Canada’s Quiet Giant

Sun Peaks, second only to Whistler Blackcomb in skiable acres, is the biggest resort you’ve never visited. But if you go, beware: This sleeper hit might just snag you for life.


WORDS • MIKE BERARD | FEATURED IMAGE • KELLY FUNK


Do you remember your first turns? If we’re lucky, we were too young to recall those first awkward days when our families put us on skis, and sliding downhill was introduced early enough to become imprinted in our DNA. The falling, the struggle, the crying—all memories buried under the lifetime of face shots and après revelry that came after the pain. I don’t remember mine, but as I sit at the base of British Columbia’s Sun Peaks Resort, I wish I did.

All around me, children shriek and laugh as they chase each other down the slopes. It looks as much—if not more—fun than when my friends and I trash talk each other and try to snake each other’s lines in the steep and deep. The most fun part about the scene playing out in front of me, though, is these kids aren’t on vacation. These kids, who are part of an ever-growing community of families settling down here for that elusive “quality of life,” are at school.

Sun Peaks Elementary is the country’s—and quite possibly the world’s—only ski-in, ski-out school. It sits at the top of a dedicated Poma lift that, on wintry school mornings, is packed with more than 100 students en route to an education. Four days a week (the kids get a long weekend every weekend) they learn about all the regular subjects like math and history, but also spend lunch time and outdoor education classes shredding the mountain and learning about the importance of P-Tex. And, no, it’s not some chic private school. This is free, public education. Jah bless, Canadian-style socialism. 

Sun Peaks Resort
Sun Peaks Elementary School. PHOTO: Kelly Funk.

Recently, the town of Sun Peaks—located 45 minutes from Kamloops, British Columbia—has become a magnet for permanent residents, especially families, attracted by the allure of its slopes and vibrant, authentic community. The resort’s ski-friendly school is one reason, of course, but there’s more to Sun Peaks than meets the skier’s eye: a hockey rink, nearby freshwater lakes and a downhill mountain bike park, not to mention 22 eating establishments in an adorable ski-through village. “People have lived in the nearby city of Kamloops for 20-something years and never been up here,” says local skier and mother-shredder Meghan Kolodka. “It’s a hidden little gem.”

Hidden? Maybe. But little? That depends. Kolodka was raised in Whistler, and moved here with her partner, Mike Sleziak, to raise her daughter somewhere quiet. Not unlike the tight-knit Whistler skiing community only locals get to know, Sun Peaks is a town in and of itself.

But while the village itself is fairytale quaint, the ski area is gigantic. With 13 lifts and 4,270 skiable acres, it’s the second largest ski resort in Canada. Sun Peaks boasts a bajillion ski-forever fall-line groomers, powdery bowls off of Burfield, steep tree shots off Crystal and untracked lines with a backcountry feel off Gil’s. It also has a long, colorful history. Originally built as Tod Mountain in 1961, these slopes were established long before most other ski resorts in Western Canada. But judging by the size of the lift lines, it seems no one has yet heard of the place.

“It’s a unique place to live,” says Kolodka, who lived 45 minutes away in Kamloops for six years before making the move to Sun Peaks. “I traveled around a lot, and when I got here I realized that it was where I wanted to be and raise a family.”

It’s this real-life town that makes Sun Peaks especially engaging for visitors, too. Because it’s so much more than just a ski resort or destination vacation—it has character, with residents who are eager to show off the bounty of their chosen home. You may come here for the skiing, but you’ll return for the people: It’s a town full of your new best friends.

Sun Peaks Resort
PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe

Life, it seems, is just better here. After decades of living in the lower mainland suburb sprawl of Abbotsford, Jennifer Nadorozny and her husband, Darren, met a former Abbotsford resident who had moved to Sun Peaks and claimed he’d found a new beginning here. “He said ‘You don’t have to have a big house. You can change the way you look at things… find a new way,’” recalls Jennifer. “That was in March. We were in Sun Peaks by June.”

With Jennifer’s adult-aged children out of the house, the couple and their remaining two children settled into the good life with ease. The kids ski-raced, and then moved to the Sun Peaks Freestyle Team. Each kid tallied 110 days on mountain last winter.

“They love it,” she says. “The coaches are great. My daughter was a bit nervous initially in the terrain park, but her confidence is growing like crazy. These kids have so much freedom.”

Passion begets passion, and soon after moving to Sun Peaks, the rest of their family gravitated there as well. “My [20-year-old] daughter was going to stay in Abbotsford,” says Jennifer. “She came here for one winter and worked for the resort. She’s living in Sun Peaks full-time now. So is my son.”

“We have never had as many friends as we have now,” adds Darren. “We couldn’t be happier.”

Sun Peaks Resort
PHOTO: Reuben Krabbe

In classic ski town fashion, Kim and Thomas Grunling never planned to stay long when they first arrived here. Kim had taken maternity leave in 2013 after the birth of their fourth child, Flynn. The newborn was accompanied by siblings Mattias, Sadie and Wren (now 13, 11 and 8, respectively). All four kids attend school on-mountain, riding the Poma lift with their backpacks and musical instruments, and skiing every school day. The three oldest compete in the Sun Peaks Freestyle Club.

I meet the whole clan at Bottoms Bar and Grill, a classic après ski spot with the faint scent of beer-stained wood and loud music permeating the air. From almost any seat in the house, one can watch skiers funnel to the base area after lining up spins and greasing rails in the terrain park.

“We came from Edmonton for one school term,” says Kim. “Thomas took a leave of absence. We thought it’d be a good experience for the kids.” The idea was to go home after 10 months. Five years later, the Grunlings (both physiotherapists) have settled into an idyllic life, skiing all winter and enjoying Sun Peaks’ lesser-known but no less enjoyable summer season.

When I ask the kids what they like about living here, a chorus of answers resonates above the pop music blasting on the stereo: “Biking!” “Skiing!” “Mountains!” I see their parents smile at each other, and it’s obvious their decision has been rewarding.

Sun Peaks Resort
Not your average school commute. PHOTO: Kelly Funk.

I may not remember my first turns on skis, but I can remember my first turns at Sun Peaks. I stepped off of the Crystal Chair in the springtime sun and pushed off into leisurely arcs. The sun was high in the sky, and hot on my face. As inertia took over and the turns opened up into long, high-speed curves, my mind wandered. How have I not been here before?

“Despite being a big hill, Sun Peaks still runs under the radar,” Kolodka had told me earlier that morning. “It’s only once you ski here that you understand just how big and fun this mountain is. It’s an exciting place to be right now.” Indeed, around me, at that very moment, the landscape stretched out as far as the eye can see, with B.C.’s jagged and impressive mountain peaks on the horizon. I’ve skied most of them—multiple times—yet I’ve never made it here, to this fun-as-hell corner of B.C.’s ski kingdom.

I boosted a low, long air over a lip and felt my skis sink into the forgiving spring snow upon landing. As a ski writer, it appears there are many things left to learn in this ski world. Sun Peaks seems like a great place to continue my education. 

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