Road to NWT’s diamond mines closes in the heat

A view of a truck making its way along the winter ice road through the Slave Geological Province
A view of a truck making its way along the winter ice road through the Slave Geological Province.

The winter resupply road between Yellowknife and the Northwest Territories’ three working diamond mines has succumbed to this week’s warm weather.

Operators closed the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road to all traffic – public and commercial – at 5pm on Wednesday, and expect the road to remain out of service for two days.

Mike Lowing, director of operations for the road, said he hoped it would reopen on Friday night as temperatures dip.

Saturday, in particular, is expected to provide some relief from the heat across the North Slave, South Slave, and Dehcho.



Saturday’s forecast high in Yellowknife is -9C, near the average high for this time of year and almost a 20-degree drop from temperatures earlier in the week.

An overnight low of -17C on Friday is also expected to help everything from local ice roads to the condition of the Snowcastle on Yellowknife Bay, which expects to remain closed on Thursday and into Friday due to softening snow.

On Wednesday evening, Snowking’s Winter Festival remained open for a planned kids’ night at the castle – but warned people attending to use the on-ice parking lot at their own risk. There were several reports of vehicles becoming temporarily stuck on Yellowknife Bay during the day.

The castle’s courtyard has been declared “unusable” and off-limits by organizers, leading one resident to respond on Facebook: “This is terribly sad. All that hard work.”



Meanwhile, the Long John Jamboree and an associated ice carving contest – De Beers Inspired Ice – are gearing up to open in just over a week’s time.

The Jamboree posted online: “Let’s all hope for some colder weather over the next few days so we can all go out with bang next weekend.”

Ice carving contest coordinator Keith MacNeill told Cabin Radio: “We’re in discussion daily. So far we’re hoping that the forecast holds and the temperature drops.”

Seven teams from across North America are travelling to compete in the event, including a four-time ice carving world champion – Aaron Costic from Ohio – and the 2017 Inspired Ice champions, Don Lowing and Peter Slavin, from Pennsylvania.

Ice for the event was harvested well ahead of time, on March 9. The contest runs from March 28-30.

‘Public safety concern’

While Yellowknife is set to drop below freezing on Saturday, temperatures are expected to remain above freezing in the Dehcho and South Slave – and increase significantly for the weekend in the Beaufort Delta.

Cabin Radio understands the fast-deteriorating condition of the ice bridge to Nahanni Butte threatened to imperil several large deliveries still anticipated, including the arrival of a fuel truck.

Similarly, the Tibbitt to Contwoyto winter road reported “unsafe portage conditions” had made the road to the mines impassable.



“The warm temperatures have caused a serious deterioration of the portages which has created a public safety concern over use of the winter road,” read a statement from road boss Lowing on Wednesday afternoon.

“It is anticipated that the winter road will reopen to commercial and public traffic on Friday at 10pm with the return of cooler temperatures.”

First built in 1982, the road ordinarily opens at the start of February and operates until the end of March.

The narrow window of operation, with many thousands of truckloads heading to the mines, means in some seasons every day can be crucial. In years where the road has closed early, mines have been faced with millions of dollars in additional transportation costs.

Elsewhere, the Mackenzie Valley winter road was closed for the season by the territorial government earlier on Wednesday morning, ending road travel between Sahtu communities and the south.

All other winter roads remained open heading into Thursday, though some were restricted to night-time driving only.