THE FUTURE OF SUN PEAKS: From a mountain resort town to a year-round destination?

An aerial view from the mountain in Sun Peaks shows rows of homes tucked in beneath the bustling alpine area.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Sun Peaks Resort

SUN PEAKS - Nestled in at the top of a hill outside of Kamloops is the small ski resort community of Sun Peaks, but it might not be so small for long.

Construction and development in the village is booming, and there's no signs of it stopping with condos being scooped up before they're even finished being built.

There's no gas station, or mall, or chain grocery store in the village, but there's no shortage of ski shops, hotels and restaurants as you walk your way through. It's a town catered to its tourism industry, and the municipality knows the winter season brings the most people into the village, even upping its population to nearly 2,000 during the peak season.

But attracting and retaining residents requires more than just accommodating tourists, and now Sun Peaks is focusing on making the resort town a year-round destination.

"We can’t have a sustainable community if people only have jobs for winter months, or if they only have jobs for four months in the winter and two months in the summer," says Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine. "We need to be able to offer tourist services and employment for people almost on a year-round basis. There aren't too many families that can live if the working members of the family are only working for eight months of the year."

This photo shows the heart of the village in Sun Peaks, covered by snow.
This photo shows the heart of the village in Sun Peaks, covered by snow.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Sun Peaks Resort

LIFE-LONG RESIDENTS

The population of Sun Peaks increased by 66 per cent from 2011 to 2016, Raine says, and over the next five years he predicts it could increase another 25 to 30 per cent, putting the population somewhere around 900 to 1,000 people by 2022.

That's more growth than in more popular ski destinations in B.C. like Whistler, where the population grew 21 per cent over six years, jumping from just below 10,000 in 2010 to nearly 12,000 in 2016 according to Pique News Magazine.

Other ski resorts in the Southern Interior, like Big White near Kelowna and SilverStar near Vernon, aren't considered municipalities so population numbers aren't available for the areas.

Raine says the two demographics Sun Peaks is attracting most are younger families and seniors.

"We're not attractive for everybody, we're attractive for people whose lifestlye is around outdoors, nature, that kind of environment," Raine says. "We’re attracting younger families who want to raise their children in an attractive outdoor environment, that's why our shcool is an important part of our growth factor. We’re attracting retired people from all across the country who also want to retire in a community where there’s attractive retirement — where they can golf, play tennis, ski, basically on a year-round basis."

Establishing the school was a big win for the Sun Peaks community, being built the same year the resort town became a municipality. Raine says it would be impossible to retain young families in Sun Peaks without having a school, so when the school district turned down the proposal for it, Raine says the community took things into its own hands.

"That's why there was a strong community interest to start a school when we were kind of turned down by the school district. They said 'hey, we've got to do this, we'll start our own school,' and they started their own school," Raine says. 

Right now, Sun Peaks has an over-representation of 20 to 25 year olds and 55 year olds and older, while numbers are lower than normal for the 35 to 55 age group. He says it makes sense because of the town attracting younger families, as you can see with the growth of the school.

Since its opening in 2010, the school's population went from 18 students in its inaugural year to 120 students last school year, which Raine says is indicative of all the other growth happening around Sun Peaks. Although it is an elementary school, secondary students have the opportunity to enrol in the district's online program to receive their schooling.

This school doesn't have your typical curriculum, though, and Raine says that's part of what make Sun Peaks suitable for some, but not for others.

"It's not for everybody," says Raine. "The majority of the population probably wouldn't be very happy in Sun Peaks, but the people I talk to, the young families, they love the school. It goes four days a week, there are classrooms outdoors, they use the natural environment here, and kids are excited about school."

Peaks West, a new development in Sun Peaks.
Peaks West, a new development in Sun Peaks.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Peaks West

WHERE CAN YOU LIVE?

Sun Peaks is going through a boom in construction around the resort, Raine says, so much so that some realtors say there's not enough inventory for them to sell.

