Why You Should Visit Sun Peaks As Soon As (Safely) Possible
Between Whistler and Revelstoke lies a B.C. ski area that has quietly emerged as Canada's second-largest. Sun Peaks Resort is on the rise, and the time to get to know this understated gem is now.
We’ve been sitting on the Burfield chairlift for 15 minutes and we’re still nowhere near the summit. It’s been chugging along steadily, albeit slowly—it just takes 24 minutes to reach the top of this lift, widely considered the longest fixed-grip chairlift in the world. I’ve been on enough chairlifts in my life that the novelty has worn off, but I’ve been told the views from the Top of the World, the Burfield’s terminus, are well worth the slow ride.
When we finally unload at an elevation of 6,824 feet, I have to agree. I suddenly find myself in a snow globe after the dust has settled. Evergreens covered in layer upon layer of rime ice until they resemble benevolent marshmallow creatures sparkle in the sunlight and line the slopes that spill away below. A stunning vista offers long-range views of B.C.’s Monashee Mountains to the southeast, Cariboos to the north, and closer to home, an overview of Sun Peaks’ vast terrain.
Located 256 miles northeast of Vancouver and a stone’s throw from the city of Kamloops in Interior BC, Sun Peaks is Canada’s second-largest ski resort next to Whistler Blackcomb. In fact, whether you’ve heard of it or not, Sun Peaks is the seventh-largest ski resort in all of North America thanks to its offering of 4,270 skiable acres.
Its 137 named trails sprawl across three mountains—Tod, Sundance, and Morrisey— which huddle protectively around the fledgling town of Sun Peaks and its slopeside base village. Tod, the biggest mountain in the Sun Peaks trio, was home to the original Tod Mountain Ski Resort established here in 1961, which featured just one lift, the Burfield, along with a day lodge by the same name.
While the antiquated Burfield still stands as a tribute to the resort’s history, Sun Peaks has come a long way in 60 years. It’s grown in size and stature, largely thanks to the management of Sun Peaks Resort LLP—or, to locals simply “The Lift Company”— which has been running the resort since 1992 according to a multi-phase master development plan.
Over the years, the resort’s parent company, Nippon Cable of Japan (which also happens to own a quarter of Whistler Blackcomb), has invested close to $630 million in the resort’s infrastructure, from Sun Peak’s 13 lifts and terrain expansions onto Sundance and Mt. Morrisey to upgraded lodges, hotels, and base village architecture. Over the 2020 summer, the resort received its latest upgrade: a new and improved Crystal Chair, which has been rerouted to deliver skiers to the Top of the World, eliminating the need to endure the long and slow Burfield lift ride.
“When we moved to Sun Peaks in 1995, there was nothing here,” recalls Canadian Olympic Champion Nancy Greene Raine, who has served as Sun Peaks’ Director of Skiing for nearly two decades and is giving me a tour of the resort. “But we felt comfortable moving here knowing what the management team was planning and that they had an investor with deep pockets.”
Often in the ski resort industry, deep pockets translate to real estate development—the building of fancy hotels and lodges that serve five-star menus to attract affluent visitors and base area adventure parks to keep kids occupied and happy.
But save for the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel, a stately complex located just steps from the Sundance lift, there’s nothing extravagant about Sun Peaks. Its European-inspired base village, while quaint and ideally situated to allow guests to ski through it on their way to lunch or back to their hotel room, is unassuming. A dozen or so restaurants and eateries, from sushi and fondue to pizza and pub fare, serve up good food and a casual atmosphere. The handful of shops that line the village skiway are stocked with gifts, locally made art, and sports goods—not furs and high fashion.
Related: Cariboos Magic with CMH
Sun Peaks’ one extravagance is its skiing. The resort is a paradise of thoughtfully connected, immaculately groomed slopes. From the Top of the World, I follow Greene down 5 Mile, an easy green cruiser that meanders all the way back down to the base area, allowing even advanced beginners to notch 2,700 feet of vertical. Every inch of the wide, gently sloping trail is groomed to absolute perfection. It’s a bluebird morning during one of the snowiest seasons Sun Peaks has had in years, yet our skis leave some of the first arcs on the crisp corduroy.
