5 Things I Learned Racing the Sun Peaks Canada Cup DH Race

Sep 15, 2023
by Matt Beer  
Photos by Sara Kempner

Downhill racing used to be my one and only passion because it required commitment and focus to reach an elite level, but I’ve since put other riding and life objectives on my list of personal goals.

I’ve been away from racing since 2019, ironically and conveniently around the time that the global pandemic disrupted international trade and travel. Without a race schedule to confine me and the sun as the only clock to worry about, roaming the far reaches of British Columbia’s backroads and high country trails became my primary focus.

When multiple downhill bikes came across my desk this year, there seemed like no better excuse to register for a regional gravity race. Sun Peaks is the bike park that kicked off my racing aspirations, and when I saw that the resort was listed in the Dunbar Summer Series downhill race schedule I signed on for what would be a guaranteed high-speed dust fest.

Photos by Sara Kempner
Photos by Sara Kempner

Downhill racing Canada is alive and well

Canadians are going faster than ever right now and there’s a solid backbone, with teams like Norco’s all-Canadian factory DH crew, and other developed programs. The talent pool is deep and the results are tighter than ever. Spearheaded by the late and great Steve Smith’s race career, you’ll find riders like Finn Illes and Jackson Goldstone are now regular World Cup podium contenders.

Those names climbed the ranks in leaps and bounds, but there are a handful of privateer racers, like Gabe Neron, the 2022 Canadian National Champion, and another rapid racer, Patrick Laffey, that are chomping at the bit to crack the top 60 to qualify at World Cups. That’s not knocking their skills, it just shows how high the bar is set these days, and those two lads smoked me by more than ten seconds at Sun Peaks. That really put the international downhill race scene into perspective for me.

Adding to the DH resurgence is the fact that the excitement around enduro racing has plateaued. Those two disciplines are close in that they focus on descending, but vary drastically in the amount of effort spent pedalling.

There’s more down time, but also more uplift time, so that can be spent studying the track on helmet cam footage and perfecting your bike setup. Downhill racing is designed to go as fast as possible on a studied track, while the other plays to the reactionary skills of riding foreign tracks.

Bikeparks are producing armies of young talent

They’re small, fast, fearless, and are putting pressure on elite riders - the U17 winner at Sun Peaks posted a time that would rank 7th overall on the day! It’s truly impressive to see how pinned these young kids are.

We all saw it coming, but now they’re flying past us. That’s because bike parks make for great babysitters. Just like in the ski world, kids can get dropped off at the hill to do lap after lap on their own (Sun Peaks requires that children 12 or under must be accompanied by an adult). What a time to be a kid.

Photos by Sara Kempner
Sara Kempner was on hand to capture the action over the weekend.

Downhill bikes are incredible machines

Although you don’t necessarily need a downhill bike to ride down a hill or take part in a race, there’s no denying that they’re capable of hitting higher speeds than an enduro bike. You may have heard statements surrounding the latest new-fangled 170mm travel bike that can keep up with downhill bikes, but they’re wrong.

Downhill bikes are generally longer, slacker, sturdier, and purpose built for one thing: to go as fast as f@ck down a mountain. If you haven’t had the chance to ride one on a proper track, they’ll make you feel invincible.

In fact, it’s hard to imagine how much more they can improve. We’ve gone beyond the limit in terms of head tube angles, wheelbases, and wheel sizes too. Best of all, they’re scaled to mini-sizes for riders of all heights. It’s not out of place to see groms on carbon-everything, Kashima-coated DH bikes, rather than hand-me-down enduro bikes from ten years ago.

For those mechanically in-tune elites looking to take their race craft to the next level, they’re searching for every ounce of speed and that means revisiting physics class. These days, if you aren’t strapped with data acquisition units to perfect your suspension settings, you’re losing precious time - even keen privateers are investing in these systems to make the most of their bikes that frequently cost more than their vehicles.

Sun Peaks is a rad riding destination

Sun Peaks has a reputation for flat out riding, and the race course this year didn’t disappoint with singletrack speeds reaching 80km/h for some riders just two turns into the track, but the trail crews have been busy adding variety to the network here.

Last season, an additional chairlift opened to access more inviting trails that are wider and less steep, but aren’t numb for jump enthusiasts of all skill levels. Two blue and black machine-made trails off mellow grades best experienced in a party train of friends blasting berms and mixing up the variation on jump rhythms.

There’s something magical about the dirt up here, especially after a dousing of rain. It never packs down enough to get blue grooved and the lineups rarely take more than five minutes. Even in the dry dust of mid-August, the tracks retain a softer tread that rides better than broken coastal clay berms.

As for the specifics on the race track, it’s a physically challenging track due to the length, but I would wager that the technical sections were all within a localized intermediate skill level. B-lines existed where necessary and the absence of large gaps or drops invited riders of a wide range.

Bedroom ski towns are hot spots for talented youth

I might not be the most educated in social economics, but there’s been a shift in where the majority of riders in the Sea to Sky are residing these days. No longer are racers calling Whistler and North Vancouver home. Although the riding is world-renowned, so too are the costs of living. A huge Squamish contingency saw more than forty racers make the drive up to Sun Peaks - even Pemberton, a “bedroom community” for Whistler, drew the second highest number of entrants.

What’s next to come for Canadian downhill racing?

I predict that more localized pockets of riding and racing will pop up as the networks of trail centers and families of riders expand with the increased popularity in this sport we call mountain biking.

British Columbia is a huge province with less-than-ideal highways. There are more valleys and mountains out of our backdoor than we know what to do with, so why the need to drive ten or more hours for regional racing?

