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I am up high, looking back over an adventurous family’s heaven-on-earth. Below me is Sun Peaks, a village and resort that would have to qualify as close to the ultimate escape for an active family. Only an hour from Kamloops, in British Columbia’s (BC) vast interior, Sun Peaks is, for this first-time visitor, a revelation. There are few other villages where you find literally hundreds of mountain bikes parked throughout the town centre, with riders very young through to quite old, enjoying brilliant food, coffee and local brewed beers. I turn to my walking guides, Julie and Leigh, and say, “I could live here. Very easily…”. They just smile and nod; after all, they’re already living my dream…

The peak of adventure

Sun Peaks is a true one-stop shop for riders, hikers, snow-sport lovers, and those who just want to enjoy a fantastic way to immerse themselves in the wild country of this part of BC. The resort village has a sense of fun and excitement humming through it when I arrive, with full campground and carparks, and a mix of mountain bikers and hikers sharing the pathways with a bunch of other visitors in decidedly more comfortable clothing; black t-shirts and jeans and hats dominate and, initially I cannot figure out what they’re doing here.

The Sun Peaks village is easy to get around, and there’s plenty of things to keep all family members entertained, including some excellent eateries.

Then, I step off the bus, and I hear it: the power chords of one of Australia’s greatest musical exports – AC/DC – echo around the village, and with impressive volume. In this case, it is an AC/DC cover band (aptly named Dirty Deeds DDC), and part of Sun Peaks’ annual Retro Rock Weekend, which will, over the next few days, feature plenty of other iconic bands being covered by musicians, including Fleetwood Mac, Bon Jovi and ABBA. And, listening to how well this band’s lead singer replicates Brian Johnson’s unique, high-pitched yowl during a tight rendition of Acca-Dacca’s “Back In Black”, I understand why the entire village is heaving. The music is top-notch and creates a brilliant atmosphere that sets the scene for my three days enjoying not only the music and the many cafes and restaurants, but the hiking and biking trail networks that spider-web out from the village centre. And all I have to do to enjoy this adventure wonderland is take a seat…

Above it all

Usually, getting up high in the mountains on a hike involves a few hours of hard graft as you ascend. This, however, is not the case at Sun Peaks. Visitors simply have to buy a ticket (you can pre-book or turn up on the day), pick it up at the Village Day Lodge and then store it in a pocket, where the chairlift entry scanners pick it up, and let you through to the mechanical equivalent of a stairway to walking heaven. Thanks to the Sunburst Express chairlift, myself, Julie and Leigh are, in a matter of minutes, at Mid-Mountain, a heady 1850 metres above sea level, and the junction point for hiking and biking trails. (There’s also a First Aid phone here, along with toilets and food options – yep, it’s very well set up.) 

Tod Lake is an early highlight on the trek up to the summit of Tod Peak. There were a few folks making the most of the warm weather, too, with a dip in the lake.

Of course, it’s not all sitting in a chair and simply elevating to the top of a mountain – there is still some footwork involved. After a quick double-check of daypacks, we are off, following the winding, still-upward trail that is Gill’s, with our final goal on this 9km hike the summit of Tod Peak. Incredibly, not more than five minutes after standing at the busy hub of Mid-Mountain, we are in dense forest, and have already spotted a deer, as well as some native birdlife. The trail steadily climbs, with intermittent clearings for eye-popping views over the surrounding landscapes, mixed with deep forest. It’s simply beautiful, and only gets more so as we climb higher. The first big highlight is pristine Tod Lake, nestled on the downward slope of the mountain, and doing its best impression of a mirror, with the clouds above reflecting perfectly in its waters. I note, and chuckle to myself, a brave couple who have decided to take a swim, especially after Julie mentions just how cold the water is. Still, it’s hard not to be tempted: the water looks so enticing and it is a warm morning.

Surrounded by the vibrant colours of alpine flowers, a group of hikers take in the views views up high.

Turning aside from the lake we are soon climbing more steep and open sub-alpine terrain, as we make our way up to the summit of Tod Peak itself. Surrounding us are patches of forest below, and some vibrant alpine flowers beside the Tod Peak trail itself; the mix of yellows, purples, reds and blues is amazing. This is only topped (excuse the pun) by the 360-degree view from Tod Peak’s 2152m summit. Here, the village, the ski runs on the mountains opposite us, distant lakes, and the fire-scarred nearby peaks that show just how close recent wildfires got to the resort, are all part of the vista.

