Sundance offers much more than a film festival

First, let's get one thing out of the way. No, I did not see Robert Redford, nor did I meet anyone who actually knew him.

The actor's name is on the lips of every staff member, however, and is spoken in reverential tones such as one might use in talking about a religious leader. "Bob has always believed in recycling," they'd say, or "Bob was talking about his horses the other day...."

The mystique surrounding Sundance resort is, of course, due to Mr. Redford's involvement. In 1969, with his movie earnings, Redford bought a ski resort and the surrounding land from a family of Scottish immigrants. He wanted to create a mountain community for artists and nature lovers that would place as little physical stress as possible on the environment.

From Sundance's humble beginnings, it has grown into a first-class resort. Today, it comprises about 6,000 acres of protected wilderness on the eastern slopes of of Mt. Timpanogos, about an hour from Salt Lake City.

Last September, I spent an extended weekend at Sundance, reveling in the fall colors and enjoying the dramatic scenery. The mountain rises an abrupt 12,000 feet above the canyon floor, a touch of snow capping its ridge. Below, the resort has the feeling of being shoehorned into a narrow valley lined with trees. The tree cover is so abundant and the buildings so subtly woven into the landscape, that it's difficult to get an idea of how big the complex is.

So, to find out, I took a chairlift up the mountainside. Once I'd settled on the seat and was whooshed above the trees, I saw ... still more trees. Instead of being treated to a view of the private homes that dot the hillside, I found myself trying to make out the edges of timber-framed buildings behind a thick canopy of pines. So much for a little harmless voyeurism.

Off the lift, our group hiked a short distance to Stewart Falls. We spotted four deer and one enormous buck (or rather, heard him thunder down the very steep slope).

At the waterfall, snowmelt sluiced its way through a near-perfect indentation in the rock, which looked as though the Almighty had taken a chisel and cut an opening to drain the mountaintop. Water sprayed in all directions, providing a cooling respite from the heat.

On our return, lunch beckoned in the Foundry Grill, even though I was still full from the wild-mushroom omelette I had eaten for breakfast.

Sundance operates two restaurants; a general store that sells deli items; and the Owl Bar, which features an 1890s rosewood bar said to have been frequented by the Hoot Owl Gang, rivals of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The meals are delicious; if they weren't, guests would have to drive to Heber City, about 25 minutes away, or to Provo, 20 minutes away, to find another place to eat.

In the afternoon, fighting the urge to go back to my comfy room and take a siesta, I headed over to the Art Shack Studios for a printmaking workshop.

The philosophy at Sundance is that everyone has an artist inside, wanting to break out.

While waiting for that event to transpire, I watched the studio instructors work. They are a helpful, knowledgeable, and encouraging bunch, and utterly convincing in their belief that guests, too, can make art. Classes are available in painting, pottery, jewelry making, photography, papermaking, woodcuts, and beadmaking.

After 2-1/2 hours in the Art Shack, I did not experience transcendence, but definitely felt a quiet sense of accomplishment. I left three block prints and two photographs to dry on a table and went to explore the gift store.

Sundance is exactly my level of communing with nature: After a long, dusty, but not too strenuous day, a guest can kick off her shoes, relax on her patio, and cool her heels on the rough stones. A few yards away, a creek rushes. Farther up the mountain, aspen trees flick gold leaves into the breeze.

The resort has a split personality. Brochures describe skiing, horseback riding, and lots of outdoor activities, but the rooms are so comfortable, you hardly want to go out.

During my stay, I noticed more city slickers and couch potatoes like me than Grizzly-Adams types, who probably would have been priced out of staying here anyway. The buildings look rustic enough, but their luxury belies the mountain ethos that Redford seems to be promoting.

Still, the whole Sundance weekend was invigorating and the mountain air bracing. The opportunities for physical exertion were certainly there; it's not the resort's fault if I went hiking only once.

Can I help it if I love nature more when a hot shower and thick terry robe await me at day's end?

For information on the Utah resort or to make reservations, contact Sundance at 800-892-1600, or visit the website, www.

Exercising creativity: Dennis Zupan, a potter and jeweler (left), is one of the instructors and artists at Sundance resort's Art Shack (above), which offers workshops and classes ranging from painting to photography to beadmaking.

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