Yukon River Ice Pool

Place Your Bets

Mid-April is when people begin placing bets on the exact date and time they think the frozen Yukon River will break. This quirky tradition has been happening annually in some fashion since 1896, the year that hopeful prospectors first began to flood into the traditional territory of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, now known worldwide as the Klondike. Since the 1940’s, the “ice pool” has been run by the local chapter of the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire, or IODE. It’s their biggest fundraiser: the money goes right back into the community in the form of scholarships, Christmas parcels for seniors, and aid for families experiencing medical emergencies.

How it Works

So, how does the ice pool work, exactly? Tickets are distributed to local businesses, where folks can then purchase single tickets or whole books, wagering their guesses as to the date and time, down to the minute, that the river ice will break. A huge wooden tripod is placed out on the ice near the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre, with a cable running from it to a clock hung outside the centre. As the open water pushes out the ice, it causes the tripod to move, stopping the clock and marking the official time. The earliest recorded breakup is April 23, 2016, and the latest is May 28, 1964.

Now We Wait

In the days and weeks leading up to this event, patient river-watchers can be seen walking up and down the trail on the dike, keeping an eye on the progress of the open water pushing downstream. It’s amazing to watch the ice rot day by day, the leading edge a jumble of icebergs. Locals say that once the first seagulls return, it’ll be a week until the ice breaks. When it happens, someone alerts the volunteer fire department located on Front Street, and the siren will sound out over town, no matter the time of day or night. If it’s daytime, everyone from school kids to bar patrons to office workers will rush down to the dike to watch the spectacular display of huge ice pans grinding and crashing together, a symbolic washing away of the depths of winter. Summer has finally arrived!

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