Careers in ice road trucking

It’s time for another Go! Careers. But this time, we’re all the way up north in Alaska!

Alaska has some pretty extreme road conditions, and so trucking plays an essential role for getting goods and supplies to the people who live there. This kind of delivery service entails driving massive 18-wheelers across frozen lakes and rivers to reach remote areas of the Arctic.

Ice road trucking operations usually begin around January and run for a few months after that. Throughout these winter months—when ice roads are formed and open for operation—they are maintained by maintenance crews and patrolled by enforcement personnel. These are a few of the only people that can be seen along the ice roads during ice trucking season.

Ice road trucking can make a truck driver the “big bucks,” but that’s to make up for all the hazards that come with the job. Many truckers quit after their first trip, and statistics show that there’s a 70 percent turnover rate among ice road drivers.

Why ice road trucking?

These truckers brave the ice roads to deliver anything from fuel to food. For example, crews working in gold mines in northern Alaska need fuel, food, and many other supplies and equipment. Since these gold mines are found in remote locations, the best and most effective way to deliver supplies is by truck.

Another mode of delivery in Alaska is having things flown in, but trucking is a fraction of the cost! Trucking is actually one third of the cost of having supplies flown in, which can be “quite a cost savings.” So, do you know what that means? The world needs truckers who are willing to brave the icy roads of the Arctic!

Lastly, some of the equipment that needs to make its way to the Arctic is too big or too heavy to be flown in—so sometimes trucking is the only option. These mining supplies are just one of the main resources that ice road truckers deliver. Yellowknife, the capital city of Canada’s Northwest Territories, is the distribution point for all goods to these mines.

The starting point at Yellowknife. Photo from Flickr user Marke Clinger
The starting point at Yellowknife.
Photo from Flickr user Marke Clinger

Hazards

One who goes into ice road trucking should certainly be aware of the hazards that come with the job. Some are obvious—like the fact that -50 to -60 degree temperature days are anything but out of the ordinary. Or that the average daily temperature in Alaska during ice road trucking months in 34 degrees fahrenheit.

And not only are the temperatures brutal, but these extreme lows can cause other problems. For example, extreme lows cause steel to become brittle, and so anything from the rims to the frame of the truck could snap and break. These low temperatures also cause fuel to “gel,” and swapping out fuel filters to fix the problem is no easy task when it’s -50!

Mackenzie River ice road.  Photo from Flickr user Ian Mackenzie
Mackenzie River ice road.
Photo from Flickr user Ian Mackenzie

Ice road truckers can also face “white outs” from wind and snow, and other environmental challenges like fractures in the road. Breaking the ice and other types of accidents can not only set back a trip for a truck driver, but their entire trucking season! Some say it’s not a matter of if, but when, a trucker will break the ice with their truck and “go for a swim.”

And if all that wasn’t frightening enough… there’s no cell phone service!

Outlook & pay

If you’re up for a challenge, the trucking community says that ice road trucking is a great way to make “big bucks” during a short season of work. Ice road trucking is also an attractive addition to any truckers resume.

That said, driving in these remote areas in the Arctic is said to be an experience that only a small handful of truck drivers will get to have. Ice road trucking also pays more than your average professional trucking job, but that’s to make up for all the danger and risks involved in navigating roads of ice!

What an “ice road” looks like. Photo from Flickr user Ian Mackenzie
What an “ice road” looks like.
Photo from Flickr user Ian Mackenzie

Trips to and from the Artic mines range from 225 to 250 miles, and take about 2 days to complete. Trucks drive more slowly when they are loaded up, so they are able to travel more quickly on the return trip. Two days of driving brings in about $900 for the truck driver, which can earn truck drivers tens of thousands of dollars in just a few short months.

Ice road trucking & TV

If you want to know more about one of the world’s most dangerous jobs, you might check out the TV series they made about it on the History Channel called “Ice Road Truckers.”

The show started in 2007 and is still turning out new episodes as of 2017. The show follows a group of long-haul truckers who travel to remote villages and work camps in Canada’s Northwest Territory that are otherwise “cut off from the world.”

Approaching the northern lights along the ice road. Photo from Flickr user Nonac_Digi
Approaching the northern lights along the ice road.
Photo from Flickr user Nonac_Digi

To keep these areas supplied, this “tenacious group of long-haul truckers drive their rigs over hundreds of miles of ice roads cut across the surface of frozen lakes.” The History Channel even talks about those times that the ice cannot support the heavy rig, and “driver and cargo plunge through the ice and sink to the bottom.”

Ice road trucking & you

Are the dangers of ice road trucking too much? Or are they just enough to fuel your curiosity about the white, icy unknown? One thing is for sure: These remote villages and work areas in Alaska would struggle to survive without some of the best and bravest truckers bringing them much needed supplies.

So, if you want to help people who would otherwise be “out of luck,” a career in ice road trucking could make you the hero of the story. That said, in this profession, to save lives you also have to risk your own. That’s all a part of the journey of being an ice road trucker, and some are certainly up for the thrills!

References

Related links

(Video) Driving on the MacKenzie River Ice Bridge: www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJUq8ahMNTo

(Photo album) Arctic Odyssey: www.flickr.com/photos/madmack/albums/72157604418712699

Ice road driver jobs: ca.indeed.com/Ice-Road-Driver-jobs

By Hannah Postlethwait, Go! Staff Writer