Mountain Bike Lessons at Sun Peaks, BC

A lesson in humility

Story and Photos by Carolyn Price

Photo at right: A Sun Peaks mountain bike guide points out the trail below to aspiring riders.

I should have left my helmet at home.

Little did I know that when my family and I signed up for introductory mountain bike lessons at Sun Peaks Resort, we would be given full-face protective head gear that made the Seattle Seahawks’ helmets look Little League.

The notions in my head about a meandering scenic romp on double-wide trails through the summer mountain wild flowers of this popular British Columbia four-season resort had been dashed.

We found ourselves digging through bins of military-type protective gear for our wrists and elbows, knees and shins, and then were sized for suspension downhill mountain bikes. In our full regalia, we felt ready for anything—dirt jumping, gravity riding, rocky singletrack, becoming storm chasers. You name it, we were redd-ee.

My partner, our 11-year-old daughter and I swaggered out of the rental shop looking the look, but would we have the strength and guts on the mountain to live up to our gladiator disguises?

Geared up and ready to hit the trails at Sun Peaks.

We were soon to find out as our instructor, Jace, greeted this trio of two 50-something moms and their pre-teen daughter. Frankly, I could barely see him as I peeked out from underneath what seemed like 15 pounds of carbon fiber on my head.

Jace—approaching 40, with his barrel chest and dreadlocks—was a study in contrast and hardly matched my image of a mountain-bike instructor. But he earned our complete respect when he recounted a recent descent down a Black Diamond chute: Speeding down the mountain, the trail offered no place to slow down or turn off. A resident black bear innocently wandered into the chute directly in front of the hurtling mountain bike. The bear bolted downhill as fast as he could to get out of Jace’s way before clumsily leaping off into the bushes. Jace survived and apparently the bear did, too.

Smooth Smoothie a little rock rocky

At the base of the mountain, Jace had us practice our standing positions, braking and various seat positioning on our bikes. Finally, he proclaimed us chairlift-ready. The three-inch chin guard in front of my mouth muffled my cries of panic. My daughter, on the other hand, closely followed Jace’s wheel to the lift.

On the way to the top, we enjoyed watching advanced level mountain bikers racing down the trails, hitting jumps and hollering in triumph. Would we have such success? I wondered. Success being all about perspective, I measured mine in just not breaking something valuable, like my head.

Once off the lift, Jace greeted us with a friendly twinkle in his eyes and gently steered us toward Smooth Smoothie, a multiple zigzag switchback singletrack Green. We huddled up a few hundred yards down the trail to receive more instruction, like hanging our butts behind our seat to keep our weight back so we would avoid flying over our handlebars on the steeps. (For the record, steep and curvy is in the eye of the beholder; it was steep for us oldsters although our daughter, a true beginner, seemed to get the hang of hitting the banks high as she gained confidence with each curve.)

Jace maneuvered each switchback with whisper-light precision and then would wait for us, coaching and encouraging us around the curvy turns. Instead of hugging the corners tight and nearly losing our balance, we learned to ride high on the bank, shift our weight at the right moment and then ease back into the following straightaway.

Quick to acknowledge our screaming quads, my partner and I figured out we didn’t need to continually stand on our pedals and began to spend more time on our saddles, as our daughter had already figured out. It helped and even slowed us down some.

Finally, Smooth Smoothie spit us out to connect with 5 Mile Road, a wide service road that gave us a nice gentle downhill back to the Village Base. It’s the kind of wide easy trail I thought we would be doing in the first place. On the other hand, if I did Smooth Smoothie again, I’d know how to manage the rocks and narrow path better; a lot like skiing because it requires techniques like controlling your speed and cobbling together turn after turn.

But for today, we only had time for one run and our introductory mountain bike lesson at Sun Peaks was over. We thanked Jace, returned our gear and congratulated ourselves on our new adventure. And, we all agreed we would leave our own helmets home next time around.


Sun Peaks Resort is located about 225 miles north of Seattle near the town of Kamloops in British Columbia.

Sun Peaks offers:

  • 34 mountain bike trails ranging from easy to expert; there is also a Dirt Jump Park.
  • Daily, half day, single ride and season-pass chairlifts. Day rates range from $23 (Child) to $39 (Adult).
  • Camps, clinics, lessons and rental equipment.

Carolyn Price is Publisher of OutdoorsNW and went golfing on flat, lovely greens after this mountain bike adventure.

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