Alaska’s great guessing game the Nenana Ice Classic

The Nenana Ice Classic is Alaska’s great guessing game, a game of chance where people predict when the ice will go out on the Tanana River in Nenana.
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 4:42 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - The Nenana Ice Classic is Alaska’s great guessing game, a game of chance where people predict when the ice will go out on the Tanana River in Nenana.

Dating back to 1917, it all began when a group of railroad engineers placed $800 worth of bets for the precise date and time the ice on the Tanana River would begin to break up in Nenana.

“It started when they were constructing the Alaska Railroad and they were building a bridge across the Tanana River here and they needed to know when the ice was going to go out,” said the Mayor of Nenana, Josh Verhagen. The Mayor mentioned how special it is to still be celebrating this event after over 100 years.

This year, 2023, marks 106 years the Nenana Ice Classic has been in existence.


Since the construction of the bridge, the Nenana Ice Classic has evolved into quite the event. In addition to guessing when break-up will occur on the Tanana River, a weekend event called Tripod Days is held annually, in Nenana, during the early part of March.

Festivities start early in the morning, Saturday, and continue into the evening and include a poker tournament, ski race, and turkey shoot. There are lots of vendors with homemade crafts, lots of food, lots of music, dancing, and many contests. Contests such as Parent Child Look Alike contest, Moose Call contest, Banana Eating contest and Best Bushy Beard contest to name just a few. There are sack races and a tug-of-war race between locals and visitors. There’s even a fireworks display put on by the Nenana Volunteer Fire Department.

Late afternoon, Sunday, is the tripod raising. This is where the tripod is planted two feet into the Tanana River ice between the highway bridge and the railroad bridge in Nenana. The tripod is 26 feet tall and is constructed from Spruce Trees. It is set up with a unique pulley and clock system that stops the clock once the ice begins to break-up and the tripod moves downstream by 100 feet.

The grand finale of the annual Nenana Ice Classic is gathering up and counting the tickets and declaring the winner or winners of the yearly jackpot.

Can you guess when the Tanana River ice will break-up in Nenana this year?

Many people play; some make scientific calculations, some research previous years break-ups, and for the most part people play by guessing.

Tickets are available at numerous places across the state for purchase. This year the 2023 tickets are $3 dollars each. Guess the correct month, date, hour, and minute, including a.m. or p.m. that the tripod tips over and stops the clock and you are a winner.

Note that the tripod clock is set to Alaska Standard Time (AST), which is one hour earlier than Daylight Savings, and AST is the time that will be used to determine the exact hour and minute of the day the ice goes out and not Daylight Savings Time (DST). Keep that in mind when you’re making your guesses.

After making your picks, look for the Red Nenana Ice Classic Cans located at various places of businesses throughout the state and drop your filled out tickets into the can. The last day to submit tickets is April 5, 2023.

The amount of the yearly jackpot depends on the number of submitted entries. The ice went out last year on May 2, 2022 at 6:47 p.m. AST and there were 18 winners that split the $242,923 jackpot.

For complete information about this yearly event, to include ice depth and ticket purchase locations visit the Nenana Ice Classic website.