Words by Lisa Richardson. Photos by Mattias Fredriksson.
The world has gotten too noisy. Brian Hall spent a decade preserving a place for humans to recreate amidst the silence of the trees and the snow. No engines allowed. He thinks it matters to your mental health. But part of creating an experience also means letting go of it. The best adventures need space to unfold on their own.
Brian Hall jokes that he has a grade 4 education, but sat in classrooms until he was fifteen, before opening the door and walking through it once and for all. He was less inclined to listen to his teachers, than to the world around him, and he still is. “I’m probably a bit less obnoxious now,” he says, in a quiet thoughtful way, a man who has ski toured the length and breadth of BC but doesn’t want to brag about it — “I’m not really motivated by that.”
It’s hard to peg him down precisely – his career has taken him all over BC and Alberta, working variously as a realtor, a Parks Canada staffer, a groomer, an avalanche technician, an inn-keeper. He owns to being an avid reader, a family man, a hard worker. “A lot of the work I’ve done in my life was labouring. I do take pride in that – chopping wood, getting a sweat on.”
At 67, he still doesn’t shirk physical effort – he’s the lead wrangler of the Old Snagfallers, a group of volunteers, mostly ex-loggers, who help cut runs in the summer at the Smithers Ski Hill (now Hudson Bay Mountain). “It helps our grandkids out. But it’s quite physical, carting fuel and brush saws around. It makes ski touring feel easy.”
Hall has loved skiing since his dad, out of the blue, bought him a pair of skis, and he’d practice sliding up and down the cow-pat covered hill on his grandparents farm, but it’s the peacefulness of ski touring that appeals to him most. “I just like wandering around in the bush. The world is getting more crowded. And noisier. And mechanized recreation is accelerating so fast. A big part of building Hankin Evelyn was to provide a quiet place for people to go.”
The Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation area, co-managed by the Bulkley Backcountry Ski Society and Recreation Sites and Trails BC, is the result of Hall’s pioneering preservation effort. It’s a user-maintained, day-access area of trails developed for backcountry ski tourers, with a guarantee that no sleds will end up poaching your lines or encroaching on your experience.
“Right now, if you dirtbike, quad, or sled, you can go wherever you want and nobody really says anything. I wanted to create a kind of template for protecting and preserving some non-motorized spaces for people to recreate in. It would be pretty cool to do a road trip around the province meeting kindred souls at Hankin-type ski areas,” says Hall. So far, no one has picked up the torch, but the model is now out there.
Hall is no vigilante – he sleds with friends and is more than happy to wield a chainsaw. But he enjoys the peace of the wild and wants to preserve that opportunity for anyone who goes out in search of it, especially if under their own steam.
“One time, I had a sledder come up to me and say, ‘What do you have against sleds? Are you just pissed off we’re tracking up all the snow?’
“’No’, I said, ‘honestly, that’s not it. I don’t mind the tracks. That can be my skin track a lot of the time. It’s the sound. Next time you’re having a family dinner, maybe your parents or grandparents are there and you’re all talking together, how about I come and get my chainsaw? You know how much I love to run my chainsaw. And I’ll run it right beside your table.’
“’Oh’, he said, ‘I get it.’”
The Ski Society now operates Hankin Evelyn and Hall has stepped aside from being so directly involved. “When you create something, there can be an unhealthy feeling of ownership and too much desire to control. Letting go is not easy, but it’s important to do. The new crew that steps up to manage will have their own ideas of how to move a project forward and they need the leeway to do that. I still go out and clean the hut and do some carpentry repairs. And I’m still out there skiing.”
That’s the thing about conceiving things – missions, families, special places – you tend and nurture them with all your best energy, and then stand back and watch them unfold. In the best possible world, you’ll have a quiet place to go to, a refuge where the stillness of the wilderness and the muffled sound of your own movements slow the workings of your mind and in that steady rhythm, everything you’ve lost and gained and learned and forgotten and connected with and let go of, quietly abide or steadily slip away.
Read more about Hankin Evelyn.
Visit Smithers, British Columbia.