Kuskokwim Ice Classic Tripod Falls, But Pandemic Slows Winner Announcement

May 4, 2020

Kuskokwim River break-up in front of Bethel, Alaska on the evening of May 3, 2020.
Credit Katie Basile / KYUK

The Kuskokwim Ice Classic tripod fell on Sunday, May 3 at 9:58 p.m. The event marked the official time of breakup in front of Bethel. In the hours before the clock stopped, a sequence of events kept the contest organizers on edge.

“It was a day. It was a pretty wild day,” Ice Classic organizer Michelle DeWitt said, laughing.

The excitement began Sunday afternoon. The ice in front of Bethel had begun shifting, so she and another organizer went down to check out the tripod.

“It just, right in front of us, sank before our eyes. And I kept thinking it would stop, but I have to think it went to the bottom," DeWitt said. "It just disappeared.”

That was around 3 p.m.

“And at that point, it just made this horrible sounds of the wood and the ice crunching, and creaking, and groaning, and so then our concern was if the line was properly connected to the tripod,” DeWitt said.

The line was attached, and the clock was still ticking.

“That made the rest of the afternoon and the evening very stressful," DeWitt said. "We had this line connected to a completely submerged and out of sight tripod.”

An hour and a half later, the tripod started moving again below the water, drifting about 50 feet downriver.

“We were really excited. We were like, ‘We’re going to stay down here a while to see what’s going to happen.’ But nothing, nothing, nothing,” DeWitt said.

DeWitt left the river to continue sorting Ice Classic tickets, and few more hours passed. The organizers assigned a night watch and were wrapping up for the evening when they got a text saying that the ice had started moving fast.

“And so we raced down there and sure enough, the clock had been stopped and the winning time was there on the wall," DeWitt said. "And we were able to bring another Ice Classic to a close.”

That time read 9:58 p.m.

Three Minute Madness winners each won $10,000 for guessing that the clock would stop on minute 58: Maria Uttereyuk of Bethel, Frieda Dock of Kipnuk, and the “Savo Girls” of Dillingham.

Then there’s the contest for guessing the time closest to breakup. DeWitt said that at least one participant guessed the exact time, but volunteers will need to go through all the tickets to determine if there are more winners.

The Ice Classic winners and official jackpot amount are still being calculated and should be announced in the coming days. The process is taking longer than usual this year because social distancing measures during the coronavirus pandemic prevent all of the volunteers from gathering in one place to count tickets. The pandemic also reduced total sales.

“I’ll personally be thrilled if we’re at 50 percent of where we were last year,” DeWitt said.

Alaska gaming law prohibits electronic submissions, so all the ticket sales this year were collected over the phone. Volunteers could not sell the usual paper ticket packets due to social distancing.

Another casualty from the pandemic is the annual Breakup Bash.

“Which in Bethel is a pretty beloved community event," DeWitt said. "We all love it. I love it. Free hot dogs at the river, live music every year for many years now. But there’s no way for us to do that in a responsible fashion.”

Congratulations to all the 2020 Kuskokwim Ice Classic winners.