Take the racing scenes in the U.K., France, Australia, and New Zealand - historically, they have produced some of the greatest DH racing names in the game and not all of their events require ski hill infrastructure.

Clint Trahan Photos
Sometimes it’s as simple as towing a trailer of bike and bodies up the hill - take the Coast Gravity Park, in Sechelt, Canada, for example. The final round of the B.C. Cup takes place here Sept. 15.

Regions in Article
Sun Peaks Resort

Author Info:
mattbeer avatar

Member since Mar 16, 2001
296 articles

  • 35 0
 "Downhill bikes are generally longer, slacker, sturdier, and purpose built for one thing: to go as fast as f@ck down a mountain. If you haven’t had the chance to ride one on a proper track, they’ll make you feel invincible"

I'll die to on this hill that the best time you can have on a bike is a good dh rig at a good bike park!
  • 15 0
 Even just on a good DH track, doesn't need to be a bike park. There's no feeling in mtb like riding a DH bike on a proper track.
  • 4 0
 I raced this series last year on an enduro bike. Bought a DH bike over the winter and raced the series again this year on it. Absolutely no comparison. I was doing things on the DH bike that would have been impossible and likely would have made me crash hard on an enduro.
  • 26 1
 Sun peaks actually sucks, you shouldn't come. Also the kids aren't that fast, or cool. No, great article. I especially like your last point about not requiring ski resort infrastructure to have good DH. Honourable mentions to places like Provost, Valemont and Baseline Mountain that are actualizing this. The road access left by the logging industry in some of these towns begs for trails and provides excellent social and economic opportunity.
  • 3 0
 Is sun peaks good?

No, it's the children who are wrong.
  • 1 0
 I only was able to enjoy a single lap at Prevost but damn did it leave an impression with me. Need to get back.
  • 11 0
 Made our first trip to Sun Peaks this summer. Amazing times had by all. Definitely my favorite bike park ever. Will be back!!
  • 1 0
  • 12 0
 I didnt realize Pemberton and Squamish were considered affordable compared to Whistler and Van
  • 10 0
 Might be able to get a detached starter home in Squamish for about $1.5 million CDN.
  • 2 0
 Squamish is just a notch down from Van prices. Pemberton a notch below that.
  • 5 0
 @mammal: Median list price per square foot is climbing in Pemberton. These are kinda skewed as there is quite a few new builds listed right now in Sunstone but there is also a ton of new build supply in Squamish. Median ask price PSF as of August 2023.

$772 Pemberton
$719 Squamish
$1481 Whistler
$1216 Vancouver
$965 North Vancouver
  • 12 3
 So rad to see DH racing ride again. Big bikes have always been the best bikes…i for one welcome the decline of the enduro bro.
  • 6 0
 There isn't as much of a downhill race element anymore, but to your point about localized race series, the Island Cup Series is pretty fantastic. The last few years there have been about 5-6 XC races and 6-9 Enduro races, all within about a 4 hour drive of Victoria. Growing up in Calgary, where the nearest race was close to 4 hours away, it has been so cool to have a regional series so accessible. I'm sure it will continue to play a major role in developing young racers going forwards.
  • 2 0
 In the 2000's the Island Cup included Downhill, it's a shame that's not a thing anymore. My avatar pic is from the Cumberland DH in 2005, that was a great race track.
  • 5 0
 Squamish is a very affordable place to live, just ask any if the millionaires flocking there from Califonia.
  • 3 1
 I think the fact @mattbeer built his own nukeproof giga up for himself and is also racing the nukeproof DH bike speaks volumes as to how good a platform that brand has created. I’d like to hear more of his opinion on the bikes and how he’s getting on with the giga.
  • 1 0
 It looks like he’s riding a Nukeproof dissent carbon in the picture, this spring I picked up the aluminum version after his review on pinkbike, I love this bike, it can do park and race, as a side note it’s my fourth dh bike.
  • 3 0
 Would love to see more local races again. The days of bear MTN and arduum were great. Would be nice to not have to drive 4-5 hours from the lower mainland to get to the closest race.
  • 3 0
 Amen. So awesome to read about the armies of kids riding and racing. Also yes as enduro bikes have made huge gains in ride quality so have DH bikes.
  • 5 0
 A well-constructed and well-written article with an abrupt ending.
  • 1 0
 Can't blame him for wanting to clock out and go ride on a Friday afternoon.
  • 1 0
 Excellent article, Matt. I love Sun Peaks, it's not a shopping mall at the bottom of a hill. It's a nice community of friendly people with great trails, especially raw, natural trails like Smitty's Steeps.

Modern downhill bikes are insane and they do make you feel invincible. The janky, short, 26" wheeled downhill bikes of the late 90s/early 2000's are relics now. Relics of a very fun chapter of my life but not nearly as confidence inspiring as current dh bikes!
  • 5 0
 Great article!
  • 2 0
 Dh bikes for life! for freeride too tho not just going fast lol. these dual crown 170 enduro bikes are fun but will never come close to 200mm when your on the big jumps
  • 2 0
 Love the BC DH racing scene, that's why I moved here. Hope I can make it to a few next year!
  • 2 0
 "If you ain't first, you're last!" ~Ricky Bobby~
  • 1 0
 I just came back from a trip to Sun Peaks. Loved it, will be back.
  • 1 0
 Holy grape smugglers on that podium lol...
  • 1 0
 Congrats on your finish!
  • 1 0
 You still got it Matt!

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