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Hankin-Evelyn: a new breed of backcountry skiing

The Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area is getting media attention this month looking to share the Bulkley Valley gem with the world.
Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area attracts approximately 4

If you were up in the alpine at the Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area this month chances are you ran into some media folk on a mission to tell the world about the amazing project a little community in northwestern BC built.

Over the course of March backcountry ski opportunities have been front and center for a number of publications.

This week a Globe and Mail writer will be spending a couple of days up at Bear Lodge to get a feel for the backcountry. Last week two journalists and two pro skiers traveling from Jasper to Prince Rupert by train made sure to make the Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area a stop on their trip. After two days of skiing the Hankin-Evelyn they had so much material that it prompted them to think about producing an even larger piece about the unique project here in the Bulkley Valley.

In 2008 Brian Hall initiated a plan that would become the first backcountry recreation area in North America and now it seems that there are others who want to build the same type of community project.

“We’re seeing people here who are attracted to what’s happening because Hankin-Evelyn is a unique concept,” said Hall. “It’s the first of its kind in North America and although there are a lot of people involved in backcountry skiing, it’s a connected community.

The idea was simple. Create a non-motorized backcountry ski area and incorporate 11 ski runs, a day use shelter, 50 kilometres of up-track snowshoe trails  and most recently the revitalization of the old Hankin Fire-lookout. Now almost five years later the Hankin-Evelyn rec site is seeing almost 4,000 visitors a year. In 2010 backcountry ski sales grew by 27 per cent and is sure to be higher after the 2012 season.

However, with all this media coverage all at once you can’t help but wonder why people are so attracted to this area.

Dave Webb, an Oregon based publisher and editor of Off-Piste magazine was up in the alpine for a few days trying to understand how Hall and the community were able to pull off such a spectacular project that is impressive right down to the last turn.

“Backcountry skiers in the States, generally speaking see this concept and think backcountry ski area, isn’t that a contradiction of terms?,” Webb said. “As I learned more about it the idea was to create a little bit of infrastructure. Terrain mapping, a day use building and cutting the runs to facilitate access. It’s unique and no body has ever done anything really like this before strictly to serve the backcountry community. I wanted to know how did they pull this off?”

The Hankin-Evelyn has been a go-to destination for backcountry skiers in the area because of its versatility. Not only open to ski and snowboarders but also to hikers and snowshoers which again has brought the community together through one mutual project.

Although the focus of this venture was to build infrastructure that would facilitate easy access to the backcountry the over tones are filled with community support and involvement that Webb sees as the real essence of the project.

“Initially I came because of the concept and I’m leaving with a sense of cool community,” said Webb.

“The cool refreshing thing about all those people was just how real they really are.”