Payson City hosts annual Utah Tree Climbing Championship
Peterson Tree Care, a highly-rated tree service company located in Payson, recently participated in the 27th Annual Utah Tree Climbing Championship held at Memorial Park in Payson Sept. 17-19.
Derek Peterson, the owner of Peterson Tree Care, competed in the championship along with five of his employees: Wade Nielsen, Jake Nielsen, Kylie Kershaw, Matt Reeves and Jason Palmer. Kershaw was one of only four females competing in the event, which included a total of 39 challengers.
This year, the Annual Tree Climbing Championship was supposed to be held during the summer in Salt Lake City. However, COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible to hold the event as originally planned.
Angel Lopez, event head technician and resident of Spanish Fork, explained to me that due to some last-minute juggling by Payson City, Mayor Bill Wright, Scott Bunker and a few other key individuals, the event was moved to Memorial Park in Payson. Lopez expressed his gratitude for those who helped make the event a success.
Participants of the Utah Tree Climbing Championship competed for a chance to win a cash prize, a chainsaw from Stihl, climbing gear from Arbor Master, and the opportunity to compete in national or international tree climbing competitions.
Britt Bingham, a volunteer co-chair with the Utah Community Forest Council, explained to me that the UCFC sponsors the winners in both the men’s and women’s categories and pays for them to go on to the international or national competition, whichever they choose.
The preliminary competition was held on Sept. 18. It involved five different events that challenged competitors in specific ways. The five events included The Work Climb, Aerial Rescue, Belayed Speed Climb, Ascent Event, and Throw Line. Some events focused on climbing speed while others focused on climbing methodology and technique. Safety practices and securing the perimeter of the working area were highly stressed throughout the competition.
Those who passed the preliminary rounds with top scores were privileged to compete in the Master Challenge held on Sept. 19. During the Master Challenge, competitors were required to compete in two of five events. Judges tallied their scores and determined the winners in both the men’s and women’s categories. Ryan Torcicollo was the first-place winner in the men’s category, and Kira Sturgell took home the first-place title in the women’s category. This was her first year competing in the event.
For someone who had never heard of a tree climbing event before, attending the Annual Utah Tree Climbing Championship was eye-opening and educational. I watched as competitors seemed to defy gravity while using specialized equipment and well-honed skills to climb up to 60 feet high in the large trees surrounding Memorial Park. In some cases, the competitors appeared to be walking on air. I had never before seen the methods and equipment employed during the competition. I couldn’t help but think to myself that more people need to see this impressive display of skill shown by tree care providers from all over the state and elsewhere.
Between cheering on his teammates and competing in the event himself, Peterson managed to provide me with some details about his background. He explained that he’s been working with trees since the year 2000 and loves it. His wife, Skylar Peterson, explained that the couple decided to open up Peterson Tree Care on the side in 2008 when the economy crashed. The business has grown since then and became Peterson’s full-time endeavor last year.
Peterson Tree Care serves all of Utah County. The company also occasionally provides tree care services to Heber and Salt Lake, but the majority of its work comes from residents and businesses right here in the valley. Peterson explained, “we’re busiest with just tree trimming, snow removals, and a little bit of planning.” The company also has two big contracts, one with Springville Power and one with Lehi City, so Peterson and his team have plenty of work to keep them busy.
This year marked Peterson’s eighth consecutive year competing in the Annual Utah Tree Climbing Championship. He competes every year for fun, but this year was the first time his employees joined him. He stated that, though his employees were nervous and reluctant to sign up, the experience brought them together as a team and as individuals. To talk them into accepting the challenge, Peterson urged, “this is Payson. It’s local. We gotta defend our turf and compete.”
Jason Palmer, a fellow competitor and employee with Peterson Tree Care, had this to say about the experience: “I’m having a blast. It’s kind of what we do every day, especially the work climb. I think that’s my favorite one.”
Though the competition is certainly challenging, it helps competitors flex muscles they already use in their daily responsibilities. Throughout the competition, it became clear to me that tree service providers face a wide variety of challenges and risks while performing their professional duties each day. (Peterson is a Serve Daily contributor.)