These are the truckers who make their living on thin ice.
— Thom Beers
In 1999, The History Channel
aired a 46-minute episode titled "Ice Road Truckers" as part of the Suicide Missions series. Based on the book Denison's Ice Road by Edith Iglauer, the episode detailed the treacherous job of driving trucks over frozen lakes, also known as ice roads, in Canada's Northwest Territories. After 2000, reruns of the documentary were aired as an episode of the series Modern Marvels instead. Under this banner, the Ice Road Truckers show garnered very good ratings.
In 2006, The History Channel hired Thom Beers, owner of Original Productions and executive producer of Deadliest Catch, to create a series based on the Ice Road by Beers. Shot in high definition (although the season ended before History HD was launched in the US), the show "charts two months in the lives of six extraordinary men who haul vital supplies to diamond mines and other remote locations over frozen lakes that double as roads". During the finale of the show's first season of 10 episodes, The History Channel aired a promo for season 2 which began airing on June 8, 2008. Season 1 of Ice Road Truckers was shown on the British national commercial Channel Five
in February/March 2008. In Australia it aired on Austar and Foxtel in early 2008 and from June 18 it also began being shown on Network Ten. In autumn 2008 season one aired on RTL 7 in The Netherlands.Spinoff
series IRT: Deadliest Roads
began airing in October 2010. The first season sent three veteran Ice Road Truckers, and one new trucker from Alabama, to India to deal with treacherously steep, narrow, and crowded roads in the Himalayas. A second season premiered in September 2011, this time sending six North American truckers to South America. They hauled freight along the hazardous Yungas Road (also known as El Camino de la Muerte
, "The Death Road") in Bolivia, then relocated to Peru to bring loads to sites high in the Andes mountain range.
Tropes related to the series:
- Ad Break Double Take: Go on, try to find a commercial break after which the same footage of our heroes in danger is not rewound several seconds. The show would probably run several minutes short each week without this. (Which must be very distracting on DVD.)
- The Alleged Truck: The Indian Tata 1613s used in IRT:Deadliest Roads.
- Artifact Title: The overseas branches of the franchise still use the "IRT" abbreviation in their titles, despite their driving-hazards having little to nothing to do with ice.
- Berserk Button:
- Ray gets a lot of opportunities to express his frustration, but is really driven over the edge at one point when a breakdown happens out on the tundra, in the middle of the night after an already long day, the problem takes him hours to diagnose and fix, and the camera just keeps rolling. Ray takes out his frustrations on the cameraman after expressing incredulity at his relentlessness.
- Rick's incredulous response to the kamikaze drivers in India certainly qualifies.
- Also in India, the explosive reactions of both Rick and Dave to a mob of Indians trying to forcibly enter Lisa's truck would definitely count, almost resulting in the two truckers coming to blows with the crowd until an English-speaking Indian stepped in to diffuse the situation.
- Butt Monkey: Ray probably suffers from more breakdowns and inconvenient mechanical problems than any other driver. Arguably, he brings a lot of them upon himself by taking shortcuts and pushing himself too hard, but there's a fair amount of Murphy's Law involved as well.
- Rick is getting his fair share of this in Season 5. What can go wrong, will usually go wrong for Rick first.
- Gets a lot worse in Season 6. Rick's truck shows evidence of a deer mouse infestation and must be thoroughly cleaned and de-contaminated, and he has contracted an illness from their droppings that may or may not be hantavirus. It isn't, but it does put him out of commission for several days.
- Canada, Eh?: The fact that the show takes place in Canada for the first two seasons, and continues to feature Canadian drivers after its move to Alaska (even following these drivers to Manitoba in Season 5), should theoretically demonstrate enough of "real Canada" to avert the stereotypes. However, the entire show taking place in an icy wasteland probably enforces the stereotype that all of Canada (as well as Alaska) is like this year round.
- Captain Obvious: Lisa Kelly is interviewed on Late Night with David Letterman. Dave asks her a lot of simple questions, presumably to help the audience understand what her job is like. Lisa tries to play along but can't hide the fact that she thinks these are pretty dumb questions. Hilarity Ensues.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Some of the Alaskan drivers will disappear from the cast from one season to the next without explanation, despite the show following the same trucking company on the same roads. Most notable in Season 6 when Lisa Kelly was surprisingly absent and Jack Jessee returned after being absent in Season 5. It's possible that some of these drivers are still working for Carlile, but they didn't agree to be on the show that year or History didn't get enough interesting footage of them.
- Cliffhanger Copout: While there's a lot of genuine danger for our truckers to encounter, the show has a habit of making minor near-misses and other oncoming obstacles look like a major threat so that they can be used as act breaks. Five to ten seconds after the commercial break, it'll usually end up being nothing to worry about.
- Climbing the Cliffs of Insanity: The entire spinoff series, Deadliest Roads, is based off of this trope.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Rick Yemm's response to anything and everything he encounters anywhere ever.
- Dave Redmon's curse-per-minute ratio seems to have gone up significantly since his move to Alaska.
- Deadpan Snarker: Most of the truckers possess this trope in spades.
- Drives Like Crazy: Happens sometimes when a rookie driver gets impatient on the ice roads and decides to pass a veteran driver, on a curvy two-lane road, in dangerous conditions, who is likely driving slow for a very good reason.
- Taken Up to Eleven by the locals in the Deadliest Roads spinoff.
- Driving Stick:
- Season three has two of the Canadian drivers from previous seasons come to Alaska to drive on the Dalton Highway, aka North Slope Haul Road in Alaska. One of them has driven trucks most his life but the truck he is driving has an unfamiliar transmission setup and in the beginning he keeps shifting to the wrong gear. Considering they are driving over steep hills and along winding mountain roads covered in ice, shifting to the wrong gear could cause the truck to lose traction and go off the road. If that happens in the wrong spot, it can be deadly.
