Category Archives: Alaska

Ice Alaska

The World Ice Art Championships has returned to Fairbanks. The Ice Park opened on Valentines Day. I checked it out the other day, but the vast majority of the sites had blocks like the one pictured above. No carvers were working when I stopped by.

Fairbanks is known for its crystal clear ice, which the carvers love to use. There will be single block, double block and multi-block carving contests. Plus, there are single carver and two person carver events. I’ll stop by a few more times after the carving is done, and everything on display.

The “luge” track, set up for the kids, looked particularly fast.


An ice outhouse: as long as there is a styrofoam seat…

The Ice Park is located at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds, and is open 10am to 10pm, until nature melts the carvings.


Open Water on the Chena


It was -20F on the morning that this picture was taken; Cellphone camera


One snap of the finger…

A huge thank you to Jamie Smith and his Nugget world. Much respect.


Yukon Quest Finish Line


Brent Sass leaving Two Rivers on Monday morning; Photo credit: Yukon Quest

Brent Sass won the 36th running of the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race at 12:40 Monday afternoon. Sass finished with a full team of 14 dogs. It was the second Yukon Quest win for the Alaskan from Eureka.


Sass travels down the Chena River to the finish line; Photo credit: Robin Wood/FDNM

Yukoner Hans Gatt, coming in 90 minutes later, took second place. Alaska’s Allen Moore came in third. It should be noted that all of the top three mushers have previously won the Quest.

The Yukon Quest travels the historic Klondike gold rush mail and supply route between Whitehorse, Dawson City and Fairbanks. The 2019 race started on February 2nd, with 30 teams. Three teams have dropped out.


February Ice Count


The Nenana Ice Classic tripod, circa 1925

The monthly ice thickness check on the Tanana River took place recently for the month of February. I find this fascinating, so don’t be surprised if I post the March report too.

For most years, the ice thickness can run around 40 inches in February. Even after a week of -30F weather, and lows in the -44F range, there was no change in ice thickness from January. The Tanana River still has 16 inches of ice above the flowing water.

The earliest date on record for the ice to go out on the Tanana is April 20, which happened twice: 1940 & 1998. It certainly looks like that record could be on thin ice.


Behind the Ice Classic

I received a request for more behind the ice information regarding the Classic.


The Nenana Ice Classic Tripod on the Tanana River

In 1906, six gentlemen bet on the date the ice would go out on the Tanana River. The contest returned in 1917, when railroad engineers bet $801 on the date. The contest has been held every year since then, and has become an Alaskan tradition.

The tripod, is technically a quad pod. It’s made out of local logs and weighs several hundred pounds. A trough is dug in the ice for the tripod base to sit in, then a hole is bored through to allow river water to fill the trough and freeze the base in place.

Now things get really cool, but keep in mind the system was designed by railroad engineers in the early 1900’s.


The Ice Classic cleaver

A cable is fastened to the tripod, and four ropes run from the cable to a tower on the shoreline. The main rope runs through a pulley system that connects to a barrel weighted with several hundred pounds of rocks at the base of the tower. When the ice starts to move, this rope takes all of the stress and lifts the barrel of rocks several feet into the air.

A second rope has a foot of slack. This one triggers a siren in the town of Nenana to signal that the ice has started to move.

The third rope runs to a cleaver. This one has a bit more slack. The cleaver has been weighted, and also has over the years gained the nickname “Eldridge”. Named after the one time Black Panther leader, Eldridge Cleaver. However, Fred Mueller of Nenana, who designed this elegant system way back in the day, said he received his inspiration for the cleaver from the guillotine.*

When the tripod moves 100 feet, the rope to “Eldridge” pulls a pin, the cleaver is released, cutting the main rope. The counterweight crashes to the ground, and the tripod is free to float down the river.


The Official Ice Classic Chronometer

Once the main rope is cut, it falls pulling the final line, which is attached to a copper wire on the clock. The clock is then tripped, after the tripod moves 100 feet downstream, signifying the winning time.

There are actually two mechanical clocks. The one pictured here, which is a ship’s chronometer, was manufactured by the Elgin National Watch Company – which stopped making clocks in 1967 – needs to be wound once a day. The second, back up clock, needs to be wound only once every eight days.


A closeup of “Eldridge”

Photos and *behind the scenes credit: Dermot Cole/ADN, as well as other local sources


Yukon Quest 2019

The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race starts on Saturday morning from Whitehorse, YT. Thirty mushers and their teams will head down the 1000 mile trail towards the finish line in Fairbanks.


Yukon Quest elevation map

There is one section of trail that does not have enough snow for safe travel. Mushers will have to truck around the section between Braeburn and Carmacks. They will then restart 12 hours after their arrival in Carmacks. It is only the second time in the Quest’s history, that teams had to truck around a section due to lack of snow.