Words and photos by Aaron Thiesen
Riders: Gabe Neron and Elliot Capper.
Anyone who has raced DH is familiar with the “course walk”: the practice of inspecting a race course on foot—no bikes—sussing out the shortest lines and mentally mapping the hazards. It’s occasionally a solo endeavor, but more often than not groups glom around trail features like architects studying a set of vexing blueprints.
Ever since my bygone days of bike racing back in the late ‘90s, I’ve retained the practice when I’m out for a hike: stepping down a trail, arms outstretched, fists gripped around invisible handlebars (in my mind’s eye, still those 2.5”-rise ape hangers from the days of steep head angles and shallow travel), popping off rocks and shouldering aside branches.
It doesn’t have to be a trail I’ll ever ride. It doesn’t even have to be somewhere I ever could ride; the practice works just as well on the steps of a museum or the trailless depths of a national park as it does on singletrack. It’s a Zen-like trick to make something new seem familiar, of being in the present and at the same time visualizing a desired future.
It’s been a skill that’s come in handy as a travel writer, doubly so on a recent assignment that brought me to Sun Peaks Bike Park in August. Thanks to a freshly fractured clavicle that had left me unable to ride, I could only walk the trails, camera in hand, photographing local rider Gabe Neron on the newly rebuilt Steam Shovel. Fortunately, tailing Gabe down the trail allowed me to imagine what riding here was like (including some tabletops that I could only ever imagine doing). And watching kids circle under the street lights of the village well past sundown allowed me to imagine what living here was like.
The thing about visiting so many bike parks and similar self-contained active communities is that you pretty quickly get a feel for the pride of place of each. And it’s never because of the dirt, or the snow, or the sand, although those function as the substrate for the particular alchemy of a “scene”. It’s the people: the patrollers, the park rats, the first-timers and the old-timers. It’s the home-hill bonhomie that encourages you to stay an extra day, or plan another trip, or maybe, just maybe, relocate.
I’ve been to Sun Peaks a few times now, and even after those too-short visits I’ve become personally invested in this park. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard repeated by transplants and locals alike. I’ve walked the course. It’s easy to visualize myself here. And I’ll be back, next season.