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Rites of Spring: Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock

Fall Line
posted: 08/11/2000

Time doesn't fly in ski country in the spring-it gently floats to the bottom of a nearby lake. One odd spring tradition in the mountains from Colorado to Maine is "Ice Out," when winter-weary residents bet-to the second-when the local ice cover will break.

  • The Summit Rotary Club in Frisco, Colo., sells $2 chances on when Lake Dillon's ice will cave in for the season. The Rotarians remove the backs from two clocks (one for backup) and place them on the lake's melting surface. When the clocks fall through, the water preserves the exact moment of victory. Prize money will warm the coldest of hearts: The person with the closest guess wins $2,500, with $10,000 typically donated to local scholarships and charities. To prevent chicanery, the timing device isn't set up until the ice is so unstable "that no sane person will go out," says Robin Theobald, who helped start the fund-raiser about 10 years ago.
  • In Greenville, Maine, residents wager on when the snowmobile will break through Moosehead Lake. Every spring, Henry Gilbert, proprietor of a corner market and pizzeria, sticks a clock on a snowmobile (engine removed) and places the contraption on the ice where he can see it from his window. Then he takes $1 bets on when it will plunge. Passing traffic slows to scrutinize. Others watch the drama on TV, thanks to the local cable company's special Snowmobile Cam. ("You turn your TV on and it's just a snowmobile sitting there," Gilbert reports.) After the machine sinks, Gilbert, a lifelong skier, retrieves it. The winner collects, the excitement subsides, and the town's thoughts turn to fishing.
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