Detah ice road ties record for latest opening

The ice road between Detah and Yellowknife is opening Friday, a date that ties a decades-old record.

Until now, the latest it has opened in a season was Jan. 11, 2000. That's based on records dating back to 1993, from the territorial government's Department of Infrastructure.

The 20-year average opening and closing dates are Dec. 23 and April 16, respectively. For the last five years, however, the ice road's season has been shorter.

Its average opening and closing dates have changed to Dec. 27 and April 15.

Natt Brandt, a tourist from Chicago, said he has visited Yellowknife three times but has not yet driven the ice road. 

Not many people can say they've driven over a frozen lake before. - Natt Brandt, tourist

"I was really stoked to actually do it this year," he said at the Yellowknife entrance to the road on Tuesday.

Brandt said he was scheduled to leave the city on Wednesday, but wants to visit again next month in the hope of crossing the elusive experience off his bucket list.

Steve Silva/CBC

"I'm still pumped about it," he said. "Not many people can say they've driven over a frozen lake before."

Residents in Detah and Yellowknife said the road is not a critical link, but that it does reduce travel time between the two communities to about a third of the normal journey, saving them time and gas money.

The road was open for longest period of time in 1995 and 1996, at 140 days.

It was open for the fewest days — 91 — in 2017.

Michael Conway, a regional superintendent for the Department of Infrastructure, said on Thursday workers started measuring the lake's ice thickness before Christmas, it wasn't thick enough to support the equipment for road construction. 

The work to build the road started this week.

"The one thing about lakes is they don't freeze the same everywhere, but what we have right now is the minimum of 35 centimetres, and that's the thickness we need to begin construction safely," said Conway. 

Jayleen Roberts, assistant deputy minister at the Infrastructure department, told the CBC in December that warmer winters in recent years have contributed to shorter ice road seasons.

"In addition, heavy snowfall also kind of provides an insulating layer on that ice so it slows down the thickening of the ice on its own," she said.

"So when we're dealing with ... warmer weather and additional snowfall, then it just means that we're having to wait a little bit longer to get out on the ice to start construction."