This shows in new projects like Peaks West, being constructed by Meranti Developments. It's a mix of two- and three-bedroom condos, townhomes and a commercial space. Construction isn't finished on the project yet, but the project's website has previously said the units were sold out. That's since changed and more units appear to be back on the market. Two more projects in the village including 24 luxury homes known as Village Walk and multi-bedroom ski-in, ski-out townhomes and condos known as Echo Landing are sold out, according to Sotheby's Canada's website.

Raine says there is $25 million of construction going on in the village right now, and he expects another $15 million by 2019.

"If you put that into market value it's probably double that number because that's just the construction value — that's not the value of the land, or land costs, or finished product," Raine says. "So you have $40-million worth of construction in 2018, that's probably going to be $75- to $80-million in market value. That's huge growth, that's going to be like 15 to 18 per cent growth for Sun Peaks."

At least half of all of the condos under construction right now are already sold before they've been built, Raine says.

"The real estate people tell me they can't get enough inventory, that they could sell more, and that's the dilemma in the community. There are boom periods and there are flat periods, and right now obviously we’re in a resort boom period," Raine says. "From the community point of view, it's very important that the growth is controllable to the extent it can be controlled. You don't want to have totally out of control growth and development."

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Sun Peaks Resort

NO PUBLIC TRANSIT: HOW DO YOU GET AROUND?

A main point in the Sun Peaks Official Community Plan, or OCP, is focused on connectivity and walkability throughout the town, specifically ensuring all accommodations are within walking distance to key attractions and amenities.

It's something Raine echoes when he speaks about any potential of public transit coming to the village.

"Sun Peaks is small, and if we plan correctly and have the right land uses in the right locations, we shouldn't have huge demand for public transit, as long as the employee housing is in the right locations for employees, the tourist accomodations in the right place for tourists," Raine says.

But with all of the growth lately, Raine says there has been some demand for more public transportation in Sun Peaks. The village has a bus service during the winter months run by Sun Peaks Resort for employees, but there's no other way for people to get around other than walking and their own vehicles. He hopes two new taxi cabs being brought to the village next month will alleviate some pressure.

"Thank goodness we're getting a couple of taxi cabs that are going to start up this winter, they're actually going to start up in October," he says. "I think that's been a service that's been badly needed for three or four years, I'm very pleased to hear that... There is a little bit of pressure, and I'm hopeful between the taxi service and the bus service that Sun Peaks Resort is operating, I'm hopeful that (mitigates) any demand there."

It's not just available resources that have an impact on transportation in Sun Peaks — the community's OCP details the importance of focusing on snow clearing and road maintenance during the winter months, encouraging the construction of ski-in and ski-out routes, and supporting the establishment of transit connections to and from Kamloops and its airport.

Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Sun Peaks Resort

ACCESSING HEALTHCARE IN A MOUNTAIN TOWN

With a population of less than 1,000, it can be difficult for communities to attract and retain doctors, if they even have the facilities for them to practice in. Formerly, Sun Peaks relied on a temporary building as its health centre, but last year the centre found its new home in a permanent location in the village.

It's where one full time doctor practices out of, but Raine says another practitioner will be there soon.

"We’re pretty certain there will be a second family doctor coming this November or December," he says. "Interestingly, last winter the doctor was very busy five days a week... for the coming winter, hopefully they'll be operating seven days a week."

It's hard to balance the village's small permanent population with the massive growth it sees during the peak season, and Raine says it's caused less demand for the health centre in the shoulder season. However, the family doctor shortage affecting Kamloops residents has led more people to seek out healthcare in Sun Peaks.

"Demand from Kamloops has really kept the clinic very busy, and in fact I've run into numerous people I know from Kamloops and see them up there and say 'oh are you up for the day?' and they say 'well I don't have a family doctor so I came up and saw the doctor here in Sun Peaks'," Raine says. "The fact that there is a shortage of family doctors in Kamloops has certainly helped us in the shoulder season and for the summer months. But we see doubling the numbers in the health centre (from the first year to the second year)."

Raine says the addition of a new doctor will allow patients more choice and offer longer service hours.

"Again that's part of building a liveable community, if you don't have education for children, if you don't have healthcare for the citizens, it's hard to be an attractive community."


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