1. ADVENTURE: The white open highway
Yellowknife marks the end of the road heading north from Alberta, except between February and April, when a 600-kilometre ice road is forged across lakes and wetlands to supply mines in the Barren Lands. Thanks to the popular reality television series “Ice Road Truckers,” the call of the white open highway is growing. The diamond mines that own and operate the road would prefer to gate it, but since it’s on crown land and water, the road is open to the public. Be aware that you’ll be driving on metre-thick ice amid massive tractor-trailer convoys hauling fuel, cement and explosives. There are no pit stops. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are highly recommended, along with winter clothing, boots and survival gear for -40°C temperatures. Or you can book a ride with True North Safaris, which takes passengers 460 kilometres up the road to a diamond mine. The threeday drive in a crew cab includes two nights at Mackay Lake Lodge and allows for CB radio banter with truckers and a visit to their otherwise off-limits Lac de Gras truck stop. Cost is $1,595 per person. Minimum two people.
2. FAMILY: Getting along on doggies
Yellowknife remains a sled dog city at heart, the centuries-old winter mode of transportation of local Dene. Today’s mushers run recreational as well as competitive dog teams, with races held here each year. Many companies offer sled dog rides across Great Slave Lake and around the city, but families may want to escape to Aurora Village, where there are additional outdoor activities for the kids. Located 30 minutes outside Yellowknife, the village has an aboriginal interpretive display inside one of seven giant tipis, along with a kennel and about 70 dogs on-site. Visitors can pet puppies (when available) and watch the dogs’ frenzied excitement while being harnessed. Traditional canvas-sided sleds fit up to four passengers for a 15-to-20-minute trip described as a roller-coaster ride on hilly, wooded trails. The $90-per-person afternoon package ($60 for children) also includes unlimited thrills riding inner tubes down a three-storey ice slide, roasting marshmallows by a campfire, hot drinks inside a warm tipi and return transportation from Yellowknife. For $60 more, visitors can take a brief mushing lesson and drive a dog team themselves.
3. BUSINESS: Revving up the nightlife
As a government centre and hub of a red-hot economy, Yellowknife hosts legions of business travellers. Yet once the briefcase closes, there hasn’t historically been much to offer except going to the bars. Yellowknife Outdoor Adventures began aurora-viewing snowmobile trips last year to help fill that void and show the business traveller a different kind of nightlife. For $155 per person ($205 if you’re riding solo), the trip includes a 35-minute snowmobile ride through boreal forest trails and onto Great Slave Lake to a cabin heated by a wood stove. Chances are, you’ll see green and pink curtains of aurora light up the sky. And if not, you can hang out at the cabin, sipping hot drinks and enjoying some snacks and wait until they do. About 7,000 Japanese tourists visit the city each winter specifically to experience this light show.
(867) 444-8320; e-mail: [email protected]