Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road

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Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road
The entrance of De Beers' Snap Lake Diamond Mine, NT
Route information
Maintained by Nuna Logistics and RTL-Robinson
Length600 km (400 mi)
Can be as short as 400 km (250 mi)
Major junctions
West endIngraham Trail, Northwest Territories
East endJericho Diamond Mine, Nunavut
Highway system

Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road is an annual ice road first built in 1982 to service mines and exploration activities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in Northern Canada. Between 400 and 600 km (250 and 370 mi) long, the road is said to be the world's longest heavy haul ice road and operates for eight to ten weeks starting in the last week of January.[1][2][3] Most of the road (85%–87%) is built over frozen lakes, 495 km (308 mi), with the remaining 73 km (45 mi) built on over 64 land portages between lakes.[2][4][5] This ice road was the location of the first season of Ice Road Truckers.

Construction and operation[edit]

Lupin Mine Headframe in 1997 in the Northwest Territories (now Nunavut)

The winter road is constructed by Nuna Logistics and RTL-Robinson every January and takes about six weeks to complete.[2][3][5] The first vehicle along each season is a Swedish-made Hägglund army-type reconnaissance vehicle designed to float if it falls through the ice; it tows an ice-thickness-detecting sonar.[2] This is followed by road building equipment including "specialized low ground pressure equipment".[2] The road, built extra wide to avoid blockages during blizzards and to allow opposing trucks to pass, is kept clear of snow, which acts as insulation, throughout the season as removal allows the ice to freeze faster and thicker.[2] The road is 50 m (160 ft) wide on the ice, but narrower on land portages ranging between 12 and 15 m (39 and 49 ft) wide. Once initially built, the road is checked by drilling holes into the ice. If the ice needs to be thickened, water trucks are called in to add water to that specific area. The road is only operational during February and March, an average of 67 days per year. The ice has been proven by engineers to support light vehicle loads at 70 cm (28 in) and increasing to full highway truck loads as the ice thickens.[5] A thickness of 107 cm (42 in) is required for a super B tanker carrying up to 50,000 L (11,000 imp gal; 13,000 US gal) and may weigh up to 42 t (41 long tons; 46 short tons).[6]

On some lakes, traffic may be re-routed to new lanes to avoid damaged or rough sections of ice, and additional "express lanes" allow returning, empty trucks to travel at higher speeds.

The highest allowable speed for fully loaded trucks on the ice is 25 km/h (16 mph) with some areas reduced to only 10 km/h (6.2 mph). Empty trucks have a maximum speed limit of 60 km/h (37 mph) on the ice. Speed limits are strictly enforced by security personnel with radar used to clock speeds just as national and provincial police forces do.[5][7]

The dispatch point for the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road

There are three road camps servicing drivers hauling loads along the road, they are at: Dome Lake Maintenance Camp, Lockhart Lake and Lac de Gras.[5] Dome Lake is for maintenance crew and emergency use for drivers, Lockhart Lake provides drivers with food, shower, and a place to do laundry. Lac de Gras is for road crews, emergency use and for driver facilities for drivers travelling north of Ekati.

Truck drivers are not allowed to travel the winter road alone, therefore, up to four trucks are dispatched from Yellowknife every 20 minutes.[8] Heavy and wide loads are dispatched from Yellowknife between 12:00 am and 6:00 am to avoid daily commuter traffic.[4]

The main product shipped is diesel fuel and other materiel includes "cement, tires, prill (ammonium nitrate) for explosives manufacture, and construction materials."[3]


The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Ice Road follows part of the original road that was cleared to the Tundra Mine in 1960–1961 by John Denison. This road began at Discovery Mine which was already connected to Yellowknife by ice road up the Yellowknife River and swung east to Gordon Lake, heading north up Drybones, Lockhart and Mackay Lakes where the Tundra Mine was located. This route was used until 1968 when the mine closed.[9]

