Bad Ass Bus

Buses take on all shapes and sizes.  There’s the big yellow school bus that we’re all familiar with from our childhood.  There’s the city bus that takes many of us to work, and the Greyhound bus that shuttles millions of people from place to place.  They all have an important purpose in society, and all work diligently to get us where we need to go.

Columbia Icefield buses

Well, except these buses.  This bad-ass, known as the “Ice Explorer” sits on top of a mountain, deep in the Alberta rockies.  It’s the only bus in the world that’s got the ba… er, tires, to handle one of the most demanding routes in the world-across the top of the Columbia Icefield.

Columbia Icefields

Terrain like this is about as harsh as one can get.  Just trying to walk on it often involves special equipment.  Cracks, crevasses, and sinkholes abound, making it incredibly dangerous to operate any motor vehicle, let alone one that carries 56 passengers.  Even when the US Military tried to use this icefield as a “proving grounds” for snow equipment in WWII, they lost one of their high-end “mystery machines” in a hole in the glacier.  And yes, it’s still there.

The monster machines are built in nearby Calgary, Alberta by Foremost Industries.  Although Foremost normally specializes in oilfield equipment, they make a noteable exception for Brewster Inc., the operators of the Columbia Icefield Experience and owner of almost every single one of these 6-wheel drive wonders (the US Government owns that one exception).

Naturally, it’s diesel-powered to the tune of 235 horsepower, mated to a Clark 3400-series Powershift transmission.  Power gets to the ground thanks to big Rockwell axles, geared down with planetary hubs on each wheel.  Air brakes all around bring the off-road cruise ship to a halt.

Columbia Icefields "Ice Explorer" cockpit

As awesome as it looks on the outside, there’s one thing the Ice Explorer has never been accused of:  being comfortable.  The seats are hard, there’s less leg room than the backseat of my last car, and the engine is freakin’ loud.  Even the driver’s area is cramped.

And then you peer out the massive windows.  One glimpse of this scenery and suddenly none of that matters.

Columbia Icefields

Of course, the ride could always be worse.  The Ice Explorer’s predecessor was a regular old Greyhound bus mounted to two sets of tracks, pictured below.  Although it looks perfect for the “Celebrity Tour of the Post-Apocalypse,” it apparently wasn’t known for its comfort.  The machine had neither suspension nor windows that opened, earning it the nickname “shake & bake.”

Shake & Bake

In the end, it’s still worth the trip.  The icefield is situated halfway between Banff and Jasper, two of the most incredible towns in the world.  And the road between them, the Icefield Parkway, has been voted as the most beautiful drive in the world, making the road a destination on its own.

So when planning your summer adventures this year, consider making that trip through the mountains to the Columbia Icefield and their big freakin’ machine.  It’s the only place where it’s worth the drive to catch the bus.

Columbia Icefields "Ice Explorer"


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    February 2009
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