Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ice Road ; the Paved Highway Ends at Inuvik in the Arctic. So How Do You Drive Farther North? Wait on Winter and the River

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ice Road ; the Paved Highway Ends at Inuvik in the Arctic. So How Do You Drive Farther North? Wait on Winter and the River

Article excerpt

Up here at the top of the world, in Inuvik in Canada's Northwest Territories, things don't really get moving until winter catches the mighty Mackenzie River in its grasp and brings it to a halt.

Then you can drive on the ice roads.

In the summer, an ice road is better known as a "river." But in winter, the river freezes. The ice is at least a yard thick, and often much thicker. That's strong enough to make a good road even for heavy trucks.

Ice roads are maintained by the highway department, just like regular paved roads farther south. (There's a notable difference: The Mounties - Canada's police - do not have any speed traps on ice roads.)

It's a funny feeling to be driving past frozen boats and onto the ice road near Inuvik. All that was between us and a very cold bath was four feet of ice. But four feet of ice was probably enough. We took our big red four-wheel-drive Durango SUV onto the ice and soon felt comfortable buzzing along at a pretty good clip.

Inuvik is the end of the road, literally. This is as far north as you can drive on a year-round road in North America. But many little communities huddle even farther north, accessible year- round only by air. The ice roads make it a lot easier for people to go places. Food and other goods can then be brought in by truck, so they don't cost as much.

The ice-road season usually runs from December to the end of April. "In the spring and the fall, the price of fresh produce just about doubles," says Moe Hansen. He runs a firm called Lakes and Rivers Consulting in Inuvik. "I know ice and water pretty well," he says.

There are two "major communities" linked to Inuvik by 170 miles of public ice roads: Aklavik (pop. 1,000) and Tuktoyaktuk (pop. 1,200). Up here, it doesn't take that many people to be a "major community."

Tuktoyaktuk is just "Tuk" for short, but once you get the hang of saying "TUK-toy-YAK-tuk," it's hard to keep from showing off. …

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