Year Road Opened Road Closed Freight Carried
Super B
Capacity Reached
[citation needed]
Number of
Truck Loads
2000 January 29 April 3 111,090 n/a 3,703
2001 February 1 April 13 245,586 ~March 3 7,981
2002 January 26 April 16 256,915 February 22 7,735
2003 February 1 April 2 198,818 February 21 5,243
2004 January 28 March 31 179,144 February 23 5,091
2005 January 26 April 5 252,533 February 20 7,607
2006 February 4 March 26 177,674 not reached 6,841
2007 January 27 April 9 330,002 February 26 10,922
2008 January 29 April 7 245,585 February 15 7,387
2009 February 1 March 25 173,195 February 15 5,377
2010 February 4 March 24 121,000 TBA 3,506
2011 January 28 March 31 241,000 February 17 6,831
2012 February 1 March 28 210,000 March 1 6,545
2013 January 30 March 31 223,206 February 14 6,017
2014 January 30 April 1 TBA TBA TBA
2015 January 30 March 31 TBA TBA TBA
2016 February 9 TBA 300,000+ expected TBA 8,000+ expected
2017 February 1 March 29 TBA TBA TBA
2018 February 1 TBA 304,685 TBA 8,300
2019 February 1 March 31 256,912 TBA 7,286

The road was reopened in 1979 as part of an equipment haul to the new Lupin Mine at Contwoyto Lake, now Nunavut but then the NWT, pioneered by Robinson's Trucking and Hugh Arden. It followed the old Discovery Mine to Gordon Lake route. An experimental operation, Lupin decided not to continue using the road at this time and relied instead on Hercules C-130 aircraft to haul in machinery during construction of the mine.

In 1983, the ice road to Lupin Mine reopened as an economic alternative to yearly freight haul using aircraft.[5] The section between Tibbitt Lake (at the end of the Ingraham Trail) and Gordon Lake was built at this time. Another gold mine, the Salmita Mine (operated between 1983 and 1987) also benefited from this ice road.

Until 1998, the road was licensed and operated by Echo Bay Mines, owners of the Lupin Mine, after which it became a joint venture between Echo Bay Mines, BHP Billiton, and Diavik Diamond Mines.[4]

The defunct Jericho Diamond Mine, Nunavut, Canada. The mine site (buildings and fuel tank farm) is visible in the background behind the open pit.

Since 1999, the road has been licensed and operated by the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture, today a partnership between BHP Billiton, Diavik Diamond Mines (Rio Tinto Group) and De Beers Canada. The road is engineered by Nor-Ex Ice Engineering, and, since 1998, Nuna Logistics, a 51% Inuit owned joint venture between the Nunasi Corporation, Kitikmeot Corporation and Nuna Management Group,[11] has been responsible for the annual construction, maintenance, dispatching, and camp catering for the primary road, with RTL Enterprises taking care of the secondary road.[2][5] Security on the road, provided by SecureCheck until 2009, is now provided by Det’on Cho Scarlet Security.[12] Det’on Cho is a Yellowknives Dene company with headquarters in N'Dilo and Scarlet Security, based in Yellowknife, is an Alarand affiliate.[13][14]

The year 2007 saw record usage of the ice road with 10,922 loads north, totalling 330,002 t (324,790 long tons; 363,765 short tons).[5] That record number doesn't include the 818 back hauls south,[5] totalling 15,000 t (15,000 long tons; 17,000 short tons). The road was open for 73 days from January 27 to April 9, only closed for a total of 91.5 hours (70 hours due to storms and 21.5 hours due to minor incidents). There were over 700 drivers registered during 2007 with nine accidents and one minor injury (a bruised shoulder).[1] During the record 2007 season, there were 99 verbal, 5 written warnings and 5 speeding violations.[7] Nine five-day suspensions and seven season suspensions were issued.[1]

In 2007 the road was featured on The History Channel series called Ice Road Truckers. The mining company that owned the road where the first season was filmed felt that the show portrayed the road in a negative fashion, and decided not to participate in future seasons of the show. A new rule for the Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Roads was enacted for the 2008 season prohibiting commercial, media, video or rolling film cameras either inside or attached to the outside of vehicle. The show's producers said that they had located an alternate ice road and that there would be a second season of the show;[15][16] the road featured in season 2 was the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road.


