It’s Breakup Time!: The Nenana Ice Classic

The Nenana Ice Classic is an annual contest/lottery held each year in the Alaskan city of Nenana (just an hours drive from my summer home of Healy).

Photo courtesy of elmundoenbici.com

The contest challenges individuals to guess the exact date and time of the breakup of ice on the Tenana River.

After the ice forms each winter, a tripod is placed about 300 ft. from shore in the middle of the frozen river. A device is attached to the tripod that records the moment the ice goes out.

Raising of the tripod. Photo by Diane Jensen

It may sound a bit underwhelming to those not familiar with the contest, but for a lot of people (including moi) it’s all very exciting. The winner(s) have the potential to rake in quite the amount of cashola (depending upon how many pick the same date/time, of course–last year 22 people shared the pot).

The ice went out at 8:39 pm on Monday, April 23rd (the official winning time was 7:39 pm). Officials say it will be about a week before the winners are announced. About 200,000 tickets were sold this year–in remote villages and larger cities alike–so there could be quite a few people sharing in the prize (which is yet to be determined). The largest prizes on record have topped $300,000.

The Ice Classic dates back to 1917–during the days of the state’s gold rush, when some railroad workers bet around $800 on exactly when the ice would break. Since its beginning, over $10 million dollars in prize money has been given out.

Those Alaskans sure love them some breakup!

What’s even better? The Ice Classic is run by a non-profit. Much of the proceeds from the event benefit local communities and statewide organizations.

The Nenana River (a tributary of the Tenana) forms the eastern border of Denali National Park. The hotel where I work (Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge) sits on the banks of this gorgeous river. My two previous summers in the area, the Nenana has been nothing but a mass of enormous ice chunks when I arrive in early May. It is so amazing to see a nearly frozen river one day and a free-flowing one the next. The breakup and flow of the ice really happens that fast.

The Nenana River, as seen from back deck of the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. Photo by David Backes

Icy Nenana River. Photo by Travis S.

I am assuming more of the same will be in order when I arrive next week (*eek!*).

W.

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