvets is a 1,400-square-foot penthouse with a galley kitchen and private elevator entrance.
What To Do: The 4,000-acre, 182-trail CANYONS RESORT -- long the less fancy stepsister of Park City and Deer Valley -- has seen major luxury upgrades including the addition two years ago of a 175-room WALDORF ASTORIA (from $899, 2100 Frostwood Blvd.) to its portfolio of five lodging properties. The latest draw is the country's only heated chairlift, a quad chair encased in a tinted orange shield that makes you feel as if you're sitting inside a pair of goggles. You board it near the resort's new ski "beach," a sunlit esplanade replete with lounge chairs and fire pits.
Where to Eat and Drink: Downtown's standbys -- including Riverhorse, Grappa, Zoom, Chimayo and 350 Main -- will still be the jammed, go-to spots during the festival. But the up-mountain resorts are upping the culinary ante. The simply cooked entrees at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's J&G GRILL at the St. Regis (2300 Deer Valley Drive East) have drawn the likes of Katie Holmes and Larry David. You can sit at the Montage's new YAMA SUSHI bar and enjoy rolls and sake pairings while looking out over the ski runs. And the Waldorf has just opened SLOPES BY TALISKER, its dining room centered on a limestone fireplace, its menu focused on healthful, locally sourced dishes including gluten-free and vegan options. For a more rollicking outing, hit the snow to reach the ski-in, ski-out HIGH WEST DISTILLERY & SALOON (703 Park Ave.), a two-year-old watering hole in a 1914 Victorian house that produces its own small-batch ryes and bourbons.
Who Goes: Adam Sandler, who plied the Sierra powder with his family this winter at Mammoth, the highest ski resort in California; Jodie Foster, Pink and Quentin Tarantino, who's scouting locations for his spaghetti Western Django Unchained, which will use Mammoth as a location.
Where to Stay: The just-opened TALLUS (from $1,000 a night, 2610 Meridian Blvd.) is a collection of nine rustic but clean-lined residences set just minutes from the lifts that have played host to Flea and Woody Harrelson. Conceived by designer/builder Eric Fishburn, who has completed residences for Jimmy Iovine, the property consists of four- to five-bedroom houses, all equipped with private spas, covered decks, screening rooms and bunk beds in the kids' rooms. In Mammoth Village, luxury brand Auberge has just taken over a cluster of 28 one- to three-bedroom condos and given them a five-star touch. AUBERGE RESIDENCES (from $525, 50 Canyon Blvd.) features units with fieldstone fireplaces and heated limestone bathroom floors, while a private "skybridge" leads to the village gondola. Post-skiing, guests can head to the rooftop to soak in one of the three oversized hot tubs.
What To Do: New daily United flights from Orange County and San Diego make the mountain more accessible, while from L.A., it's a choice between a five-hour drive or the 70-minute flight on Alaska from LAX. At the resort, a new high-speed chairlift cuts the ride time in half to acres of new terrain. To beat the crowds, insiders know to hit the lower peaks, like Lincoln Mountain. "After a snowfall you can always find fresh tracks when you drop down behind chair 25 onto trails called Abbey 1, 2 and 3," says Andrew Williams, a senior writer and producer for entertainment marketing agency The Cimarron Group. "There's just tons of beautiful stuff there through the trees."
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area's version of red-carpet treatment is its new Black Card program (memberships from $8,000), which comes with first-in-line privileges, concierge and access to Parallax, a midmountain private restaurant.
Where to Eat and Drink: Launched a year ago, the snowcat burrito service -- the alpine version of a food truck -- remains the rage this season. For a quick lunch, 90210 actor Trevor Donovan, a Mammoth native and former competitive skier and snowboarder, recommends the "amazing" Mexican food at ROBERTO'S CAFE (271 Old Mammoth Road), which serves up a popular lobster burrito. At dinnertime, head to the LAKEFRONT RESTAURANT at TAMARACK LODGE (163 Twin Lakes Road), which provides an elegant stage for the French-inspired dishes of Frederic Pierrel, whose menu features such favorites as wild mushroom strudel.
Late night, says Mammoth regular Katie Powell, manager of international distribution at Universal, "You'll find lots of flatlanders at Hyde Lounge, but the local hangout is the CLOCKTOWER CELLAR [6080 Minaret Road]. With the addition of hard liquor last year, it will probably get even more crowded."
Who Goes: Larry Ellison, who's spent $102 million assembling three noncontiguous lakefront parcels totaling 22 acres, including a 7.2-acre property where he's planning to create a multi-building compound with 18,000 square feet of living space; Michael Milken, with a house in the tony Nevada-side Incline Village; snowboarder Shaun White, who trains at Northstar ski resort; vacationers including Chelsea Handler and Paul McCartney, who's been known to drop by MOODY'S BISTRO (10007 Bridge St.) in the historic railroad town of Truckee, Calif., and even played piano there a few years ago.