There and back again

All too soon we are descending, firstly back along Tod Peak Trail, then on to West Bowl and linking on to West Ridge. The trails are so well marked here you’d have to be really not paying attention to get anywhere near lost and, allowing for the ease of navigation, it means you can simply enjoy hiking. Our return is, again, through a mix of terrain, including dense forest, open hanging valleys, and across a small lake, and time just seems to fly by. Julie and Leigh joke to me about one turn we take and how it means we will have a “bit of a climb” back up to Mid-Mountain, but I really don’t care; being out here, in good company on some brilliant hiking trails, makes me feel incredibly relaxed, and thus up for anything. And, as it turns out, that “bit of a climb” is just that, and soon over.. 

Descending the mountain, Julie leads the group across a duckboard-covered trail section, designed to protect the fragile alpine vegetation.

The final highlight is the chairlift descent back to the village; watching hikers and bikers on the way up on the chairlift – and the eager looks on their faces – reaffirms what I have felt since I got to Sun Peaks: everyone is here to have a bloody good time and that vibe applies to me as well. So much so that, even though I am a bit of a recluse, I wander up to Cahilty Creek Kitchen & Taproom, which is heaving with people, so I can not only enjoy the awesome burger and a craft beer but continue to feed off what I am already calling the ‘Sun Peaks vibe’. 

Enjoying a post-hike lunch and beverage at Cahilty Creek Kitchen & Taproom, one of many excellent eateries in the Sun Peaks village. Not a bad way to celebrate a day in the outdoors.

Sitting in my room at the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel later that afternoon, downloading photos and writing up some notes, I have my sliding door open so I can hear the concert. The music is great, but there’s an even more enjoyable sound that is blending in with the music; a constant laughing and shouting, coming from the kids at Sun Peaks’ mountain bike Progression Park, as they ride down the well-constructed beginners’ loop, then ride the automated carpet back up to the top again. My laughing and hollering begin tomorrow…

Sun Peaks equals mountain bike magic

Just when I thought getting into the outdoors at Sun Peaks couldn’t get any easier it does. This morning, I have already wandered down to Bolacco Café for a tasty coffee and croissant and am throwing on my mountain biking gear for what is promising to be an epic day.

Sun Peaks Bike Park has offered excellent mountain biking for years and has recently finished some trail expansion work. This includes summer chairlift access to high trailheads, and 31km of new trails. The big one is a second chairlift for access to the Bike Park on Sundance Mountain, which includes six new trails. Lucky me; I am here to ride some of them. On top of this – yes, there’s more – a further 12km of hand- and machine-built trails is being developed on Mt Morrisey and will include a 2km viewpoint trail (shared with hikers), a 6km climb trail (again, this is a bike/hike share trail) and a 4km downhill. This all directly reflects the huge growth in rider visitation over the past five years – more than 200 per cent, consistently, over that period of time.

The lift ticket process is easy as, so hiking and bike-riding families can just jump on the chairlift for that ride to the trail hubs further up the mountain. John Schwirtlich

The process for riding in the resort is the same as the hiking, dropping in at the Village Day Lodge’s Sports School desk and grabbing your lift/trail pass. Making riding here easier for visitors is the excellent bike hire facilities available. I have rented a Rocky Mountain Altitude Coil 70 – an enduro rig and ‘big brother’ to my personal bike – the more trail-oriented Rocky Mountain Instinct – as well as a full-face helmet, shin and elbow pads, from Elevation Bike, Ski & Board, just below my hotel.

Bike-specific chairlifts take care of your rig, while you follow up on the chair behind. John Schwirtlich

I am soon rolling through the village on my way to picking up my lift pass, before I meet Rob McCloskey, Sun Peaks’ then-Director of Marketing, and my MTB guide for this morning’s adventure, riding a mix of the old and the new of the resort’s mountain bike trail network. 

A story of progression

I am very rusty. It’s been 18 months since I have spent any serious amount of time on a mountain bike. Even my balance is a bit off, showcased hilariously by my attempt to smoothly get my bike and myself safely on our chairs, as we head up Tod Mountain aboard the resort’s original Bike Park chairlift, Sunburst Express. I use the plural as the way the chairlifts work at Sun Peaks is that there are specific bike-carrying chairs, and each of these is followed by a ‘regular’ passenger chair. So, we (mostly me) do a bit of a dance to get the bikes on their chair as it moves past Rob and I. 

Rob McCloskey shows off riding skills honed from years spent riding the resort’s amazing trails.

