Annual Dillon Ice Melt launch brings together family, friends of founder Don Peterson |

Annual Dillon Ice Melt launch brings together family, friends of founder Don Peterson

Story and photos
by Phil Lindeman
A local looks on as volunteers with Summit County Water Rescue Team take Rotarian Wendy Myers to the middle of Lake Dillon for the annual Dillon Ice Melt device launch in 2015. The device is still on the surface of the lake this season, but experts don't recommend any travel on the lake as ice near the shore begins to fracture.
Phil Lindeman / |

30th annual Dillon Ice Melt

What: A community competition to guess when the Ice Melt device will slip through the ice

Cost: $5 for one ticket, $20 for five, $100 for 30

The Dillon Ice Melt is an annual fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Summit County. Buy tickets at the event or from a Rotarian before April 19. Multiple entries are allowed. To submit a guess online or find out more, see

For 29 years, Jane Peterson and her daughter never braved the ice on Lake Dillon in late March.

Until yesterday.

On the 30th anniversary of the Dillon Ice Melt — an annual Rotary Club tradition founded by Peterson’s husband, Don — she and her daughter tentatively stepped into a hovercraft piloted by a Summit County Water Rescue volunteer.

The craft slowly, slowly made its way from the shore to a swath of snowy ice not far from the Dillon Marina dock, crossing small cracks and even an exposed patch of glassy, half-slushy lake water.

And then the pilot gave the two the ride of their lives. He gunned the hovercraft engine two or three times, spinning the longtime locals in loopy circles before heading back to the safety of dry land. From the dock, a group of about 30 spectators clapped and cheered, snapping photos as the event founder’s family gratefully stepped out of the hovercraft.

“Dad didn’t let us go out on the water,” said Peterson’s daughter, Lyn Peterson Philips, shortly before one of the Rotarians convinced her to board the craft with mom. “But he took my husband once. God, he was scared to death.”

But Peterson and Peterson Philips were willing to brave the slushy ice, if only for a few seconds. Don Peterson died two years ago, and to celebrate the landmark anniversary of her husband’s event, his wife and daughter were willing to try something they had no interest in before. The two shakily exited the craft wearing big smiles of relief.

“Words don’t even describe how this makes you feel,” Peterson Philips said back on the shore. “There are certain things that give you a special feeling in life, and this event is one of them. Today is one of them.”


Peterson and Peterson Philips’ joy ride came shortly after Rotarian Wendy Myers, was zoomed out onto the lake by a volunteer to position the Ice Melt device, a bright orange barrel with an attached clock and Christmas lights.

From now until it breaks through the surface — hopefully sometime after April 19, the final day of the season — hundreds of locals will keep an eye on the barrel, waiting for the exact millisecond it disappears. After all, that’s the point of the fundraiser: Community members buy tickets for $5 apiece to guess the exact time, date and water temperature when the device falls through. The closest guess wins $4,000, with $2,000 and $1,000 for the runners up.

As Myers unloaded the craft — before returning, she had sat on the ice with a rescue volunteer for 15 or 20 minutes — the audience on the deck cheered and snapped photos again.

“Oh, it was beautiful out there,” Myers said when she returned, clad in a bright-yellow wet suit and diamond-studded tiara. “It’s a different perspective, especially from last year.”

As a Summit County tradition, the device launch happens in all weather conditions, including last year’s raging blizzard.

Luckily, Saturday’s launch was the polar opposite: bluebird skies and nearly 60 degrees, with a touch of a breeze. One Rotarian was selling Ice Melt tickets on the dock, and as he walked through the fray, veteran guessers started talking about how tricky it will be to actually win $4,000 this year. Will the ice hold out until April? Will we get a cold snap? Will the device fall through tomorrow? The next day?

“People have such interesting theories about how this will happen,” Rotarian and Ice Melt chairwoman Diane Monaghan said. “Lots of people like to wait for the last minute, but that might not be the best strategy this year. I think people believe if they wait for the last minute they’ll have a better guess. There can be a lot of precision that goes into making a guess with this.”

No matter the strategies and superstitions, the Ice Melt again comes back to tradition. Take the device sitting in the center of the lake: It’s the same one built by Peterson’s husband in the early ’80s.

“He was always tinkering in the house,” Peterson Philips remembers. “Back in the day, his CB (radio) handle was ‘Gadget Man.’ He loved to engineer and fiddle with things, find out how they work.”

The device may be the same, but the event itself has grown by leaps and bounds over the past three decades. Between 5,000 and 6,000 people buy tickets every year, and it has become one of the club’s leading fundraisers.

Peterson Philips remembers the first few years when a helicopter, not a hovercraft, was responsible for dropping the barrel and all-important clock on the lake’s surface.

She and her mom once had dozens of photos from the early days of event, back before it became a beloved kiss-off to the winter season, but they were destroyed in a house fire several years ago.

Yet the tradition is stronger than ever, just like their business, Summit Gold Jewelry in Frisco, which celebrates 28 years in business this year. And today, Don and Jane Peterson would have celebrated their 58th wedding anniversary. Forty-four of those years were spent in Summit County.

“He would love this today,” Peterson said as spectators started to leave. “He really would.”

“He’s here,” Peterson Philips said. “He’s here.”

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