West Dawson makes do with unofficial ice crossing while Yukon River remains open

A section of the Yukon River at Dawson City remains open this winter, preventing the Yukon Government from building an ice bridge, but that's not stopping people from crossing. A five kilometre unofficial ice road connects both sides of the river.

'Some people won't drive on this ice bridge and some people don't mind'

Drive the unofficial ice bridge between West Dawson and Dawson City

5 years ago
Take a ride with the CBC on the ice road over the Yukon River from West Dawson to Dawson City. 1:25

It's been an unusual winter for residents of West Dawson, Yukon, where a section of the Yukon River remains open.

That means Yukon's Department of Highways and Public Works was unable to build the usual ice bridge linking the 100 or so residents on the west side of the river with Dawson City. 

"Normally we would go straight across," said West Dawson resident Gaby Sgaga pulling onto an unofficial ice crossing in her truck. "Now it's a five-kilometre detour." 

'This could just be an odd year, it could be a sign of things to come,' says West Dawson resident Gaby Sgaga. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)
"It was just really tough this year," said Sgaga. "It wasn't simple."

She says freezeup — the time between the ferry shutting down for the winter and before the ice freezes — lasted about five weeks and even then, it wasn't easy to cross the river.

Eventually, community members "pulled together" to make an unofficial trail for snowmobiles and walking, which ended up being a 12-kilometre detour. 

"The Klondike River was constantly overflowing so it was always touch and go whether we could cross that way or not," said Sgaga

Sgaga says now the crossing is made easier by a wider ice road that connects both sides with a winding five-kilometer link. 

"We're very lucky to have this widened road that the [Yukon] Quest helped put in and also the Sled Dogs, the local skidoo group put in."

A section of the Yukon River remains open at Dawson City. That means there's no official ice bridge this winter. (Jassin Godard/CBC)

No fire trucks on the ice

But the road remains unofficial and not everyone feels safe using it.  

"There's all different levels of how comfortable you feel. Everyone has a different safety level," said Sgaga. 

A warning sign as vehicles leave West Dawson at the entrance to the unofficial ice crossing to Dawson City over the Yukon River. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)
Dawson City Fire Chief Jim Regimbal has some concerns about the crossing.

"We can't go over in the fire trucks cause it's not rated" by Yukon highways, he said.

"So, from the safety side of it, it's tough. I'm worried about it."

Similarly, government maintenance trucks won't cross on the unofficial ice road and that's likely to affect the seasonal unpaved Top of the World Highway.

Paul Robitaille, marketing and events manager, Klondike Visitors Association. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)
"They might be a little later this year if they have to wait to take the ferry to get over there with their equipment," said Paul Robitaille, Marketing and Events Manager with the Klondike Visitors Association.

"That could affect tourism in town for sure," he said. 

West Dawson is the where the Top of the World Highway begins, linking the Klondike Highway with the Alaska Highway, a popular tourist route in the summer.

But Robitaille also has more immediate concerns, like the annual Trek Over the Top event. 

"We have 200 snowmobilers coming from Alaska over to Canada and they have to cross the river to get to Dawson City so they're going to be going over an uninsured, non-public roadway to get here," he said.


  • Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly said this is the first time in 30 years that the Yukon government was unable to build an ice road.
    Feb 14, 2017 1:09 PM CT