First the bad news. Those who chose April 31 as the day the ice will go out on the Tanana River are out of luck. There is no such date. Those tickets are set aside in a special box.
There’s also a box for tickets with no a.m. or p.m. listed. Those ticket holders may expect a call from the Nenana Ice Classic office and those tickets could be salvaged.
There is also a pile of blank tickets. Apparently, some people just bought the tickets and deposited them without filling them out. Some tickets have no name. And on others, scrawled names are difficult to decipher.
The good news is the counting of thousands of tickets has begun.
A team of Ice Classic workers process each ticket by hand. The tickets are sorted, checked, rechecked, recorded and checked again. So when the ice moves on the Tanana River and the tripod falls, the winning ticket can be located immediately.
The goal of each ticket holder, of course, is to guess the exact month, date, hour, minute and a.m. or p.m., the ice will go out and win the jackpot. Sometimes one winner take the jackpot. Other times, multiple people make the winning guess.
This guessing game has been going on since 1917, when railroad workers started guessing when the ice would go out. That tradition continues today, more than 100 years later.
The counting of tickets is serious business and continues eight hours a day for as long as it takes, usually about three or four weeks. This year, only about 30-35 people are counting. The number of workers was cut in half due to Covid safety protocols.
Overseeing all this counting and checking are two managers, called floor walkers — Karen Kriska and Brenda Nicoli.
“We work really well together,” Kriska said. “We have a really good rhythm.”
“It is a process, I will tell you,” she added. When she lived in a village, she always wondered how they counted all these tickets. She moved to Nenana in 2004 and began helping with the count every year. Now she manages the entire process.
On one side of the room, Marilyn Duggar and Darlene Jensen handle tickets that are pool guesses — multiple people joining in on the same guess. They sit at what is called the Round Table. The table is not actually round anymore, but everyone still calls it that. Round Table equals pool tickets.
Duggar’s mother did the same job, for years, while Duggar was busy managing Coghill’s General Store.
Jensen has been helping out since the early 1970s. She always looks forward to the job, because it’s a very social event that includes elders, other townspeople and even teen-agers.
Olaf Trettevik worked on computers Friday making sure they are ready for typists to record data. He’s 23 years old now and started helping with the count when he was 15. He looks forward to it every year.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.