Tag Archives: nenana ice classic

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


2019 Ice Classic


1st Place Winner: Nenana Ice Classic Poster, from Nenana

Tickets are now on sale for the 2019 Nenana Ice Classic. Buy a ticket, guess the date & time the ice will go out on the Tanana River, moving the iconic tripod, and win Alaska Glory, along with a dollar or two. Last year’s jackpot was $225,000.

Please note, all times must be Alaska Standard Time; tickets are on sale throughout Alaska through April 5th. Participants Outside must contact the Nenana Ice Classic directly for purchase.

Last year I was exactly three hours late with my guess. You’d think the damn Tanana could have held on for three hours!

Happy guessing!


Thin ice on the Tanana


2nd Place Winner from Wasilla, for the Ice Classic poster contest

Nenana Ice Classic officials announced the ice thickness of the Tanana River recently. It was the thinnest ice ever recorded on the Tanana in January. To be fair, the Nenana Ice Classic contest may be over 100 years old, but officials only started announcing the ice thickness back in 1989.

January ice thickness usually falls between 30 and 45 inches in January. In 2019, the thickness was only 16 inches. The previous low was 21.5″ in 2004.

The Tanana River froze over in October, which is normal, but we had such a mild first half of the winter, that the ice has not thickened to normal levels. That is the case for rivers throughout Interior Alaska right now. River travel has been sketchy in spots.

The annual Nenana Ice Classic is Alaska’s longest running game of chance. Every year we guess the date & time the ice “goes out” on the Tanana River. Tickets for the 2019 event go on sale February 1.


Ice Out


The Tanana River at Nenana. Photo Credit: Nenana Ice Cam

The ice went out on the Tanana River on Tuesday May 1, at 1:18 pm AST. The pot this year for the Ice Classic is $225,000. No word yet on how many winners picked the exact day and time of the ice going out. The mangled body of the iconic tripod, can be seen in the ice to the lower left of the photo.


Ice Classic 2018

The Nenana Ice Classic is underway. The tripod was raised on the Tanana River this past Sunday. Buy a ticket for $2.50, and guess the day & time when the ice will go out on the river. Alaskans first bet on this rite of spring in 1906, and have been guessing annually since 1917. Other than pull tabs and bingo, it’s about the only legal gambling in the state, and the Ice Classic proceeds go to charity.

On April 1, the average ice thickness on the Tanana at Nenana is 41″. Tickets are sold through April 5. Winning times must be in Alaska Standard time.

There were 42 winning tickets in 2017, splitting a jackpot of $267,444.