Ice Classic organizers say winners will share $304,000 jackpot

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Those who guess the correct time of breakup on the Tanana River will share a jackpot of $304,000 this year.

Organizers of the Nenana Ice Classic announced the size of the jackpot Tuesday and said they have begun a 24-hour watch of the river.

A recent deluge dropped more than 6 inches of snow and 2 inches of rain on the Tanana Valley in four days. The river has risen about 6 inches in the last two days, prompting officials to connect a tripwire from the tripod on the river to the clock onshore.

''It could hang in there for another three weeks, but then again it might not,'' Ice Classic manager Cherri Forness told the Fairbanks Daily said from Nenana on Tuesday. ''We're not taking any chances.''

The Ice Classic is to Alaska what the lottery is to the Lower 48. For $2 a ticket people try to guess the exact date and time that the ice will go out in the Tanana River at Nenana, 55 miles south of Fairbanks.

The winning time is determined by the tripwire that runs from the wooden tripod to a clock in a watchtower on shore. When the tripod moves 100 feet, the wire stops the clock.

Last year's jackpot was $308,000, which was shared by eight winning ticket holders when the ice went out at 1 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on May 8.

After coming through the wettest April on record, Forness thinks breakup is coming soon.

''All this water is going to make a difference,'' she said.

But forecasters say that may not necessarily be the case.

''I don't think we're going to see an imminent breakup on the Tanana River because of precipitation,'' said Eric Stevens, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service. ''We're still expecting a later-than-normal breakup on the entire length of the Tanana River.''

The last ice measurement, of 42 inches, was taken on Monday. That was 2 inches thinner than a measurement last Thursday. Forness said another measurement may be taken later this week if official measurer Jeff Mayrand is willing to risk going on the ice.

''It's getting pretty rotten,'' Forness said. ''You can see black holes in the ice.'' But there are no open channels in the ice yet, and the Nenana River, which usually goes out about a week ahead of the Tanana, is still fairly solid, she said.

A crew of three watchmen will keep a 24-hour eye on the clock and tripod until the ice goes out.

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