Pedal it out

Diggers getting their hands dirty during a weekly build night. Photo provided by SPRTA.

Many years of dreaming, planning and fundraising regarding the potential of Sun Peaks’ biking trail network are coming to fruition as a result of several stakeholders coming together to secure COVID-19 related grant funding—all spearheaded by the Sun Peaks Recreational Trail Association. 

The relatively new community based not-for-profit has helped to secure $450,000 towards building out the pedal-accessed biking and hiking trail network, focusing on new terrain on Mt. Morrisey. 

“In the winter, we have the 360 degrees of skiing,” said Sam Lotxon, president of SPRTA.  “We’re slowly getting similar to that in the summer too with these new trails on Morrisey. I think it’s going to make a big leap in cross country pedal access biking in Sun Peaks.”

The funding will go towards three new, intermediate trails designed to work in conjunction with the SPRTA Master Trail Plan, which was recently revised due to the Sun Peaks Resort LLP (SPR) construction of the Orient Express chairlift, making it a less attractive area for mountain bike trails. 

“Originally Orient was identified as a good spot for trails because it gets a lot of sun and melts out early, but that was before some big developments on the resort side, including the Orient chairlift,” explained Loxton.

He said although Morrisey is north facing, meaning it takes more time to dry out and melt off each year, the trail builders will focus on drainage systems to shed water effectively, and Morrisey will provide riders with great terrain and good views unique to the area.

“We’re aiming for really fun features where you can jump, find flow and speed,” said Loxton. “But it’s going to be more like a trail ride, not like something you’d find in the bike park. We wanted to add variety, which is also why we chose a new contractor. Every contractor brings something with a different style of trail, so having Morrisey as its own kind of style to give everyone a variety of trails to try out will be great.”

Developing Pedal Access Trails

Cross country mountain biking and pedal-accessed trails are becoming more popular in destinations across the province, driven by tourism marketing dollars and advancements in biking technology. 

Tourism Sun Peaks (TSP) committed to some base funding toward the Mt. Morrisey Destination Trail Project project, which helped SPRTA to secure the provincial government’s COVID-19 Economic Recovery Infrastructure Program (CERIP). The grant provided $297,875 and helped different communities fund projects around the province. 

“The grant we received was specifically designed to help communities, especially small and tourism-based ski resort mountain town communities, rebound from COVID by funding projects to help with year round tourism opportunities,” said Loxton. “Luckily we had this project in the works that ticked all of the boxes and we put together a pretty solid grant proposal and were lucky enough to get it.”

The project also aligns with long-term objectives of TSP, SPR, and the municipality. 

“The current offering of non-lift access [cross-country] biking and hiking is limited and both activities are experiencing strong growth,” said Arlene Schieven, president and chief executive officer of TSP. “In order for Sun Peaks to be well positioned to take advantage of the growing interest in biking and hiking and being outdoors in general, we need to improve our product offerings in this area.”

A map of the proposed trails that will run alongside, and above the Morrisey Express chairlift once the trails are completed.

SPR, who has a usage agreement with SPRTA to maintain and develop cross country biking and hiking trails within the controlled recreation area (CRA), applied to the province’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development’s Mountain Resorts Branch (MRB) for an extension of their current licenses of occupation on Mt. Morrisey within the CRA, to accommodate the proposed SPRTA trails. 

The application was supported by Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality council members in a council meeting on April 20, 2021.

The trail construction will begin this summer pending extensions of multiple SPR existing licenses of occupation, a consultation with the First Nations and other stakeholders, timber permits and environmental consultation.

“One of the goals for Sun Peaks is to extend the summer season all the way through to Thanksgiving,” said Schieven. “The new hiking and biking network will provide visitors with activities to do beyond when the mountain is open.”

SPRTA’s Growth

Founded in 2014, the new trails and funding is the latest in a series of new developments by the organization. It is now comprised of 11 board members, alongside over 300 active members who hold weekly trail building nights and occasional training to assist in completing trails for the Sun Peaks biking community. 

The new grant funded trails will be in addition to two new trails that were completed by SPRTA volunteers last season and three other trails, separate from the new Morrisey trails, which will be completed this year. 

SunBurf, one of the new trails completed last year, is a blue multidirectional trail located above the fire hall. The other blue trail is called About Time and can be accessed near the covered bridge.

“We’ve actually got three more trails that are about to open near SunBurf too,” said Loxton. “One’s already open, called Family Man Lower, which you can find on Trailforks. We built that just next to the gravel Valley Trail, and on either end of that trail will be two new multidirectional climb and descend trails.”

Loxton said the three proposed grant funded trails, including a climbing trail which will be multi-use to accommodate hikers, mountain top technical loop and machine built downhill trail, will add 14 kilometres to the Morrisey network. They are designed for all riders and construction is scheduled to begin this summer if all processes go accordingly. 

“We decided on blue trails for these initial trails because it’s kind of the sweet spot [where] new riders can ride and work up to them and experienced riders can still ride them and have fun on them. It’s the best fit for the whole community,” said Loxton.

The climb trail will lead to the top of the Morrissey Express chairlift where the loop trail will take riders to the summit of Morrisey, ‘The Fingers’, and back. The proposed loop is outside of SPR’s current licenses of occupation; hence the extensions of said licenses of occupation application.

A machine built, downhill-only trail will return riders to the base of Morrisey and cross the uphill trail in various spots, which will allow lower sections of the trail to open as snow melts in early season.

Once the consultation processes, permits applications and extension of the licences of occupation are complete the trail construction can begin. If all goes according to plan, the trails are expected to be finished later this summer.

Once they’re done, SPRTA will look to add on new trails with black rated trail options for more advanced riders.

“Hitting that green and blue level for now means the trails can be used by everyone but we’ve definitely got some plans for advanced trails.” 

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