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Trip Report: Sundance Mountain Resort, A Study in Contrasts

by Jim Kenney and David Chaus

On Wednesday March 1, 2023 I skied Sundance Mountain Resort for the first time ever. How do you write objectively about your first day at a ski area when it also happens to be one of the best powder days of your life? I want to use the word unfreakingbelievable to describe the day, but somehow that over-juiced adjective doesn't fit Sundance. Sublime may be the better description.

The Village of Sundance, photo by Jim Kenney
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The weather report said five to seven inches of new overnight snow, but it kept coming down during the day. And because the previous few days had also been stormy there was a cumulative effect that skied more like 15 inches of light, fluffy powder. The quantity and the quality of the snow was very, very good!

Powder hounds will enjoy Sundance, photo by Jim Kenney
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My entire experience at Sundance was a study in contrasts, delightful contrasts I might add. I've had other great powder days in my 56 years of skiing, but what made the day at Sundance so special was the low stress factor of it all. This is so unlike many of the larger, more frenetic ski areas in Utah and across the country these days.

I started the morning in the Salt Lake City suburb of Cottonwood Heights. The GPS said 58 minutes drive time to Sundance and that's exactly what it took. No ugly surprises, no traffic backups, no giant lines, not anywhere.

Booting up in the Lookout Lodge, photo by Jim Kenney
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I was carpooling on Wednesday with two friends. We passed by the intersection of Wasatch Blvd and Little Cottonwood Rd at 7:45 AM. We gaped at the mile long line of cars already staged for the chance to enter Little Cottonwood Canyon if it opened at 8:30 AM after a scheduled overnight avalanche mitigation closure.

Conversely, my car sailed south on Interstate 15 and arrived at Sundance at about 8:40 AM. We parked for free (believe there is a fee on weekends) at an uncontested spot 25 yards from Sundance's Lookout Base Lodge, grabbed a snack, booted-up, and still took our first lift ride probably an hour before those folks back on Wasatch Blvd arrived at Alta/Bird. Did I mention the low stress factor?

Friends smile at the line for the Outlaw Express Chair at Sundance at 9:15 AM on a fantastic powder day, photo by Jim Kenney
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Another great part of my enjoyment of Sundance is that I made the visit with about 30 friends from an online community hosted by SkiTalk.com. SkiTalk is a leader in gear reviews, news, and discussion on all things Skiing. SkiTalk has nearly 9,000 members in its online discussion forum and hosts numerous articles on ski equipment, industry news, resorts, instruction, tuning, etc. There is even a dedicated youtube channel.

SkiTalk Day at Sundance, photo by Phil Pugliese
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The SkiTalk forums have fostered many ski friendships and connections for me and the physical gathering of members at Sundance was a culmination of communal joy. It was not only a powder day, but a powder day on what felt like our group's own private mountain! The founders/owners of SkiTalk, Phil and Tricia Pugliese picked an amazing place and day (well in advance) for a get together - genius!

Then there is the skiing. A lot of folks might call Sundance a "boutique" ski area. But from my perspective as an East Coast native it's pretty dang big with a 2,150' vertical, five chairlifts, 50 runs, and 500 skiable acres. The area also features a nice terrain park and a beginner slope with three magic carpet lifts. The variety of terrain includes 35% beginner, 45% intermediate, and 20% advanced.

Sundance terrain features tree-lined runs, open bowls, and beautiful gladed areas, photo by Jim Kenney
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It's those 500 acres that make Sundance ski very big on a powder day. The entire mountain comes into play, with numerous gullies, bowls, ridges, and tree shots in and around the designated runs. Every acre was up for grabs. And most importantly, there are only a few hundred people to help you slay the pow, whereas back in the Cottonwood Canyons there will be many, many thousands competing for every inch. At Sundance it's you vs. the mountain, not you vs. the hoards.

Our group has clout ;-) We were fortunate to have Annie Condon show us around the mountain for about 90 minutes early in the day. Annie is the new Sundance Public Relations and Marketing Manager. One of the first places Annie took us to was Bishop's Bowl. It's served by Red's Chairlift (named after the Robert Redford family) that climbs to the highest point on the mountain, elevation 8,250'. The visibility wasn't great, but our group charged into wide open Bishop's Bowl anyway. There was a foot of powder to be pillaged.

Annie points the way into Bishop's Bowl, photo by Jim Kenney
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Later Annie led us to a little tree shot near the top of Red's Chairlift, in the area of No Excuse trail. The snow was deep and the group was super stoked. Skiing in or near trees is a good option in low visibility conditions. Annie said she was going to take some video so we all charged towards her at once. It was chaotic, but fun.

Fearless leader Phil Pugliese of SkiTalk.com leads the charge, photo by Jim Kenney
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As the morning wore on Annie excused herself and our big group split into smaller posses. One of my friends, Scott, led seven of us to a beautiful glade in the Far East area near the summit of the mountain. It might have been the slope labeled on the trail map as Jamie's Run (after Robert Redford's son).

