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Minnesota's Northwest Angle ice road to reopen for a second season

Last year, an icy highway was plowed across Lake of the Woods connecting visitors to resorts cut off by Canada's border closings.

ANGLE INLET, Minn. — Editor's Note: The video above originally aired on Feb. 1, 2021.

Nearly 10 months after an ice road plowed across Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota closed to travelers, the frozen highway is gearing up to reopen.

The 22-mile road connected customers to 10 resorts on Minnesota's Northwest Angle last year when Canada closed its borders because of COVID-19. With the borders closed, the only highway access to the Northwest Angle was cut off.

Canada reopened its borders to nonessential travel in August, but Brett Alsleben, owner of Points North Services, told KARE 11 that the COVID-19 restrictions and protocols travelers need to cross into Canada have made the trip unappealing to visitors.

"Right now, there’s just very, very little car traffic coming through, whether it be the hassle coming through the border, the vaccines or the COVID test, there’s just very little car traffic up there. So all business is down," Alsleben said.

Credit: Devin Krinke, KARE 11
A pickup crosses a temporary bridge placed over a pressure ridge on the Northwest Angle ice road

Because of the extra hassle, the community is having the ice road replowed. Points North Services will start plowing on Tuesday. 

With three to four plows out for the better part of this week, Alsleben estimates the road will be able to reopen to visitors by Friday, Jan. 14.

"We have a little better conditions than last year for plowing, so we’re hoping it will go a little smoother," Alsleben said. "We don’t have the deep snow or the big ice chunks that we had issue with last year, so the ice conditions are better. We’re hoping to get it open — it’s hard to image — but we’re hoping to get it open and get a trail down and back within a day, and then get it cleaned up and widened."  

While the road was open for about two months in 2021, nearly 1,000 passes were sold, most for $145. The money paid for roughly $130,000 in plowing and other maintenance costs.

This year, instead of resort owners pitching in for costs related to the ice road, Alsleben says the price will be raised to $250 per vehicle roundtrip to the island. The money will again be used to pay for plowing and general wear-and-tear maintenance.

Note: The video above first aired in 2021.

"Believe it or not, plowing an ice road across 30 miles of lake isn’t that easy on a vehicle," Alsleben said.

Alsleben says that so far during what he described as the resorts' "busiest" season, it appears occupancy rates are way down. He said in a normal year, occupancy would be at 100% "across the board."

"I would say overall it’s probably no more than 15% of what would be their normal busiest time of the year," he said. "It’s not nearly at capacity."

As Alsleben navigates his third year owning Points North Services — his second plowing the ice road — he said he's seen the overwhelming demand to build the ice road for the last several months.

"We get so many calls regarding the ice road for people who want to drive up it," he said. "It’s just been, really since October, we’ve been flooded with calls so we just figured we have to do it again."

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