A few weeks ago, I shared a news story about the Nenana Ice Classic on my Facebook page. HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” sent Marshmallow (a man in a polar bear suit) to Nenana to buy a ticket for the Ice Classic. He placed his guess for April 26th at 2:17 PM with a promise to donate the winnings to the Alaska Food Bank.
The show’s segment brought a lot of attention to the tiny town of Nenana, population 363, and the long-running contest. Nenana is about 50 miles south of Fairbanks. It is otherwise famous for being the location where President Harding drove the golden spike to celebrate the completion of the Alaska Railroad in 1923.
The Nenana Ice Classic started in 1917 with a bet between a group of railroad engineers doing survey work on the Alaska Railroad. They wagered on the date and time the ice of the Tanana River would break up. The purse was $800 that first year and the guessing game has run continuously since then.
Each fall when the river ice begins to form, a tripod is set two feet into the ice with a long string attached to a clock on shore, 300 feet away. When spring break up begins, the tripod moves along with the ice, triggering the clock to stop. The guesser with the closest time wins the purse. Tickets are sold from February to April and cost $2.50 per guess.
2023 will mark Alaska’s greatest guessing game’s 107th year as the town of Nenana continues the tradition. Will you buy a ticket?