Monday, February 2, 2009

Betting on Break-up, Alaska-style

It's that time of year in Alaska that we dare to start thinking about SPRING -- or at least about BREAK-UP.
And that has nothing to do with relationsships, such as boyfriend/girlfriend or marriage -- it's the river ICE breaking up, dummy!

Nenana Ice Classic tickets have just gone on sale! The Nenana Ice Classic was started in 1917 by some bored Railroad employees, who just couldn't wait for the river to break up, and therefore winter to be over! The town of Nenana is located where the Nenana River flows into the Tanana River, which is in interior Alaska not far from Fairbanks. My first spring living inFairbanks I remember taking my little boy (then 3, now 14!) down to the Tanana River to look at BREAK-UP. It's impressive: HUGE chunks of ice floating down the river, where only yesterday there was still ice from shore to shore!

So for over 90 years, Alaskans have been betting: for $2.50 you can buy a ticket with your guess as to the exact time of break-up. When the black&white tripod finally falls, it triggers the official clock, and that clock time matches your bet, you can win the whole pot (or share it if others guessed the same time). Last year's winner made over $300, 000 as the single winner, but a few years ago, 48 winners shared the pot, only making a few thousand bucks each. Alas, the luck of the draw!
So, what's your guess for this year? Break-up dates have varied from late April to late May. I'm not the betting type (to me, a lottery is just a "tax on the mathematically challenged"), but if I were the betting type, I'd bet on the first week of May. But now it's only February!!! They haven't even put the tripod on the river yet --that's done the first week of March. For your information, the thickness of the ice is typically somewhere around 4 feet. So we've still got a long way to go, baby... But you can dream, and bet...

Here's an interesting article for anybody who wonders if/how Climate Change is affecting Alaska. Scientists from the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks looked at the climate record of Nenana Ice Classic Break-up dates since 1917, and there is a real warming trend in when interior Alaska rivers break up.

As the old saying goes, "Breaking up is hard to do", but here it is a welcome sign of spring!


honeypiehorse said...

How cool! It's like something out of Northern Exposure, everyone making a party out of betting on ice break up times. Was Northern Exposure popular in Alaska?

ian in hamburg said...

Wow, four fee thick! That should last at least until May 27th at 00:34, Alaskan Standard Time. :-)
Can I buy my ticket online?

You will be seeing a lot of Whistler Mountain in the 2010 Olympics. Back in the 70s they used to have a similar lottery They'd load a barrel with rocks on the ice of nearby Alta Lake and the closest to the time it broke through and sank was the winner.

Naturelady said...

Dear Honeypiehorse: Yes, Northern Exposure was popular, even if many complained about how fake it was -- obviously not filmed in AK (pines in the background instead of spruce, etc) -- still, it did capture the feel of a small AK town like Talkeetna. We rented the series on Netflix, and loved it.

Dear Ian: Actually, you can get tickets, sort-of. Go to
and read about how you can get around the "No lottery tickets thru the mail" business.
If I may give you a hint, however, May 27th is a mighty late break-up date -- may I advise changing that to May 7th (and I won't ask for a cut, either...)
I like the Alta Lake lottery idea w/ barrel of rocks --a tripod would not work on a lake.
I do love Canada (what little I've seen of if when we drove thru on our way to AK). If Sarah Palin ends up in the White House, I told my husband, we're be moving to Canada!