The Nenana Ice Classic tripod. Courtesy James Brooks, Flickr
For some Alaskans, entering the Nenana Ice Classic is a science that involves measuring ice thickness, tracking weather events, and even factoring in the train schedule. For others, entering the classic is as simple as guessing a day and time and then hoping for good luck.
The annual betting event allows people to wager on the exact day and time, down to the minute, that ice on the Tanana River will break up. An iconic four-legged tripod is set on the ice the first weekend of March and connected to a clock on shore. When the tripod moves 100 feet downriver, a tripwire stops the clock. It’s a tradition that’s been running annually since 1917, when a few railroad engineers decided to bet on the timing of breakup.
Nenana is a town of about 340 an hour’s drive southwest of Fairbanks. The association that organizes the ice classic is a nonprofit that donates proceeds from ticket sales to local organizations like the public library, food bank, and boy scouts. The money not donated to charities is sent to whoever guessed the closest time to breakup. The jackpot in 2021 was $233,591.
At the cost of $2.50 per guess, anyone in the world can enter the Nenana Ice Classic. Tickets are sold at locations throughout Alaska. People outside the state can enter by mailing money and a list of guesses to the ice classic office.