The Sun Peaks Bike Park opened in 1999 and the Sunburst Express serviced what was, then, mostly technical, gnarly and bloody steep trails – something the park soon became famous for. Today, though, we hop off the Sunburst Express and roll our bikes towards a far more amenable (for this rider) trail, Switcheroo. As the moniker suggests, this green trail includes numerous switchbacks and small jumps for beginner riders, winding its way down Tod Mountain. Even allowing for the green rating, I struggle slightly at the start, due to lack of the aforementioned bike-time, but also getting my head around not looking at the knockout scenery surrounding me and also getting used to the Altitude, which just wants to go fast.

Big air and even bigger berms await skilled riders on the steeper runs on the mountain. Reuben Krabbe

Slowly,  my bike skills re-emerge, and even though I am sure I’ll need new brakes after this run, I feel more confident. It is this ability to grow your confidence that is a key element of how Sun Peaks has designed its trails. The resort wants riders of all abilities to enjoy riding here by building up experience through a slow progression of tackling more challenging trails slowly. With the way the trails are designed, this is easy – and brilliant fun – as I find out when Rob suggests we check out the new trails on Sundance Mountain. Even though I still feel that rustiness, the sheer fun involved in riding Switcheroo has me champing at the bit. So, not more than 10 minutes later, Rob and I are back on top of a mountain. This time, we up the ante and pick a Blue rated trail, ironically called Might As Well. I laugh, but Rob also reminds me that what he and I are doing (in my case, of course) is fulfilling that progression ethos that the Sun Peaks trails promote; Might As Well is slightly more challenging than Switcheroo, with more jumps, slightly bigger berms, and faster sections – but nothing requiring someone coming from a Green trail to feel nervous about.

The trails at Sun Peaks take riders and hikers through a range of landscapes, all within riding and walking distance of the village. Blake Jorgenson

“We definitely have a focus on the active family traveller,” Rob explains, before we start. “And believe that in the summer our trail range built for rider progression has allowed families (and all riders) of all abilities to enjoy the sport together.”

And he’s right. My sense of rustiness disappears as I finally connect with the Altitude and re-discover more of my riding skills. It’d sound like a cliché if I said the trail brought the best out in me, but by the end of Might As Well, as we then link on to Level Up, further down, I reckon it’s true. Jumps I would have rolled over, I take at more speed, confident in both the bike and my skills. There are some monster berms (to me) on the way down, but they’re so well formed that as long as you have your technique nailed, you’ll spit out the other side faster than when you went in. It’s awesome. 

The brilliant Progression Park allows junior shredders work on their skills and confidence and shows Sun Peaks’ dedication to ensuring the entire family gets the most out of the the trails.

All too soon, we are down the mountain again, leaving Level Up and linking on to the Progression Park’s trails. This, in itself, is simply brilliant, and I can already envisage my 13- and 10-year old kids thriving here and gaining oodles of confidence on their bikes. It’s a poignant reminder that all riders, whether those younger fearless screamers I saw on the double-black diamond trails up the mountain, or the – ahem – more aged pedallers, such as myself, have to start somewhere. Having a facility like this here (and the added benefit of available coaching if you wish) is the proverbial icing on the cake and it reminds me of Rob’s earlier mention of the resort’s focus on the active family traveller – it’s a real thing, here, and done very, very well. So well, in fact, that once I say goodbye to Rob, I head out for one more ride before lunch, my quick progression giving me enough confidence to go solo on the mountain. 

The reasons why Sun Peaks rocks

If someone had said to me one of the best outdoor holidays for me and my family was staying at a hugely popular tourist (and resident!) village, I would have – quite ignorantly, in hindsight – laughed in their faces. Three days at Sun Peaks has changed that and made me a total convert. This conversion is not too difficult to explain, and it comes down to that one word: ‘easy’. Everything at Sun Peaks is geared toward ensuring visitors optimise their outdoor fun, enjoy top-notch food afterwards while they regale each other with the day’s events, and then can relax afterward in a wide range of excellent accommodation options, before doing it all again the next day.

From the straightforward lift pass, easily accessed hiking trails, and the bike hire processes, to the fact you can park your car and never have to use it again the whole time you’re here (thanks to everything being within walking distance) to the ultra-helpful staff at the shops, restaurants and accommodation, Sun Peaks makes it all – again, that word – easy. Add in the excellent signposted trail networks for both hiking and biking – and the fact they are accessible to all ages and abilities (the kids’ bike Progression Park gets my vote as the best-thing-ever) and you only need to worry about enjoying the outdoors.

Justin Walker was a guest of Sun Peaks and Destination British Columbia