Holes spotted around Nenana Ice Classic tripod

Posted: Tuesday, May 07, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Residents of Nenana awoke Monday to find open water above and below the Nenana Ice Classic's wooden tripod, the first evidence that surface ice is weakening after a cold, snowy spring.

''It's quite a change today,'' said tripod watcher Edna Ketzler from the window of the watchtower overlooking the tripod. She and two other people occupy the tower in shifts 24 hours a day.

The 86-year-old Ice Classic is Alaska's oldest and richest guessing game. Each year, thousands of Alaskans pay $2 a guess to try and peg the time to the minute when the tripod set up on the Tanana River will wash away. The tripod is connected to a clock in the watchtower by a tripwire, which stops the clock once the tripod moves 100 feet.

The tradition started in 1917 when bored railroad workers began betting when the ice would go out and they could return to work.

The ice on the Nenana River, which runs into the Tanana River about a quarter-mile below the tripod, went out Monday morning. The tripod usually moves downriver within a week of Nenana River ice going out, said classic manager Cherri Forness.

The ice is usually out by now. A cold April made up for what until then had been an unseasonably warm winter.

The earliest breakup on record was April 20 in 1940 and 1998. The latest breakup occurred May 20, 1964.

If the ice goes out Wednesday, it would mark just the second time in 86 years that the ice went out on the same day two years in a row. The ice went out last year at 1 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on May 8.

Winners of the classic will split $304,000. Most of the rest of the money from ticket sales goes to charities.

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