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Nenana Ice Classic tickets go on sale

Posted: Monday, February 02, 2009

FAIRBANKS - Tickets for Alaska's oldest betting game, the Nenana Ice Classic, are now on sale across the state.

Tickets cost $2.50 for each guess on when the ice will go out on the Tanana River at Nenana.

The Ice Classic gives Alaskans a chance to win thousands of dollars. It's also a sign that spring is on its way.

Cherrie Forness, Ice Classic manager, spent the past two weeks delivering tickets and the bright red ticket cans to vendors in Southcentral Alaska and Fairbanks.

"They all say, 'We're glad to see you. We know spring is coming,"' she said.

The Ice Classic was started in 1917 by Alaska Railroad workers trying to pass the time in winter while waiting for spring breakup.

Now thousands of Alaskans - and even some outside the state - participate in the betting game.

A huge wooden tripod is set up on the river ice and wired to a clock in a watchtower on shore. The winning time is determined when the ice moves enough to tighten the wire and trip the clock.

The jackpot varies, depending on how many tickets are sold and how many winners there are. About half the money from ticket sales go to the jackpot and the other half goes to staging it.

Colleen Cloutier of Anchorage became the richest winner in Ice Classic history last year when she took home the entire $303,895 jackpot - about $218,000 after taxes. She was the only participant who guessed the ice would go out at 10:53 p.m. on May 6. It was only the 10th time in Ice Classic history that there was only one winner.

Forty-six winners shared a $285,000 jackpot in 2005 when the ice went out at 12:01 p.m. on April 28. Each winner got less than $6,200.

Ice Classic tickets are available from more than 200 vendors across the state. In addition to delivering tickets and ticket cans personally, Forness also mails tickets and ticket cans to rural locations.

Tickets will be sold until midnight, April 5.

Organizers usually drill a hole in mid-January to measure the ice for the first time. But no measurements have been taken yet, partly because of the cold snap that gripped the Interior during the first two weeks of the month.

"It was so flippin' cold we didn't want to send anybody out there," Forness said.

The first measurement will be taken this week. The ice measured 44 inches on Jan. 21 of last year and expanded to more than 50 inches thick in March before starting to shrink.

The earliest breakup since the game began was April 20 and the latest was May 20.

Forness said the tripod will be placed on the ice during the annual Nenana River Daze Festival on March 8.



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