AD Main Menu

Lucky streak: Back-to-back, 2-time winners in the Nenana Ice Classic

Sean Doogan
The Nenana Ice Classic tripod, teetering toward the water at 3:28 p.m. Daylight Savings Time on Monday, May 20. It would eventually fall into the water, 13 minutes later, according to organizers of the 97-year-old guessing game.

Yogi Berra, Hall of Famer for the New York Yankees, once quipped that swinging the bat and getting a hit was like, "Deja vu, all over again." It is that famous twist of language that perhaps best describes the finish of this year's Nenana Ice Classic. For the second year in a row, the winner has already cashed a check from the annual guessing game's payout.

Last year, Fairbanks resident Tom Waters was the sole winner of a record $350,000 payout. He had won at least a share of the prize twice before. On Monday, Warren and Yvonne Snow hit the jackpot at 2:41 pm Alaska standard time. (Since Alaska is now in daylight saving time, the actual time was 3:41 pm.) And, as with Waters, it won't be an unprecedented trip to the bank when the check comes in. The Snows also won in 2005.

Lightning strikes ice twice

The big win this year was more of an unfolding event, rather than a quick shock for the Snows.  "I got a call from someone named Cherie, saying I won the Ice Classic," Warren Snow said Monday evening. Cherie Forness is the Classic's executive director. "But I didn't believe it, you know how people are with fake phone calls these days/"

A phone call from a reporter in Fairbanks, a short time later, changed his mind. "That's when I called my wife,” Yvonne, a firefighter and paramedic in the Kenai area, he said. She was at a medical call when her husband first tried to find her. Warren got through eventually and told his wife the good news.

"I almost dropped the phone," she said.

The Snows guessed correctly in 2005, one of 46 winning tickets sharing the $285,000 prize that year.

"Our take came to $6,195, so I decided to take the family to Hawaii for a few weeks and be done with it," Warren said.  This year, though, the couple won't have to share their winnings. They were the sole winners, guessing a minute earlier than the Tanana River's official ice out time.  The Snows estimate that they will take home $229,000 after taxes.

When it comes to picking a winner at the Snow house, man and wife are tied: one, apiece.  Warren made the winning pick in 2005, recalling "it was my last pick out of the tickets we shared that year." This year, it was Yvonne's turn. 

1964, what a year!

Yvonne Snow says she picked May 20 for her Ice Classic guess this year because that's the date the ice went out in 1964, the year her husband was born. But the time was a random guess. "I just aimed for some time during the middle of the day," Yvonne said while she and her husband continued to field phone calls from reporters, family and friends late Monday night. 

In 1964., the ice went out May 20 at 11:41 am, Alaska Standard Time, the latest ever until this year. When the rotting ice finally shuddered and broke underneath the black and white tripod used to determine an Ice Classic winning time, the 1964 record had been surpassed by exactly three hours. Add to that the fact that back-to-back Ice Classic winners have won multiple times, and you could say the couple feels unbelievably lucky. But there won't be any trips to Hawaii in the near future for Warren and Yvonne Snow. "Our kids are all grown up, and things being the way they are, most of it will go into the retirement fund," said Warren. "But, you can be sure, that we are going to do some good with the money." 

Yvonne said she is trying to stay grounded, but laughed that she would not be shocked to get a few more gift suggestions from her children this year.

Contact Sean Doogan at sean@alaskadispatch.com