Posted in Bush flying, Canada, English, Northwest Territories

Flying on skis

DHC-6 Twin Otter on skis

My job brings me to remote places in a work environment unlike most others.  My desk is the right seat of of a DHC-6 Twin Otter and the views are those that few get to see first hand.

The flying in the north is very different from that south of the 60th parallel.  The winters are long, dark and sometimes harsh and it takes a certain type aircraft and company to operate successfully in the north. In the winter, most airplanes keep the standard wheeled landing gear and fly solely from airport to airport.  The Twin Otter on the other hand, trades in its wheels for skis (sort of like a really big, flying GT snow racer).  With skis on, it’s able to take off and land on any lake with thick enough ice to support the 12 500 pound fully loaded machines.With temperatures averaging -30 some months and dropping to below -40 degrees Celsius, most lakes become suitable landing strips from around mid December through March.

There are vast expanses north of the tree DSCN0786line of relatively flat land blanketed in white for over half the year. These places might look like areas void of life, but the birds eye view shows that there is life, and plenty of it in the Canadian tundra.  Flying over lakes you can see dozens of circles in the snow where caribou slept the previous night woven in and among the footprints of the herds on the move.  The numbers have diminished drastically but it is still easy to spot the herds standing or walking across the lake.  Often, the sound of the engines will be enough to get the caribou up and on the go for a little run.  Where there are caribou there are also sometimes packs of wolves on the hunt, walking single file across the lake towards a potential dinner.  If there is a single track in the snow then chances are it’s a moose that has recently passed through.  There are some Captains on the Twin Otter who are avid hunters and can spot the massive antlers on a moose between the trees like second nature, while we might have to circle around for me to be able to spot them.  Traveling farther north there’s the opportunity to get a glimpse of Muskox.  These animals have disappeared from Europe, Asia, and Alaska. They are now found exclusively in eastern Greenland and the far north of Canada, well past Yellowknife.  Last year though, there was a sighting of a lone muskox 40 kilometers from town, giving hope that the population is now on the rise and moving back south.  Close to Yellowknife, the most common sight would be bison.  It is common to see bison along the side of the road grassing, but a low flying Twin will show a much better picture of them spread out across a bay.

The main destinations at the moment for the ski plane this winter are exploration camps looking for diamonds and valuable minerals.  They set up their camps and drills wherever they think the resources might be. Usually that means they’re hundreds of kilometers away from civilization, in the middle of nowhere and the airplane is their only link to the rest of the world.  Whether it’s food, equipment, crew changes, or medical emergencies, the Twin Otter makes it happen. The following videos are a little glimpse of the type of places a Twin Otter can find itself on a regular basis.  Sorry there are no shots of the animals that I’ve previously mentioned, but I will do my best to get some for the future. 


Born and raised in Montreal, Qc. Moved up north to Yellowknife for a little change and hopefully some adventure.

5 thoughts on “Flying on skis

  1. Great post! – you have us looking forward to more. It almost feels that we are latched to the plane
    (I’m glad I’m watching this from the comfort of my warm home).


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