The GLE on ice — The Winter Road in Canada

Stuttgart – Frankfurt – Calgary – Edmonton – Inuvik: After a very long flight, we finally set foot on Canadian soil. “We” means four journalists, our photographer, and me. Our destination was the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road. We wanted to drive along it in three Mercedes-Benz GLE cars for one last time before it was finally closed in 2018.

Inuvik, which has about 3,200 inhabitants, is the biggest Canadian city within the Arctic Circle. Here in the northwest of the Northwest Territories, we got an impression of what awaited us on our journey: an outdoor temperature of -20°C, freezing wind, and winter landscapes as far as the eye can see.

We were welcomed by Danny Kok and his team. Danny is the Chief Instructor at the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy. He knows exactly what to do when you’re driving on ice. Don’t press the gas pedal to the floor, don’t make any sudden steering movements, and if you see a snow banner being kicked up by the car in front of you, keep your distance. Most importantly, however, keep your eyes on the road. We found out the reason for that soon enough.

Our group included four journalists from Germany, the UK, and Canada, our photographer Daniel Maurer, me, and Danny with his team. After a briefing concerning the procedure and safety rules, we got to know one another better over dinner.

Downriver

The next morning, we were ready to go. After breakfast we finally set out on the Ice Road. Because it goes from Inuvik directly to Tuktoyaktuk, it’s also known as the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road. It first runs along the Mackenzie River for about 90 kilometers on ice that is at least 80 centimeters thick, then continues for at least the same distance on the Arctic Ocean. In the winter, the Ice Road is the only way to get to Tuk, as the local truckers call our destination, by car.

In the spring, summer, and fall, the Mackenzie River is flowing and the Arctic Ocean melts. Then, the only way you can reach Tuk is by ship or plane. It was easy for us to choose our mode of transportation: We set out in two Mercedes-AMG GLE 400 4MATIC models [combined fuel consumption: 8.5 l/100 km; CO₂ emissions (combined): 197 g/km.*], one Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 4MATIC [combined fuel consumption: 8.6 l/100 km; CO₂ emissions (combined): 199 g/km.*], and a G-Class as a support vehicle.

The goal is the journey itself!

After just a few kilometers behind the steering wheel, we got used to the Ice Road. Although we drove most of the time on bare ice, the tires had tremendous grip. And thanks to the sensitive ESP (Electronic Stability Program), the vehicle behaved almost as it would on a normal road. Accelerating and braking were not a problem. With my normal driving style, I could drive as fast as 100 km/h. As we drove, we had a breathtaking panorama before our eyes. It was actually hard to focus on just the road.

During the time I worked as a developer at Mercedes-Benz, I often drove cars on ice, but the Ice Road in Canada requires a different caliber of driving than a frozen lake in Sweden. The ice in Canada is deep blue, yet transparent — you get the feeling that you could see fish down below.

Our convoy was headed by an advance car that let us know early on if there was any oncoming traffic. If the road was clear, we would sometimes switch off the ESP and drift over the tracks in the snow at the side of the road. It was a lot of fun.

In the far north

We reached Tuk in about three hours. You can’t miss it, because the Ice Road is a dead-end road. Tuk, which is located in the delta of the Mackenzie River, is Canada’s second-northernmost settlement. Behind the town is the Beaufort Sea. We drove to the town center. Because the town has only 850 inhabitants, the center wasn’t hard to find. The temperature was -20°C. Up here, life is tough. Many of the people who live here are unemployed. There are a few jobs in the police department, at the school and the town government, and in the few businesses that open up in the summer.

Nonetheless, we were given a warm welcome — at the local police station. There are no restaurants and no hotels in Tuk, probably because not enough guests and tourists come here. However, that could change next year. Since 2014, Canadian government has been building a road to Tuk that will be drivable all year round. It will finally be opened in 2018. Unfortunately for Ice Road romantics like us, the Tuktoyaktuk Winter Road will then be closed.


* Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch“ neuer Personenkraftwagen entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter http://www.dat.de/ unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

He is press relations officer for SUV at Mercedes-Benz.