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Who will win the $350,000 USD jackpot this year? Will it be one individual or will the bounty be shared by a number of people as was the case, last year? That, is the question on every Alaskan's mind as they anxiously await the results of the Nenana Ice Classic.
In case you are wondering, the annual tradition is not another grueling dog sled race, but Alaska's version of the lottery - However, in this case participants do not just zip into a 7-11 for a quick pick ticket. Instead, they send in their best guess of the exact time and date along with an entry fee of $2.50USD, on when the ice on the Tanana River that flows along the tiny community of Nenana, will begin to melt.
While some Alaskan's simply guess the time and date, others are more precise and spend hours poring over weather and temperature data, before sending in their predictions. Whether that increases their chances of winning is debatable, but they sure believe it does.
The melting is confirmed when a 20ft. black and white painted pole with multiples legs placed on the frozen river gets dislodged from its iced footings tilts, and trips the strategically placed Iced Classic clock on the river bank. This year, the monumental event which was witnessed by a large crowd of local townspeople occurred on Monday, May 23rd at 7.39 pm.
However, the results of the winning entry will not be known until at least later this week for a number of reasons. First, was the record number of entries - 250,000 in all, with some coming from as far as Australia. Given that each entry has to be entered into the Classic database and then checked and re-checked for errors this, is a time consuming effort.
Adding to the delay is the fact that the ice break-up was earlier than had been expected. In fact, it was the fourth-earliest in the game's long history. The organizers currently have two shifts of staff working day and night to get the data entered and may even add a third, if necessary.
Now in it's 96th year, the guessing game was started by engineers who were surveying for the Alaska Railroad in 1917. The total winnings for the first Nenana Ice Classic, which then cost just 1 USD a guess, was a princely $800USD. Things have come a long way since then and the contest continues to gain in popularity each year. Organizers attribute this to the live webcam that allows viewers to witness the ice melting from the comfort of their own homes.
In this age of Mega Million payouts, $350,000 USD may not be something that most people get too excited about, but since Alaskans are not allowed to participate in lotteries the Nenana Ice Classic is as good as it gets. Also, its not just about the money, but the glimmer of hope that this melting brings - A reminder that the long dark cold months of winter are almost over and that summer, is just round the corner!
Resources: huffingtonpost.com, newsminer.com