Under the guise of, "I'll go first and take photos of the rest of you", I got to ski the first line through the glade. It was still largely untouched at 10:30 in the morning. It was so good I let out a whoop and raised my arms to signal a touchdown. Then I whistled for the rest of the gang to ski down and I took the following photos to document the fun and great snow.

Scott:
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Darrell:
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Alan:
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Tony:
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Justin:
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Kevin:
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Mike:
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Some of the gang stayed on the mountain and ate in the rustic Bearclaw Cabin, but I returned to the Lookout Base Lodge for lunch and arrived at noon. The Lookout dining area is super easy to access from the trails at the bottom of the Outlaw Express Chair. A nice group of my Ski Talk friends were there, yet still l spied plenty of open tables at prime lunch time.

The casual dining experience we enjoyed in The Lookout starkly contrasted with the large, packed lodges we negotiated earlier in the week at Alta, Snowbird, and Snowbasin. The Lookout serves simple, but delicious dishes at prices that are about 1/3 less than comparable eats at the aforementioned resorts. I enjoyed a bowl of very meaty beef chili.

Snowy Lookout Lodge, parking is to the right, photo by Jim Kenney
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After lunch I skied with additional friends and we took turns returning to favorite terrain discovered in the morning. We also explored new areas like Hill's Headwall and portions of the Pipeline Gullies. At one point we saw some locals doing aerials, about six in a row launched off their own private kicker. Even popular intermediate runs like Bearclaw below Red's Chairlift and Maverick beside Jake's Chairlift were filled with powdery pillows of snow at 3 PM.

Local talent on the hill, photo by Jim Kenney
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{Comments from my SkiTalk friend David Chaus: I had inquired of someone if they were going to Sundance, and their reply: “If it’s a powder day, where would you rather ski, Snowbird or Sundance?” The response was clearly intended to indicate that LCC was the only option. Well, I’ve come to a different conclusion: Sundance.

There were no long delays getting to the resort, even with some tricky challenges on the road for a few vehicles. No closed highways, no interlodge. Parking was convenient. People were friendly and welcoming. The base area is charming, and well, the whole resort is just gorgeous.

At least three people (in the SkiTalk group) mentioned to me that it was a “top 5 day.” Despite it being a powder day, there were no crowds and no powder day frenzy. No lift lines. Nada. Not one.

Top 5 Day, photo by David Chaus
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There is a lot of great terrain at Sundance, and a nice variety of runs and glades. The layout of the resort allows you to chose from multiple aspects and lines from the same chair lift. Even though it’s a smaller resort, it feels and skis like it’s much more expansive. When you’re on a lift or skiing the terrain from that lift, you often can’t see any other lifts; each terrain pod feels like you have a ski resort to yourself. The fact that we had powder that lasted all day was a bonus.

Terrific views of Mt. Timpanogos late in the day, photo by John L.
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Would I ski Sundance again? Hell yes. At lunch I even looked up season pass prices on the website, $769. Totally worth it for a week of skiing even if you are traveling from out of the area. I will be back.}


David getting posterized, photo by Jim Kenney
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My (Jim Kenney) concluding thoughts based on spending the last five winters skiing extensively in Utah: The mega passes and the mega snowfall have made Utah crazy in 2023 with big crowds, volatile traffic, and packed parking lots. Fridays are the new Saturdays, Saturdays are the new holiday weekends, and holiday weekends blacked out on the Ikon base pass are the new quiet weekdays!?!

There is also a disturbing unpredictability to the crowding and traffic. The Cottonwood Canyons resorts can be a mess on days when there's nothing special going on. Even the drive on "normal" weekdays can elicit stressful anticipation of what awaits for the 8 AM ascent or the 4 PM descent.

Sundance is having none of it; no Epic, no Ikon. It's not even on the Indy Pass. It's a true independently run ski area, like the old days. If you're making a trip to ski Utah in the near future think about adding a day or two at Sundance Mountain Resort. I guarantee you won't regret it. Sundance is not crazy, it's sublime.

Additional Sundance Discussion here: https://www.skitalk.com/threads/off...nce-trip-report-and-pics-best-day-ever.30084/

Sundance website: https://www.sundanceresort.com/

Sundance trail map: https://www.sundanceresort.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/winter-trail-map-v9.pdf
About author
Jim Kenney
Years Sliding on Snow: 57 (started in 1967 and have skied every year since)
Age: geezer
Days Last Season: 64 (2022-2023)
Skill Level: I ski blues and blacks.
Home Mountains: Snowbird UT (primary), Solitude UT and Massanutten VA (secondary)
Prior Home Mountains: Blue Knob PA
Favorite Conditions, in Order: powder, packed powder
Makes My Day: everyday on the hill is a privilege and a joy
Greatest Skiing Achievement: bringing four kids into the sport
Second Greatest Skiing Achievement: have visited close to 100 ski areas and since 2000 I've documented my ski experiences with numerous travel articles and reports on a variety of websites.
Current Quiver: Blizzard Bonafide, Renown Endurance 98, Kastle LX85, Nordica Vagabond
Boots: DaleBoot Custom ski boots

Replies

Nice article gents. Are you planning to publish this elsewhere?

if so, I did spy the inevitable typo...
...The layout off the resort allows you to chose from...
 
