Sun Peaks housing can’t keep up with ski hill boom

Seasonal workers struggling to find accommodation at Interior B.C. mountain resort

Sun Peaks Resort has grown over the past few years, but its housing has struggled to keep up | Submitted 

Last winter Sun Peaks Resort had one of its busiest seasons ever. The number of rooms booked jumped 15% from the previous winter, and all indications point to an even better 2017. The ski resort has a scheduled opening date of November 18, which would make it the first mountain to open in B.C. this year.

September was the 30th consecutive month of increased room bookings. However, Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine said housing has been struggling to keep up with the increase in seasonal workers.

“Last year it hit us right between the eyes,” Raine said. “There was a serious problem. We’ve been experiencing double-digit growth [in resort visitors] for the last two or three years … and I must confess we were a little bit asleep at the switch.”

Sun Peaks Resort, located about an hour’s drive northeast of Kamloops, is Canada’s second-largest ski hill with 4,270 acres of terrain spread over three mountains. The municipality has about 700 full-time residents and adds 1,500 seasonal residents during the winter, which does not include visitors to the resort. From January to April of this year, Sun Peaks had 390,000 unique ski visits, a record high.

Raine said that as last winter’s ski season ramped up, the resort’s ski lift corporation had to truck in temporary trailers from Kamloops to accommodate its employees when workers couldn’t find housing.

This season, some employers have already put holds on rental housing for seasonal staff, and the youth hostel at the hill is being expanded.

Area real estate has boomed. In 2012, the average price for a Sun Peaks townhouse or condo was $386,968; today it’s $580,693. In 2012, $7.3 million worth of condos and townhomes were sold; so far in 2017, that number has hit almost $25 million. Last year the area broke a number of real estate records. Detached-home sales set a record for volume and pricing as 22 properties sold at an average price of $827,117. Average sale prices of townhomes and condos set a record at more than $466,211, and the number of units sold almost doubled to 50 last year from 27 in 2015.

Liz Forster, a Sun Peaks-based managing broker for Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, said momentum and interest in the area have been growing for years.

“More people are moving to Sun Peaks full time as the community grows.” 

Forster added that there have been growing pains, including friction between permanent residents and seasonal workers.

Arlene Schieven, president and CEO of Tourism Sun Peaks, said recent second-home sales have tended to be for personal use. In the past, some would have been available for rent.

“Obviously more employee housing would help,” she said. “And that’s something that the resort is taking on. And some of the business operators are purchasing properties for that specific purpose, and some of the hotels last year did have to put aside some of their room inventory for staff. So everybody is looking for creative solutions to help alleviate the problem.”

Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality council recently voted to set up a housing commission to tackle the problem. Raine said this would include a push to develop some “non-market” housing, subject to rent restrictions, that could be leased to employers strictly for employees.