Ice Road Truckers: How Much Money Can They Make?

Friday, Oct 23 2015 admin


Confession time. How many times did you tune in to “Ice Road Truckers” to see Lisa Kelly behind the wheel? Seeing a woman driving a big rig, not to mention one that is easy on the eyes, is not too common. After all, the truck driving industry is dominated by 95 percent male drivers. But that isn’t the wildest thing. Kelly, as reported by OverDrive, drives on some of the most dangerous roads in the world, ice roads of arctic territories in Canada and Alaska.

She isn’t the only driver, of course, which adds to the interest and begs the question. “If these drivers can drive ice roads and make a killing doing it, why can’t I?” If you are wondering how much money ice road trucking could earn you, back up a bit. First you need to think about what is involved in these high paying, high stakes trucking jobs.

Exploring the Ice Roads

Roads traversed by ice truckers are every other truck driver’s worst nightmare. Ice roads are constructed by humans as a corridor that goes across otherwise inaccessible terrain. They are by definition frozen, and are typically refrozen each year. Often ice roads are actually frozen ponds, lakes, swamps and rivers that are designated as ice roads for the season. While the most common ice roads are known in Canada and Alaska, thanks to “Ice Road Truckers,” these roads are also utilized in Wisconsin, Michigan, China, Russia, Scandinavia and Estonia.

Since these roads are made out of ice, they are super slick and must be traveled at a snail’s pace. For example, in Alaska the ice road extending from the Arctic Ocean over to Prudhoe Bay, which is one of the longest, has a max speed limit of 10 miles per hour. Why make roads out of ice when airways seem safer? Airplanes are super expensive thanks to fuel costs, construction and maintenance of airports and runways, and hiring personnel.

Additionally, when shipments need to be delivered they need to happen on demand to a smaller number of consumers. The Arctic, for instance, isn’t exactly exploding with overpopulation. Fresh food can’t sit in storage for weeks waiting on other supplies to arrive for a large scale shipment via airways. Instead, truck drivers can haul in the goods as need be, for a much cheaper freight cost and quicker time table. Furthermore, some items, such as heavy equipment hauling jobs, are impractical to try to fly over in an airplane. Ice truckers offer a more reasonable way to get goods to these desolate places. What exactly are ice truckers so determined to deliver on those frosty mountain roads?

  • Businesses in the boonies, such as bars and grocery stores
  • Restaurants and retailers stocking up with supplies
  • Institutional customers, i.e. schools and hospitals in need of supplies and food
  • Oil rig workers and miners depend on ice truckers for everything from supplies and equipment, to food and fuel

Risks of Ice Roads


While ice road trucking jobs are vital to the economies of isolated, frozen regions, and frozen roads help to make this happen, you can’t ignore the elephant in the sleeper. These jobs are deadly. After all, you are sitting behind the wheel of a multi-ton tractor-trailer that is careening across a road made entirely out of ice. Simply driving over a road with some icy spots is dangerous enough for most truckers. Imagine being in a constant sliding motion as you make your deliveries. It’s enough to scare most truckers away from the big payday. However, that isn’t the only risk associated with ice road trucking:

  • Freezing temperatures that commonly dip to 45F degrees below 0
  • Wind chills that make the air feel like it’s 95F degrees below 0
  • Snowstorms and blizzards causing whiteout conditions where you can’t see one foot in front of your windshield, yet you are unable to slow down or stop to wait it out
  • Avalanches from surrounding mountains that roll over your rig and trap you on the ice in a standstill motion
  • Ice cracking or fractures that you can’t see until you are on top of it
  • Mechanical failures due to the extremely cold temperatures
  • Hypothermia from being unable to keep your body temperature regulated
  • Fear of getting stuck, lost or breaking down without any hope for help to rescue you before you freeze to death
  • Being on ice roads when they are thawing at the end of the season

Ice roads are strong, thankfully, and can hold up to 100,000 pounds. However, a truck has to be constantly moving in order for this to work properly. When a truck comes to a stop, the ice begins to lose its strength. The holding capacity dips to 60,000 pounds. Therefore, having any sort of mechanical issue when driving over an ice road is a sure way to seal a trucker’s fate, below the freezing ice top.

Getting an Ice Road Trucking Job

If you are interested in driving on the ice roads, keep in mind you’ll have to take a different route than you would if you were getting OTR trucking jobs, reefer loads or heavy equipment hauls. Additionally, the major trucking companies, such as Swift Transportation, CR England and Werner Trucking, aren’t on the ice road circuit. These jobs require a different approach:

  • You have to have experience as a truck driver with a solid trucking career behind the wheel and a great reputation in the industry. Rookies need not apply.
  • You have to know the right people. This means making the best impression possible at every truck stop, trucking company and customer. Your reputation will precede you as you network in the ice road community.
  • You need to have the skills to do the job. This requires being accustomed to cold weather/winter driving conditions.

Set yourself up for success by understanding that being an ice road trucker is much more real than it appears on “reality” TV. Your life is at stake when you take on the ice roads. While the pay is great, that pay covers the risk involved.

Seasonal Salary of Ice Road Trucking Jobs

Driving a truck across roads made of ice offers quite the bank in bucks. Some sources show that ice road truckers earn anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 a season, while other sources indicate seasonal payouts of up to $250,000. One would suspect that the “Ice Road Truckers” on the History Channel are the ones scoring the quarter million dollar paycheck.

However, the lips of the History Channel’s execs are sealed regarding what those IRT stars are getting paid. If you are an untelevised, regular truck driver who wants to take on the ice roads of Alaska and Canada, you can earn an average of $40,000 for your seasonal salary. While that doesn’t look too appealing, considering the median trucker salary for continental, black top truckers is $40,000, think about the length of an arctic season. Your trucking season will typically run from January 15 to March 15, give or take a few weeks or months due to the nature of northern climates.

If you follow the theories behind climate change, then well, you would argue that ice road trucking seasons are going to be cut even shorter over the next few decades. Either way, you are capable of earning about $40,000 in two months. There isn’t another trucking job available at any of the best paying trucking companies that can pay you $20,000 a month. That is some serious money in the bank.

For many ice road truckers they take on the Arctic’s ice roads in season, and then drive less dangerous trucking routes the rest of the year. However, for drivers who live in the arctic it’s financially feasible to drive a truck during ice trucking season, and either take off, travel or do other seasonal work the rest of the year. If you are considering a change of pace in your trucking career, ice road trucking as an Alaskan or Canadian resident will definitely give you a new perspective and environment.

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