Word spreads that the smarts are conquering the conditions. "It's cool," chokes one snowmobiler we come across. (It seems people are reluctant to give their full names up here. This was a hideout for conscientious objectors, among others.) "It's roomy and it seems to go well. Not my kind of car though..."
Despite the blizzard, we cross the Richardson Mountains, and the last leg of the Dempster opens before us. Look at a map and it's the last line of land before the North Pole. Inuvik is where terra firma ends and frozen sea begins. Inuvik was once on the front line in the Cold War, but is now a hub for the oil and gas exploration going on offshore. That's why an ice road as wide as I-5 wends up the McKenzie River, out into the Arctic Ocean, and up the coast to the village of Tuktoyaktuk (infamous for a Metallica concert played in the snow to promote an ice beer).
The Tuk ice road boasts a white carpet of six feet of floating ice. Six feet might not sound very much, but it can support 64-ton trucks, not to mention a flea-weight smart. To cruise along on a road where fish are swimming beneath you and ruts are caused by waves is slightly surreal. I get out of the car just where the road hits the open Arctic Ocean. Under the tire, over a foot of clear ice is visible before the ocean deep takes over.
Trucks, those that made this road famous in "Ice Road Truckers, Series 2," cannot stop due to the danger of going through the ice. "When they do, it's in seconds but luckily we haven't lost a driver yet," says Kurt Wainman, whose company, Northwind, made the road and who survived going into the waters so cold hypothermia will kill you in five minutes.
An all-season road between Inuvik and Tuk is under construction, and when it's finished, the ice road will be history. That is, if climate change doesn't bring an end to the road first. Either way, before the ice road closes forever, get up to Inuvik to try it out. There's only the Dempster Highway and a few blizzards stopping you.