The Winter Road was first constructed in 1982 and its purpose was to supply the Lupin Gold Mine at Contwoyto Lake, Nunavut.
The Winter Road is in a region served by no other highways and for 10 months of the year is accessible only by air. In recent years, the road has been constructed 400 km north of Yellowknife to reach the Ekati (Arctic Canadian Diamond Company Ltd.), Diavik and DeBeers Diamond Mines.
In 2000, the Joint Venture (JV) consisting of Ekati Diamond Mine and Diavik Diamond Mine took over the construction and operation of the Winter Road. The purpose of the JV Winter Road was to supply materials for the construction of the two Diamond Mines.
In 2008 DeBeers became the third partner in the JV Winter Road Project. DeBeers was constructing a Diamond Mine at Snap Lake. The Snap Lake mine closed in 2015. DeBeers still maintains their partnership operating their new Gahcho Kue Diamond Mine.
The 2019 JV Winter Road season was the 20th anniversary of the JV Winter Road. The main purpose of the Winter Road today is to resupply the Diamond Mines north of Yellowknife.
The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road (TCWR) begins at Tibbitt Lake which is the end of Highway 4, known as the Ingraham Trail.
The Winter Road travels north for approximately 400 kms which is 85% over ice with the remaining 15% travelling on overland portages.
There are 3 maintenance camps located along the 400 kms of the Winter Road. Dome Lake, Lockhart Lake and Lac De Gras camps house winter road personnel.
With the majority of the Winter Road constructed over ice, the road must be rebuilt each year. Construction normally starts in mid December with an expected opening date of February 01st.
Construction crews start by removing the snow cover on the ice where the Winter Road will travel. Once the snow is removed, the thickness of the ice is measured by using a high-tech ground penetrating radar to profile the ice. This machine is towed behind a vehicle. This profile will provide data and show the Winter Road builder where flooding is required to build the ice thickness that is necessary to send heavy loads of freight.
- The Winter Road is approximately 50 metres (160 feet) wide on ice and 12 to 15 metres (25 to 45 feet) on portages.
- The portages are snow-packed and flooded to build a minimum of 4 inches of ice on the surface.
- Before the Winter Road officially opens, it must reach a minimum of 29 inches of ice.
- As the ice thickness increases, the load capacity for freight increases.
- When a minimum of 39 inches is reached, the road is open to full load capacity.
- The Winter Road builders monitor and maintain the road to ensure that it meets all requirements for the respective freight loads.
- Safety is the highest value in managing the Winter Road.
- Prior to driving the Winter Road, all drivers and Winter Road personnel are required to complete and pass the JV Winter Road orientation.
- Speed limits on the Winter Road can vary from 10 km/hour to 60 km/hour depending on load and location. Drivers are dispatched north and south in convoys of 4 trucks every 20 minutes. Speed limits are closely monitored as they not only impact driver safety but also ice integrity.
- A security team of 19 people patrol the Ingraham Trail and the Winter Road 24 hours a day while the road is operating.
- The security team works with the drivers to ensure they comply with the Winter Road rules. The rules are designed with safety in mind and for all road users.
- A 5-person Health, Safety & Environment (HSE) team work closely with Security, Winter Road Contractors, and carrier companies and their drivers. The HSE team aid in identifying hazards and develop ways to mitigate any risks that may occur.