Winter roads are temporary highways carved out of snow and ice. They facilitate transportation to and from communities without permanent roads, and are commonly seen in sparsely populated regions in Canada's north and in Russia.
Winter roads enable goods to be brought into communities without permanent road access. In many of these communities, air transportation is used at other times of the year to bring in goods including food and supplies, but this can be prohibitively costly for bulky goods such as building supplies and heavy equipment. These roads are generally built in areas where construction of year-round roads is expensive due to many river crossings, and the presence of boggy muskeg land. When frozen in winter, these obstacles are easier to cross. These frozen highways are more economical than a full highway, and have less impact on the environment.
Winter roads are extensively used in the oil patch for drilling in remote locations in Alberta and British Columbia during the winter, and for access to remote communities, including Indian reserves, in the northernmost parts of many Canadian provinces.
Depending on the region, winter roads last anywhere from a few weeks to several months before they become impassable. The roads were originally very rough and often designed only for tracked vehicles hauling cargo sleds. Today, most see many large trucks, as well as lighter vehicles. Travel speeds on winter roads are low (approximately 15 kilometres per hour [9 mph] for semi-trailers) due to their rough condition and the potential for damage to portions over ice. Heavy vehicles are also subject to spacing requirements when crossing bodies of water. Lighter vehicles are not subject to the same constraints and users can often average 60 kilometres per hour (40 mph) when the roads are in top condition.
- Government of Manitoba Transportation and Government Services - Winter Roads
- Northwest Territories Highways Reports