- Big-rig transmissions in general are the Big Boss level compared to the typical 5 speed manual transmission in a car or pickup.
- Lisa has struggle of finding and shifting to 2nd gear when driving a Tata truck in the Himalayan roads in Deadliest Roads. It's stated in the narration that 1-2 is a dogleg shift on these, with the gear positions reversed from where you'd find them on a car 5-speed manual.
- Friendly Enemies: Hugh and Alex, the two Canadian drivers who stayed with the show after its move to Alaska, constantly rib each other and have pissing matches on the road to see who can reach their destination first, who can beat the other in the load count, etc. This is mostly instigated by Hugh; Alex is generally a nice guy, but seems to enjoy playing along. Alex topped Hugh's end-of-season load count for the first time in Season 5.
- Good Samaritan: Alex excels at this, sometimes risking delivering his loads late to help fellow truckers in distress, or in one case, a man who was severely injured in a car crash. Most of the truckers seem to abide by a code of helping the other guy when he's in trouble, but Alex is seen doing it most often.
- Season 6: Austin Wheeler gets his chance to help out a number of times, but one attempt backfires and leaves him stuck in a ditch overnight.
- I'm Not Here to Make Friends: "I'm here to make money." Hugh likes to remind the audience of this roughly once per episode.
- Dave Redmon (season 5) and Ronald "Porkchop" Mangum (season 6) also display this attitude fairly frequently.
- Infant Immortality: Of the canine variety. Lisa adopts a stray dog during her stint in India. This pretty much guarantees that all threats of her truck going over a cliff are greatly exaggerated.
- Jammed Seatbelts: It's specifically noted that when driving big rigs over frozen lakes and rivers, drivers remove their seatbelts to bail more quickly. With a 15-20 km/h speed limit, injuries due to impacts aren't really a concern anyway. Not to mention there is very little to run into on a frozen lake.
- At times in Season 6, Alex is so wary of the river ice under his wheels that he drives part of the way with his door open, ready to jump out if he starts to break through. He doesn't.
- Jerkass: Hugh seems to take special delight in being one of these. He might be closer to Jerk with a Heart of Gold, as he's generally less abrasive in person (though still somewhat obnoxious and not particularly helpful) than he is when communicating with other drivers over the radio.
- Kill It with Fire: Hugh nearly falls victim to this in the Season 2 finale of Deadliest Roads. Hauling a load of fireworks for a village festival, he finds brush fires set in the middle of the road and drives straight through them. A few embers get sucked into his air intake, but he keeps them from destroying the whole truck by revving his engine until the increased air flow puts them out.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Happens on occasion when a trucker gets a bit careless and ends up damaging his/her load as a result. Most prominent in Season 2 of Deadliest Roads, when Lisa/G.W. and Tino/Tim had to take several large dinosaur models to a children's museum. Both loads arrived with serious damage due to G.W.'s maneuvering error on a bridge and Tino/Tim banging into Hugh as they raced toward their destination. Hugh was the only one to deliver his load (ceramic pots and statues) intact that day.
- No Fourth Wall: While it's obvious that participants in a reality show are aware of the show, it was still amusing to discover that Lisa owned the DVD set of the show's previous season, and planned on watching it while waiting out several days of bad weather in Prudhoe Bay, less for entertainment and more to learn from her mistakes.
- No OSHA Compliance: While the main show demonstrates rigorous safety measures taken on both the Alaskan and Canadian roads, the Deadliest Roads spinoff takes place almost entirely on roads with one lane, no guardrails, and suicidal oncoming traffic. It doesn't help that several sections of the road are either landslide-prone or visibly crumbling.
- Older Than They Look: Austin in Season 6. He's 23, with a face that makes him look about 16. The other drivers give him a lot of guff over this at first, but he gets on better terms with them as the season goes on. Before coming up to Faribanks, he spent time moving heavy loads in southern Alaska.
- Once an Episode:
- "You can't stop the Chop" (Ronald "Porkchop" Mangum, season 6).
- Many of the episodes that feature Alex Debogorski show him praying before or during a run.
- Papa Wolf: Rick and Dave almost come to blows with a mob of Indians who openly disrespect and attempt to forcibly enter Lisa's truck during a traffic jam.
- Lisa's Indian spotter, Tashi, frequently invoked this trope as well whenever others would question her driving abilities or become antagonistic based solely on her gender.
- Product Placement: If a pickup truck is seen in any capacity other than wrecked on the side of the road, chances are it's a brand-new Ford.
- Real Men Love Jesus: Alex's Catholic faith is one of his defining characteristics.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Plagued by mechanical problems and an unsympathetic boss, Drew and Rick both bid the ice farewell.
- Sequel Difficulty Spike: The spinoff, IRT Deadliest Roads. Alex flushed out after one episode, and Lisa nearly quit after her first trip up the road. In short, if the ice roads were Devil May Cry 3 hard, then the free fall freeway is even harder.
- Suspiciously Similar Song: Aerosmith's "Living on the Edge" used to play over the opening credits; Season 5 uses a Suspiciously Similar Song instead.
- This Is Something She's Got to Do Herself: Lisa's final run in India, after Rick and Dave have called it a day. Continues in Season 2 of Deadliest Roads, when Dave decides he's had enough with truck breakdowns and goes home, while Lisa chooses to continue working in Bolivia.
- True Companions: Lisa gets her share of guff from the guys (including sexist comments over the radio when they think she's not listening), but they genuinely look out for her when she's in trouble - especially during the Deadliest Roads spinoff, considering that a woman driving a truck attracts a lot of unwanted attention in India. Rick and Dave nearly came to blows with a mob of Indians over this.