Where to Stay: An upscale real estate boom has been rippling through the state-straddling region. The two-year-old stone-and-timber RITZ-CARLTON (13031-51 Ritz-Carlton Highlands Court, Truckee) has 170 rooms, from $399, offering floor-to-ceiling windows and deep-soaking tubs along with adjacent private residences. And the exclusive MARTIS CAMP (home sites from $500,000, houses $1.995 million; 12000 Lodge Tail Drive, Truckee) is a 2,177-acre, 653-home site private-member community with a family-friendly attitude, a Tom Fazio golf course and private chairlift access to Northstar ski resort. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are said to have enjoyed a recent escape there.
But the latest luxury digs in the region are NORTHSTAR MOUNTAINSIDE RESIDENCES (from $1.4 million, 30001 Northstar Drive), a ski-in, ski-out community that includes a cluster of 16 townhouses and a collection of 25 homesites with specially designed skiways, bridges and tunnels that provide direct access from the slopes to each residence.
Los Angeles interior designer and Million Dollar Decorator star Nathan Turner, who has a family home in the area, recommends renting a house in the gated 150-year-old enclave of Glenbrook, Nev., which boasts a collection of Victorian houses. "It's old-fashioned fancy and kind of amazing," he says.
What to Do When: it comes to skiing, HBO senior vp comedy series Casey Bloys, who has a second home in Truckee, recommends Northstar for families. "I've got 4½-year-old twins learning to ski, and we've had a lot of success there. They have great instructors," says Bloys, who for holidays makes the seven- to eight-hour drive from Los Angeles and for shorter stays grabs the hour-and-a-half flights from LAX to Reno-Tahoe International Airport (it's a one-hour drive from there into Lake Tahoe).
Where to Eat and Drink: James Beard-award winner and Top Chef Masters runner-up Traci Des Jardins draws up a winning Cal-French menu at MANZANITA at the Ritz-Carlton, serving up Italian chicory salad and Yukon gold gnocchi from an open kitchen. For breakfast, Warner Bros. executive vp production Lynn Harris is a fan of the FIRE SIGN CAFE (1785 W. Lake Blvd.), where locals line up for the cranberry coffee cake and the salmon in the omelets is smoked in-house. At cocktail time, Turner likes to swing by the boat-accessible CHAMBERS LANDING (6400 W. Lake Blvd., Homewood), the oldest bar on Lake Tahoe. "It's at the end of a pier," he says, "and has this wonderful 19th-century cabin feel."
THE BEST ROOMS TO LOCK DOWN IN PARK CITY: An industry travel expert's top picks when booking at three of the area's newest and best hotels.
When you head to the mountains, you want to see the whole panorama, not a partial view. To get the scoop on which rooms truly rate, THR spoke with CTS Travel's James Densmore, whose clients have included Bradley Cooper and manager Peter Principato. At the four-year-old, 33-room SKY LODGE (201 Heber Ave.), he recommends rooms 209, 309, 402, 504 and 506, all of which are three-bedroom, family-friendly suites ($4,299) with pool tables and great views. At the year-old MONTAGE DEER VALLEY (9100 Marsac Ave.), book a Peak View one-bedroom suite ($1,445). "Other room types can be on lower levels and last winter's heavy snowfall blocked some views," he says. (The hotel says it has upgraded its snow removal equipment.) Early-risers at the two-year-old ST. REGIS CREST RESORT (suites from $1849, 2300 Deer Valley Drive East) will appreciate a slope-side room over the main lobby wing. "These rooms face east so you can enjoy the spectacular sunrises."
WHERE THE SUNDANCE VETS FUEL UP: Longtime festivalgoers give THR their picks for where to eat well – and grab and go – between screenings.
Marcus Hu, co-president of Strand Releasing: "I like the WINDY RIDGE CAFE (1250 Iron Horse Drive). It's kind of out-of-the-way and is part of the Grappa family. There is one secret place right adjacent to festival headquarters that no one knows about. It's a Vietnamese restaurant called CAFE TRANG (1811 Sidewinder Drive). Nothing warms the stomach more than a big bowl of pho."
David Gersh: "One of our favorites for lunch is CAFE TERIGO (424 Main St.). And we like PRIME STEAK HOUSE (804 Main St.). It's a really comfortable place to hang out. You don't feel like you are being gouged."
Maven Pictures' Celine Rattray, producer of The Kids Are All Right: "My favorite restaurant is ZOOM (660 Main St.). It's cozy and provides a moment of peace. THE EATING ESTABLISHMENT (317 Main St.) is great for a quick bite. It's the perfect place to negotiate with a tough agent or distributor, since you can promptly leave if you don't like the outcome of the negotiation. And a new spot I like is TALISKER ON MAIN (515 Main St.)."
Ray Strache, vp acquisitions and co-productions at Fox Searchlight: "I like THE BLIND DOG (1251 Kearns Blvd.), which relocated last year off Main Street so it's easy to park. It's kind of a staple. LEGER'S (1612 W. Ute Blvd.) is a nice little deli that's easy and fresh. And I like DAVANZA'S (690 Park Ave.) for pizza and great local atmosphere."
Mark Pogachefsky, president of MPRM Communications: "The Eating Establishment has the best breakfast in town. I get the Hungry Miner, which is a skillet with basted eggs and potatoes and ham and cheese. It is terrific."