This looks like a place I need to go. I love smaller, less crowded resorts, with great terrain.
 
Again, thank you Jim. Great pictures and story. I am so glad to see that I finally got to a resort several years before you did, and I concur with everything you said. I did not consider it to be small in any way other than some silly stats.
 
Great writeup, Jim. Wish I could've been there, but . . . the powder wasn't too bad in the Dillon, CO area either.
 
Sundance…

It is very interesting to see an article written about a place I have spent so much time, from a fresh perspective.

I skied almost every day Sundance was open last season (82 out of 104, skied other places the other days). I like to think I know the mountain pretty well. A couple things ya’ll should know.

  1. The back mountain (where all the best terrain is), is not 2k vertical. It is 1300 feet, and a little further if you ski down to flathead. If you want to crush vertical, Sundance may not be for you. (We have heard rumors the plan is to build another high speed lift on the back mountain. That would change things significantly). The lifts that service the back mountain are both fixed grip chairs. They are pretty slow. If only care about high speed laps, hit the front mountain.
  2. If you are “awesome”, hit far east, juniors, and redfinger. Good luck!
  3. Flathead, the other chair on the back mountain is the greatest chairlift in the entire world. It is so criminally underrated my blood boils. (It of course is not mentioned in this article). Flathead services my all time favorite ski run, “grizzly ridge” to “Badlands”. (I own multiple T-shirts bearing flathead and I get very scared every time it breaks).
  4. Sundance has the best food of any ski resort I have ever been to (even deer valley). The Sunday buffet became an obsession. The foundry grill is commensurate.
  5. Make sure to walk through the halls past the foundry grill, the old photos from various acting retreats and performances is quite cool, culminating in a quote by Robert Redford at the end of the hallway, right by the entrance to the tree room restaraunt.
  6. The grooming at Sundance has been massively upgraded. They arguably have the best grooming in all of Utah.
  7. There is night skiing. The whole front mountain is open. Lapping “top gun” under the lights is a blast.
  8. There is screening room, a full movie theater. You can watch movies there during the Sundance film festival. I have gone night skiing then popped off my ski boots and waltzed into the screening room to watch a premiere and high five the director as they walked down to do a Q&A afterward. This in my opinion is “ultimate Sundance”.
  9. There are amazing accommodations on the mountain, and rumors of a hotel in the future.
  10. Sundance is Steven Nymans mountain! Check out his instagram, check out Saami sports (previously Nymans ski shop) at the mouth of the Provo canyon.
  11. Sundance has more vertical per mile than most of the resorts in Utah. I can do 50k+ vertical at Brighton or Deer Valley without too much effort. 30k at Sundance will leave you breathless and wishing you did a little more strength training.
  12. Sundays at Sundance are interesting. The majority of the population in Provo strictly adhere to going to church on Sunday. This means things are generally pretty quiet there.
  13. One negative I will bring up. The “locals” are incredibly insular. I had a pass for a decade, skied all the time, and was told flat out I would never be a “local”. Don’t expect to make any friends there. This is a tough one, the people who run Sundance are awesome (Chad and Czar), but the culture of the people who go there is very different than say, Brighton or Alta (for whatever that is worth). An example of a resort where I felt honestly welcomed by locals would be Brian Head, a resort far south of Sundance.
  14. Wanted to end on a positive. I have never felt such a connection to nature by in my life while riding up red’s lift as the sun slowly creeps over wildflower. The views and the raw power of Timp hanging in the background should give you pause and provide a moment to reflect on how lucky we all are to enjoy such a special place.
 
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GREAT writeup! I'll just say that I would love to ski there, while having no real interest in experiencing the Alta/Bird scene again in this lifetime.

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In case everyone is thinking about going there...Elevation is comparably low at 6100'-8250' which may not give you the best snow around. Skied there this year in January and got my fair share of rain and wet snow on the lower runs.
 
Ah, Jeremiah Johnson . Directed by the late great Sydney Pollack ,a friend of ours.He told me this was a labor of love for Redford. My dad took me to this when it came out. As I said above I first went there in the early 90’s . I had a girlfriend who worked for the Sundance Institute , so I basically had a badge and the run of the place but it really wasn’t necessary- everybody was friendly, and welcoming without the benefit of the badge. As @Ryan Dietrich , said in his great post, a trip up Reds chair in the right conditions is a thing to behold.
 
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Great write-up and fantastic photos. I've never been to Sundance either but it's on the list for 2024. We had a day similar to this at Beaver Mountain outside Logan, UT early in March. We had never been there but for a $60 lift ticket, we were game. It proceeded to snow 19" and like in your photos, the place had older buildings, lifts and amenities but it was nearly deserted. I rarely ride all day but we took the last lift we could and were still getting 80+% fresh powder on the last run.
 

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