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How Dangerous is Ice Road Trucking?

If you have ever watched an episode of Ice Road Truckers or the Netflix-produced movie The Ice Road, you may be wondering, “Is ice road trucking really that dangerous?” The answer to that question is a resounding yes. It comes with unique risks to drivers and their cargo. From cracks in the ice and nasty snowstorms to truck malfunctions and poor visibility, there are several things that can – and do – go wrong during these dangerous deliveries.

Every time a trucker goes out on a run, they know the perils they face. The increased hazards are part of the reason why ice road truckers can earn between $30,000 and $40,000 in about three months. They are among the highest-paid truck driving professionals in the industry because the job is so dangerous. They earn in just a few months what it may take other truckers to earn all year. The season runs from January through the middle of March.

What Is an Ice Road?

Ice truckers traverse dangerous roads every day on the job. What makes the routes so dangerous? For starters, they are not traditional highways and most literally consist of artificially built throughways on frozen rivers, lakes, and other layers of permafrost in North America.

They can be found in some of the most remote and dangerous places in Alaska and the Northwest Territories in Canada. Any winter route in the northernmost parts of the world that connects two shorelines meets the definition. To safely support the weight of a heavy truckload, the top surface should not sink below the waterline. This is called bearing capacity. A formula is used to determine the bearing capacity before trucks can safely travel on one of these frozen water bridges.

Each year, these dangerous routes get built anew. Specialized crews use heavy-duty plows, radar, and water sprays to add layers of smoothness. When finished, they can support tractor-trailers and their cargo weighing up to 100,000 pounds. The trick is to keep moving with heavy loads. These infrastructures can only hold 60,000 pounds when a truck is not moving. That is part of what makes it so dangerous.

Is Ice Road Trucking Really that Dangerous?

Is an ice road trucker’s job really dangerous? Absolutely. Freezing temperatures and extreme winter weather combine to make travel dangerous on regular throughways. Add in the pressure of hearing ice cracking beneath your rig as you drive, and it can be a terrifying experience.

When lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water become frozen enough to carry the weight of a tractor-trailer and its cargo, that means temperatures have dipped to dangerous lows. Northern Canada has some of the most brutal winter weather, with temperatures dropping to -45 degrees Fahrenheit. Factor in the wind chill and it can feel more like -95.

Mechanical issues can happen in cold temperatures. Truckers risk hypothermia if their trucks stop working in the middle of a 400-mile trek. Freezing to death is not the only issue with a sidelined rig. Engineers design them to hold about 60,000 pounds when not in motion. Stopping can spell disaster for everyone and everything in a truck.

Some other dangers truckers in this line of work face include:

  • Accidents
  • Avalanches
  • Fractures
  • Whiteouts

This kind of trucking career is not for everyone. Truckers who commit to these dangerous routes can expect to receive specialized training from carriers focused on winter driving conditions and other dangerous aspects of seasonal road driving.

Ice Road Truckers: Most Dangerous Roads

Canada has more than 3,300 miles of dangerous highways in its northernmost regions. Ice road truckers know the most dangerous roads can be found in Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories. For most of the year, the remote communities in Yellowknife can only be reached by air or barge.

During the winter months, truckers make their way across the marbled blue ice in Yellowknife and other isolated communities in Canada to deliver food, fuel, lumber, and other products needed by the residents who live there.

Dangerous roads for ice road truckers include:

  • Kuskokwim River in Alaska made history recently as one of the most dangerous and longest winter roads. Stretching 355 miles from Tuntutuliak to Sleetmute, river hazards make it a risky trek for truckers.
  • Tibbitt to Contwoyto was first built in 1982 to service mines in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Canada. It runs about 370 miles, with 85 percent of it built over frozen lakes. Ice Road Truckers featured it in 2007, highlighting how dangerous it was for truckers who regularly traveled it during the season.
  • Tuktoyaktuk in Canada is an extension of the Dempster Highway and served the communities of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk. It closed permanently on April 29, 2017, when construction of an all-season highway began. It was considered one of the most dangerous roads before its closure.
  • Wapusk Trail runs between Gillam, Manitoba, and Peawanuck, Ontario in Canada. It is billed as the longest seasonal winter road in Canada, spanning 467 miles. Its length is what makes it dangerous because conditions can change rapidly from one end of the road to the other.

Off-season Work for Winter Road Truckers

Seasonal truckers have options for what to do with the rest of their year after they complete the 2 to 3 months of consistent work common to this industry. Some will seek out other truck driving opportunities, while others may choose to spend time at home to offset the long months away from home during the peak season.

Job Outlook for Seasonal Truckers

Not many jobs are available for trucking professionals who specialize in these kinds of deliveries because the work is so dangerous. That is why the pay is competitive. Truckers also must be willing to work in Alaska or Canada for months since that is where this work exists in North America. Some truckers cannot handle the pressure of this kind of work, so turnover rates can be high. This gives new prospects the opportunity to try their hand at these dangerous – and lucrative – delivery routes.

Truckers willing to work on dangerous seasonal winter routes can contact the experts at Logity Dispatch to find potential matches.