Ice Road Trucking in the Alaskan Arctic

Explore the highs & lows of trucking in Alaska's Arctic Ocean. A world of ice road truckers, unique challenges, and stunning landscapes.

Ice Road Trucking in the Alaskan Arctic
Source: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves

Writing for FreightWaves, Rachel Premack journeyed to Alaska's Arctic Ocean to investigate the boom in Alaskan trucking amid the U.S. freight recession. She recounts her adventure alongside drivers Kyle Monnier and Richard "Mustang" Mustain.

Trucking in the Arctic Circle

Who drives in this region?

  • Full-time Alaskan truck drivers operate throughout the year.
  • In winter, truck drivers from all over the U.S. flock to Alaska to become ice road truckers.

When is trucking business good?

  • The peak season for trucking in this region is during the winter when the famous ice roads are established.

What do drivers haul?

  • In summer, drivers haul essential supplies like pipes and steel plates that oil companies will need in the winter.
  • In winter, they service the “man camps” of oil company workers, delivering everything from Cheetos and mattresses to drilling equipment.

How much do drivers make?

  • Ice road truckers can earn between $150,000 to $170,000 a year, along with additional benefits.

Differences for Drivers in the Alaskan Region

Alaska presents unique driving challenges due to its extended hours-of-service (HOS) laws, unpredictable conditions, and sparse population.

Alaskan Hours-of-Service (HOS) Laws:

  • Lower 48: Drive no more than 11 hours within a 14-hour period.
  • Alaska: Drive up to 15 hours within a 20-hour window, with on-duty time extended to 80 hours.

Unpredictability: Dirt roads can damage equipment, and mechanic help may be distant.

Population: A sparse population leads to longer and lonelier routes.

A Typical Day Driving "The Dalton"

Driving the Dalton Highway demands understanding its unique challenges, knowing essential safety practices, and being prepared for the unpredictable.

Route Details:

  • Known as “the Dalton”, it's 414 miles long.
  • Built alongside the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
  • Begins after the Elliot Highway, which is 73.1 miles from Fairbanks.

Vehicle Considerations:

  • Trucks typically haul around 110,000 pounds.
  • Windshields often crack from flying rocks.
  • Separate fuel tanks are common due to wildlife interference.

Safety Practices:

  • Need to adjust gear practices, especially in areas like Atigun Pass.
  • Understanding local slang and communication practices is vital.
Source: Rachel Premack/FreightWaves

Big Stressors for Arctic Region Drivers

Daunting challenges, from intense seasonal changes to the risks on the Dalton Highway, accompany the Arctic region's beauty.

Environmental Factors:

  • The Dalton is mostly a dirt road.
  • Drivers face steep grades, heavy loads, and traffic from other vehicles and motorbikes.
  • Avalanches often shut down parts of the road in winter.
  • Winter darkness increases depression, alcoholism, and other social issues.

Safety and Maintenance:

  • Need for regular vehicle repairs due to rough roads.
  • Risk of accidents, especially for those unfamiliar with local driving practices.
  • Constantly adapting to changing conditions and risks, e.g., wildlife interference.

Read more about Rachel's Alaskan trip on FreightWaves to get the full picture of truckers who brave the icy roads and unforgiving Arctic Circle.

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