Wherever we go, the absence of crowds is noticeable. We move through the lift lines without waiting and hop on chairs that we have mostly to ourselves, save for the occasional Australian family or Sun Peaks local. The Sun Peaks crowd—if you can even call it that—is made up mostly of young retirees and families, and it’s not hard to guess why. The trail map reveals a resort intentionally designed to suit skiers of all abilities.
Beginners and intermediates start on Sundance, where confidence-inspiring greens and blues and three terrain parks of varying difficulty lead back to the base area. Tod Mountain’s long, fall-line groomers are a step up from those on adjacent Sundance and an ideal progression for advanced intermediates. Those ready to test themselves on expert terrain can ski over to Mt. Morrisey’s Laundry Room zone, featuring ungroomed chutes like Lint-Trap, Tumble Dry, In Tatters, and Static Cling. And for skiers looking for adventure, there’s Gil’s, a hike-to, backcountry-like area recently added to Tod Mountain that should be every expert’s go-to on a powder day.
“I’ve always said there comes a time in your life when you don’t need 150 bars and all that noise,” says Greene. “You want a quality skiing experience with challenging slopes. All the other stuff that comes with the mega-resorts can be a negative when you’ve got families and visitors of mixed age groups.”
While the resort’s master development plan does lay out a path for continued development with the goal of positioning Sun Peaks as one of the top four-season resorts in North America (it’s already home to B.C.’s highest golf course and a growing mountain bike trail network), it’s clear that growth won’t come at the expense of the skiing experience, or of the local community breathing life into the resort.
In 2010, Sun Peaks officially became a resort municipality after steadily attracting an influx of young families who decided to make Sun Peaks their year-round home. Ride the village platter—the poma lift at the base area that serves the bunny hill—around noon on a weekday, and you’ll see the local kids playing in the recess yard of their on-mountain elementary and middle school. Grab breakfast or a coffee at local favorite Bolacco Café, and you’ll be surrounded by school and ski racing pictures of the owners’ kids proudly displayed on the wall.
All the other stuff that comes with the mega-resorts can be negative when you've got families and visitors of mixed age groups.
“I tip my hat to the resort corporation,” says Al Raine, Greene’s husband and mayor of the town of Sun Peaks. “They understood right from the beginning that Sun Peaks would evolve into a community. While the corporation is the driving force on the tourism side, they understood that the community would play an important role in establishing Sun Peaks.”
The symbiotic relationship between town and resort is what gives Sun Peaks an authenticity that’s hard to come by at resorts of this size. Skiers from as far as New Zealand and as close as Seattle come to Sun Peaks to feel like locals and enjoy the perks of the people who live here: uncrowded slopes, the possibility of making first tracks, and the dry snow and abundant sunshine native to Interior BC.
After three days of exploring, I wonder how it can be that this resort has flown under so many skiers’ radars, including mine. To describe Sun Peaks as a hidden gem belies its size, yet that’s what it is—a massive resort tucked away in Interior BC, quietly going about its business of serving up fantastic skiing, just waiting for skiers to tire of Whistler’s hustle and bustle and discover Sun Peaks’ charm.
Sun Peaks Trip Planning
Traveling to Sun Peaks
The Canadian border may remain closed to Americans this ski season due to the pandemic. If that changes, book a flight to Kamloops, the closest regional airport to Sun Peaks. Most U.S. flights require a transfer through Vancouver International Airport.
Where to Stay
Nancy Greene’s Cahilty Hotel and Suites (from $115; cahiltyhotel.com) is a homey slopeside lodging option offering everything from standard hotel rooms to family suites with full kitchens, plus access to an in-house restaurant and taproom. For swankier ski-in/ski-out digs, there’s the Sun Peaks Grand Hotel (from $149, sunpeaksgrand.com).
Sun Peaks Eating Options
For a unique and decadent dining experience, sign up for Sun Peaks’ Alpine Fondue and Starlight Descent dinner. You’ll load the Sunburst Chair after the slopes close and ride to the Sunburst Bar + Eatery for sunset views and a hearty three-course fondue meal served family-style followed by a cruisy night ski down freshly groomed 5 Mile.
Originally published in the December 2020 issue of SKI Magazine with the headline “Mega Charm.”