Alaska News

Nenana Ice Classic breakup guessing game ends after a day of suspense

NENANA – The ice on the Tanana River went out Monday evening in the Interior Alaska town of Nenana, ending the annual Nenana Ice Classic guessing game.

The black-and-white tripod, set up on the river ice March 5, tipped on Sunday morning but stayed in place for an additional day. The clock attached to the tripod kept ticking and the suspense was growing until the current from the tributary Chena River finally pushed the ice around the tripod at 6:47 p.m. Alaska Standard Time May 2.

[From 2017: This antique engineering marvel records spring breakup in Alaska like clockwork]

Bettors bought $2.50 tickets to take part in the 106th Ice Classic, adding to this year’s jackpot of $242,923. The money will be split among those who guessed the exact date, hour and minute when the clock stopped. As of Monday, the organizers were in the process of entering guesses into the database and expected to finalize the winners in four to five days.

In 2021, the clock went out at 12:50 p.m. April 30, and 12 winners won $19,465.92 each.

While it’s not common for the tripod to tip over as it did this year, “every breakup is different,” said Rebecca Troxel, who has for years monitored the game. The trajectory of the tripod depends on what’s happening with the ice and water underneath it, she said.

“Whether the tripod falls over or sails proudly out the river,” she said, “whatever happens is just what the breakup is.”

Troxel is a longtime manager for the Nenana Ice Classic Fanpage on Facebook, which has more than 14,500 followers and, according to Troxel, gains thousands of followers from all over the world each year.

“Every time people buy a ticket for money, their interest goes way up, but there’s a lot of people that follow it just for the entertainment value,” Troxel said. “What I have found in the last seven years is that people can’t get enough of it. This is a wonderful tradition and it has a great history.”

The game originated in 1917 when a group of railroad engineers bet a total of $800 trying to guess the precise date and time when the Tanana River would break up.

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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