Most people are aware that being a truck driver is a particularly stressful lifestyle. However, not every trucking job is as difficult as the next. One might say OTR is the hardest, and they won’t be wrong. Well, they wouldn’t be if there weren’t for one trucking type.
There is OTR driving, and then, there is ice road trucking. To put it bluntly, ice road trucking is OTR driving on steroids.
As you are probably aware, OTR driving requires long hours and being away from home for weeks at a time traveling long distances. Ice road trucking is the same, with an added element of horrible weather and road conditions and prolonged isolation from civilization.
Since ice road trucking comes with many factors that are not, well, let’s say favorable for truckers, ice road drivers do get quite the compensation for their troubles.
In fact, ice road truckers often make in just a few months what other haul type drivers make in a year.
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What Is Ice Road Trucking?
For those who haven’t been up north during winter months, the weather tends to get pretty wild. Throughout the season, the roads freeze over. Even the lakes freeze over. But the people up there still need their fuel, equipment, food, produce, electronics – basically, everything we down south need to, well, exist.
Enter ice road truckers. When the winter sets and everything freezes over, ice road truckers deliver supplies and goods to these destinations. People who work and live in these remote areas rely solely on ice road truckers to get their essential supplies to make it throughout the winter.
Ice road trucking is a seasonal work that lasts for a few months. However, during this short season, ice road truckers can make the same money other trucking jobs make in a year.
Dangers of Ice Road Trucking
The dangers are many, and the truck stops are few. If you get into an accident, there is a chance there won’t be any cell reception and living person, for that matter, for hundreds of miles.
Perhaps the most dubious part of the job is the fact that the truck has to keep moving. When the truck is moving, the ice can support up to 100,000 pounds. However, once the truck stops, the ice can sustain only 60,000 pounds of weight. Therefore, vehicle malfunctions or stopping for a “nature’s call” is out of the question, as they represent an additional layer of danger on top of an already dangerous situation.
Parts of the truck literally freeze over – and if the truck is topped up with fuel from down south, chances are it will gell up from the cold.
How to Become an Ice Road Trucker?
As with all truck driver jobs, you need a high school diploma to become an ice road trucker. There is the prerequisite Commercial Drivers Licence (CDL), and there is additional specialized training for driving during freezing conditions.
Other qualifications to become an ice road trucker include peak physical health, vision, hearing, hand-to-eye coordination, and the willingness to work under the extreme conditions the position requires.
Since ice road trucking is quite a lucrative job, being well-paying and short-term, and, well, the places one can go into it are few, it is incredibly competitive.
Getting hired depends on the experience, training, and reports from previous seasons and runs. Now, this doesn’t mean you need ice road trucking experience, but you need to have an impeccable record of your previous trucking jobs. In fact, not many people that try ice road trucking come for a second season – the turnover rate is above 70 percent.
On the other hand, you need to carefully pick the company you drive for, as safety is a priority here. Many companies are reported as not paying attention to the details, leading to truckers ending up in life-threatening situations.
Characteristics of an Ice Road Trucker
To be an ice road trucker, you must have exceptional skills driving a truck under these extreme conditions. There are no truck stops in the Middle of Nowhere, Alaska should your truck break, so you also need to know how to maintain your truck.
Another essential skill an ice road trucker has is patience. Most of the time, they aren’t rolling for more than 15 mph in extreme cold, sometimes over a frozen lake.
On top of the above, the driver needs to be able to drive in zero light conditions, no cell-phone reception, and extreme temperatures that can get down to minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
How Much Do Ice Road Truckers Make?
Ice road truckers can make between $20,000 and $90,000 throughout the season, which lasts for two to three months. ZipRecruiter reports that the average ice road trucker salary is $60,425.
For comparison, other trucking jobs bring in around $60,000 annually.
On average, ice road truckers make about $2,000 per round trip. However, a single run is between 15 and 25 hours of continuous driving.
The most significant factors affecting how much an ice trucker gets paid are the following:
- The company – more prominent companies pay more and experienced truckers who have ice road trucking training get paid more.
- The cargo – heavy equipment means more significant risk. Therefore the compensation is better when compared to light cargo like medical supplies.
- Owner-operators vs. Company drivers – owner-operators do get paid more, but they are running the risk of covering significant damages should something go wrong during the trip. Since the job is quite dangerous, not many owner-operators go into ice road trucking. However, owner-operators get quite the paycheck by the end of winter, which is reportedly around $100,000.
Expenses of an Ice Road Trucker
If one drives for a company, most of these expenses are covered by the trucking company. However, an owner-operator will need to cover them on their own. These expenses include:
- Specialized cab & engine heaters,
- Satellite phone,
- First aid equipment,
- Spare parts and products for the truck, like fuel filters and fuel gels,
- Extra supplies of food and water.
Is Ice Road Trucking Worth It?
Yes, ice road trucking does seem very scary, even for seasoned drivers. However, should you feel confident knowing the risks that come with this job, the reward is more than worth it.
After all, you can earn your yearly paycheck in just a few months.
Remember, to be an ice road trucker, you need to be in survival mode and possess extensive knowledge if you are to make but a single haul up north. Being an ice road trucker is much like being in the army – you put your life on the line with each trip.