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Skiing the pipeline

The environmental risks of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project are too large to be measured. Even by skiers.

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Precisely where this ranks in the oh-so-crowded pantheon of oil-industry villainy is unclear, but the villains have an ally in Canada's federal government. Systematic dismantling of fundamental environmental protections by the HarperCons — neither campaigned on nor made with public or scientific consultation — now allows it to push through projects that will have imminent negative impact on fish-bearing waterways. When it comes to B.C.'s iconic salmonids, these changes threaten a sustainable, multi-billion-dollar economy of ecotourism and commercial and sport fisheries.

"It's not a matter of left versus right, or the national interest versus the local interest. It's a matter of doing something stupid which is bound to fail. It's just the wrong place to build it," says Rob Brown in Casting a Voice. "The Pacific PNG gas line runs through almost the same territory as the proposed Enbridge pipeline... (and) in the last 20 years has ruptured six or seven times. It's been taken out by landslides and avalanches and rock slides."

"We can look at... the number of slides that have occurred and, you know, if that isn't a clue about what to expect... I don't know what it takes," adds fellow author Bob Hooton in the same film. "You look at the geological stability of a place like the Clore and the Copper Valley in general, you say it's not if, it's when."

We spend another spring-like day tearing down the Banff-like fall-lines of Hudson Bay Mountain, a community-centered hill with larger aspirations that hovers over Smithers and the Bulkley Valley, a place best-known for its steelhead fishing but one which, boasting some ten sporting goods stores, is clearly a regional recreational hub.

In fact all compass points along the Northern Gateway route seem to comprise the same sustainable economic future: recreational tourism. One of those compass points is Skeena Cat-skiing, unfortunately shuttered for the season by the time of our visit. Another is Hankin-Evelyn Backcountry Recreation Area west of town. A new approach to backcountry skiing spearheaded by visionary Brian Hall, Hankin-Evelyn offers touring access to significant alpine terrain as well as below-treeline skiing on lift-free cut runs, snowshoeing and cross-country loops — a wealth of dedicated non-motorized terrain for all abilities. Supporting both the backcountry ski contingent and community at large, the cutting was done on a jobs grant for unemployed loggers and the wood sold to help finance infrastructure like avalanche education posters, warming huts and transceiver-checking access gates.

Hall worked on early avalanche control efforts at Lake Louise in the '70s and '80s. He has since done avie-control consulting, resource industry work, real estate, and started the Valhalla Pure chain of outdoor retailers. He and his wife Kim currently run the Stork Inn in Smithers. His life, perhaps more than others, broadly spans both the resource and recreation industries; his perspective, imbued with the wisdom of broad experience, echoes the intuitive sentiments of most people who reside in the north.