Winter Roads and Ice Roads

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Most of the time when we’re talking about winter weather and roads we’re talking about getting rid of it’s effects on the road to improve safety. However, there is a type of road which is built over snow or a similar substance called a winter road due to their reliance on seasonal climate. A special type of winter road is called ice road and this is what the majority of this article is in reference to.

If you live in a temperate region you may live your whole life without seeing an ice road. It is a road built over a frozen lake or even a bay of the ocean, though the word “road” may be pushing it somewhat.

Ice roads can be permanent or temporary–some only exist between late Fall and early Spring. Even when they are melted the lack of vegetation in a specific part of the water shows where the road used to be.

But why use an ice road when you can wait until the thaw occurs? As with many other things it comes down to expense. It’s cheaper to transport things by truck than by air freight. The other concern is that for some items, carrying by air is impractical. But the basic reason is the old adage, “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” If you can drive straight across a lake instead of taking a twisty road around it and a mountain you save a lot of time and fuel.

Making an Ice Road

In order to keep the road as traversable as it can be this routes are often snow plowed. Most people consider ice to be level, but not all types of water being frozen provide a level surface–snowplowing helps make it level.

To create a road takes more than plowing a couple lanes. Often you need to thicken the ice by drilling holes at intervals. The water from these holes floods out and in turn thickens the ice.

The vehicles on the ice road tend to be big trucks, though smaller pickups are also used. The speed limit for ice road is about 25 mph to help prevent the truck from falling through the ice.

Because you can’t just drive out onto most lakes you need some bizarre engineering. One way is a ramp made of slush. It doesn’t sound like a good solution, but it seems to work.

History of Ice Roads

Perhaps the most famous ice road in history is the 900-day siege of Leningrad. In June of 1941, the German and Finnish Army attacked and ultimately blockaded the city where many munitions were manufactured for the Red Army. The attempt to starve out the army and inhabitants failed in large part to allies driving supplies across Lake Ladoga at night. The Nazi Army simply didn’t think anyone was crazy enough to do it so they didn’t waste bombs breaking up the ice.

The ice roads in Canada have a long history going back to the 1930s. These weren’t used by trucks though but by caterpillar sleds. A number of them can be traced back to Al Hamilton of Grimshaw Transport, which still exists. Their main business is to transport fish from the topmost parts of Canada to the USA and beyond. These roads have since been improved by other trucking companies.

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