FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Tickets for Alaska's oldest and richest game of chance have gone on sale and Alaskans will have until April 5 to guess when the ice will break up on the Tanana River and trip the tripod at the small Interior community of Nenana.
The Nenana Ice Classic is uniquely Alaskan. So it only makes sense the bright red ticket cans that have begun to decorate countertops in bars, gas stations and various stores around the state for the next two months were delivered Alaska style -- with a large Chevrolet Suburban pulling a covered trailer filled with red cans and featuring the Nenana Ice Classic logo on the outside.
''It looks like an outhouse,'' said Cherri Forness, manager of the Nenana Ice Classic. ''We load it up with cans and away we go. It's a process.''
Forness recently returned from a six-day, 2,000-mile road trip to Anchorage, the Matanuska Valley and the Kenai Peninsula to distribute 105 of the 228 cans organizers send to ticket vendors each year.
''Everybody was happy to see us,'' she told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Another 60 cans were delivered earlier to Fairbanks and North Pole.
The remaining cans were mailed to vendors around the state several weeks ago, Forness said.
Now in its 85th year, the Nenana Ice Classic has become something of an institution in Alaska.
The ice classic provides residents around the state with a light at the end of a seven-month-long tunnel called winter, while at the same time offering a chance for a payout that dwarfs the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check.
Residents pay $2 a ticket each year to guess exactly what time a log tripod planted on the Tanana River ice will move downriver, an event usually occurring in late April or early May.
Last year, the tripod stopped the clock on May 1 at 10:47 a.m. There were 18 winning ticket holders, each of whom was paid $18,611 from a record jackpot of $335,000.
Forness is hoping this year's jackpot will be even bigger. She thinks the unusually mild weather will work in the Ice Classic's favor.
''I think it will spur interest,'' Forness said. ''I've noticed in previous years that when the weather is abnormal, ticket sales are higher.''
This winter's weather definitely has been abnormal. So far, it has been one of the warmest winters on record.
The Interior has yet to endure any kind of prolonged cold snap and temperatures have dipped to 30 degrees below zero only once.
Forness isn't sure what effect the warm temperatures will have on ice thickness. The ice is thicker this year than it was last year at this time, she said.
The ice measured 34 and one-half inches on Jan. 16, the first official measurement of the year. That compares with 31 inches on Jan. 23 of last year.
''But there's no snow, so there's nothing insulating the ice,'' Forness said.
The earliest the ice has gone out is 3:27 p.m. on April 20, 1940, and the latest breakup recorded in the 85-year history of the event was 11:41 a.m. on May 20, 1964.
Officials will measure the ice every other week until the tripod is placed on the ice March 4 during the town's annual Tripod Days festival.
The ice is measured weekly after the tripod is raised.
The event also is a major fund-raiser for the community of Nenana. While just over 50 percent of the pot goes to the winning ticket-holders, the rest is used to run the event or is donated to charitable causes.
Last year, more than $100,000 went to charity, Forness said.
The classic was begun in 1917 by engineers working on the bridge across the Tanana River for the Alaska Railroad.
Speculation about when the river ice would break up and allow them to continue working led to a betting match. The first pool was $800.
On the net: Nenana Ice Classic Web site: www.ptialaska.net/ 7/8tripod.
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