Primary route[edit]

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap 
Download coordinates as: KML · GPX

The ice road begins about 65 km (40 mi) east of Yellowknife at the end of Highway 4, more commonly known as the Ingraham Trail.[17]

From there, it winds its way north the following destinations:

Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road (main route)
Distance Location Territory Notes
0 km 0 mi Tibbitt Lake NT Start of roadmap 1
7 km 4.3 mi Meadows Station NT Security checkpoint
35 km 22 mi Dome Lake NT Maintenance campmap 2
170 km 110 mi Lockhart Lake NT Rest stopmap 3
264 km 164 mi Snap Lake Diamond Mine NT Owned by De Beers Canada and located southeast of the roadmap 4
Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine NT Owned by a joint-venture between Mountain Province Diamonds
and De Beers Canada, located southeast of the roadmap 5
350 km 220 mi Lac de Gras NT Rest stop (for Lupin/Jericho traffic only)map 6
373 km 232 mi Diavik Diamond Mine NT Owned by a joint venture between the Dominion Diamond Mines
and Diavik Diamond Mines, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto Groupmap 7
378 km 235 mi Misery NT Satellite mining camp of the Ekati Diamond Minemap 8
405 km 252 mi Ekati Diamond Mine NT Owned by Dominion Diamond Mines, northwest of the roadmap 9
Pellatt Lake NT/NU Crossing the NT/NU bordermap 10
568 km 353 mi Lupin Gold Mine NU Closed 2006, owned by Echo Bay Mines Limitedmap 11
600 km 370 mi Jericho Diamond Mine NU Closed 2008, owned by Tahera Diamond Corporationmap 12

The road ends in Jericho Diamond Mine, at the north end of Contwoyto Lake, Nunavut.

Secondary route[edit]

The secondary route begins about 20 km (12 mi) east of Yellowknife at Prosperous Lake.map 13 The road heads north across the lake just to the west of Cassidy Pointmap 14 and through Quyta Lake where some of the earliest gold samples were found in 1933.map 15[18] From there the road continues north to Johnston Lakemap 16 and then northeast to Giauque Lake,map 17 with a road heading west to the old Discovery Mine, now the Yellowknife Gold Projectmap 18 operated by Tyhee Development.[19] [20] From Giauque the road travels east across Thistlethwaite Lakemap 19 and northeast through Smokey Lakemap 20 before joining the main route just north of Gordon Lake.map 19[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road Joint Venture. "The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road". Retrieved 2007-08-15.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road, Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Canada - NUNA Logistics
  3. ^ a b c Supplying Canada’s Northern Diamond Mines Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c Nuna Logistics Ltd. "The Winter Road". Archived from the original on 2007-10-07. Retrieved 2007-08-15.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Facts
  6. ^ Construction - Backed by Experience, Monitored with Science
  7. ^ a b Security
  8. ^ Safety
  9. ^ 1959 John Denison's Ice Roads Archived 2012-02-17 at the Wayback Machine NWT Historical Timeline, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre
  10. ^ 2010 Winter Road Updates Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Nuna Logistics
  12. ^ New partnership for Deton'Cho Corp Archived 2012-03-25 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Deton'Cho - Contact Archived 2010-11-16 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ Scarlet Security Archived 2012-09-13 at Archive.today
  15. ^ Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road 2008 orientation materials "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2013-09-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ "Producers find new ice road for TV series". Landline Magazine. Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. 2008-02-05. Retrieved 2008-02-21.
  17. ^ Maps
  18. ^ "Northwest Territories Timeline - "Yellowknife Johnny" Baker". Prince of Whales Northern Heritage Centre. Archived from the original on 2006-08-31. Retrieved 2008-01-23.
  19. ^ "www.newswire.ca/". Retrieved 2019-10-01.
  20. ^ Canadian Diamond Mine Winter Road
  21. ^ Secondary route Archived 2011-07-06 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]