Nenana Ice Classic tripod raised

Posted: Tuesday, March 04, 2003

NENANA (AP) -- It's that time of year again.

A couple of hundred people gathered Sunday near the Tanana River to watch the annual raising of the Nenana Ice Classic tripod.

The Ice Classic is Alaska's guessing game of when the ice on the Tanana River will break up, marking the end of winter in the Interior.

At bars and in stores across the state, people this year will pay $2.50 to guess the date and time -- to the minute -- that breakup occurs.

The tripod will be wired to a clock on shore. When the ice goes out on the Tanana River in spring, the tripod topples and moves 100 feet downriver, the wire stops the clock.

The people who guess the closest date and time of the tripod's fall win a share of the jackpot. Last year, six people split a $305,000 pot.

The Ice Classic began in 1917 after bored railroad workers began betting when the ice would go out and they could return to work. The pot for the first Ice Classic was $800. Since then, more than $9 million in prize money has been paid out.

Money earned from ticket sales goes to civic organizations, scholarships and other worthwhile causes in the city after the jackpot and expenses are paid out.

Last year, approximately 295,000 tickets were sold and the jackpot was $304,000. In 2001, the jackpot was $308,000.

Raising the tripod is the culmination of a two-day winter festival in Nenana, 55 miles south of Fairbanks, called Tripod Days.

The raising, in which volunteers pull up the 26-foot center pole using ropes, takes about 30 minutes.

''There's a lot of people helping, so it's not too hard,'' said Felicia Wagner, a Fairbanks resident who helped raise the seasonal landmark.

After the center pole went up, lower beams were nailed into place and an ice auger was used to cut a hole inside a trench in the ice where the base of the tripod sat. Water flooding the trench would freeze the tripod into place.

Onlookers threw pennies into the water for good luck.

An Ice Classic organizer said Sunday that he expects a typical breakup despite the record warmth so far this year.

''We could still have a winter. It's not over yet,'' said Dennis Argall, president of the Nenana Ice Classic Committee.

The ice was measured at about 43 inches thick. On Jan. 13, the ice was 30 inches.

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