NENANA — Early warm spring weather is adding a lot of excitement to the Nenana Ice Classic this year, resulting in a surge of last-minute ticket sales.
“It’s a real game changer,” lifelong resident Marilyn Duggar said. The warmer weather, she said, is giving the annual guessing game “lots of pizazz.”
Duggar manages Coghill General Store, which has sold 2,500 tickets.
She ordered another 500 tickets that were to be delivered Wednesday. The nearby A-frame gas station on the Parks Highway sold 2,000 tickets as of Wednesday and also planned to resupply. Friday is the deadline to buy the $2.50 tickets and drop the guesses into the official red cans.
The earliest the tripod has gone out is April 20 (1940 and 1998). Will warmer weather help beat that early date? It depends whom you ask.
“Ticket sales have increased quite a bit, so they (ticket buyers) think it’s going out early,” said Cherrie Forness, Nenana Ice Classic manager. “But it’s hard to tell.”
Temperatures dropped again Wednesday, putting a bit of a chill on that forecast. “If it stays cold like this, it’s just gonna stay right there,” Forness said.
Watchman Larry Ketzler thinks the tripod may topple earlier than expected, but not as early as people hope. He is one of three people who will monitor the tripod 24 hours a day beginning today, when the official clock gets attached.
“We’re there just to make sure no one tampers with the clock or with any of the equipment,” said Willie Lord, one of the three watchmen.
Nenana Elders Dennis Argall, former president of the Nenana Ice Classic board, and 2nd Chief Donald Charlie, of the Nenana Native Council, also think the tripod may topple earlier than usual.
“Some people think it will go out early because of thin ice,” Charlie said. “But that doesn’t determine when it goes out.”
Runoff is a big factor, he said, and so far, most of the snow on nearby hills is already melted or evaporated. Also, the Nenana River has to open up the Tanana River enough to move ice below the tripod. A Nenana River channel opened on Saturday, but it hasn’t had an effect on Tanana River ice.
When ice starts breaking up above the tripod, that puts pressure on the tripod ice, he added, saying, “Then it doesn’t matter if the ice is 2 inches thick or 20 inches thick.”
“It has to open up along the riverbank,” Charlie said. “That way, the ice supporting the tripod will have a place to go. Otherwise, it wouldn’t move. You got to have current.”
Of course, everyone has their own opinion, Argall said, who offered this tidbit: “Seagulls are a pretty good indicator,” he said. “They usually show up 10 days before the ice goes out.”
So far, there is not a gull in sight.
Ice around the tripod is becoming honeycombed, the two elders pointed out. It is thick in some places and thin in others. Projected temperatures of 50 degrees this coming weekend could speed up the process.
A siren goes off when the tripod tips and stops the clock. Many longtime Nenana residents have memories of rushing down to the river’s edge at that moment. Charlie remembers rushing to the river from a nearby hunting camp, leaving his shotgun and other camping gear behind — then returning to camp after watching the ice go out.
The Nenana Ice Classic is also a popular paycheck for area residents who are recruited to tally tickets or perform other tasks.
Like many residents, Charlie continued buying tickets this week, predicting earlier and earlier dates and times. His first guesses focused on April 18. Now, he has guesses in as early as April 8.
“It won’t go out before next week,” Argall said. “It will be earlier than normal, but not super early.”
Willie Lord said he doesn’t have a clue when the tripod will fall, even though, as a longtime local, he has spent years monitoring ice conditions.
“If I knew, I would just buy one ticket,” he said.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.