A Cut Above the Rest

By Beacon Staff

To an outsider, it seemed like a dangerous endeavor. But to the members of the Flathead Valley Community College logger sports team, running up and down narrow logs while using chainsaws is merely practice.

Schon Long and Jess Aikin-Wolfe battled last Thursday’s particularly blustery conditions as well as gravity, keeping balance to rip the cord on the chainsaws, bringing the machines to life in order to slice a thin piece of wood at the end of the log.

Once the cutting was complete, they ran back down the logs as they shut off the chainsaws, and hurried to tap the section of log they had just cut.

The teammates were practicing the obstacle pole buck event in preparation for FVCC’s upcoming Stumpjumper Days, and the entire run from start to finish took about 20 seconds, though both Long and Aikin-Wolfe hoped to improve their times for the competition.

Stumpjumper Days, which takes place on Saturday, April 20, is a long-held tradition at FVCC. The college has hosted the event on campus since 1972, and the logger sports team started competing nationally in 1984.

In the nearly 30 years since, FVCC’s team has placed first 14 times at the Association of Western Forestry Clubs Conclave, which happens to be the largest logger sports competition in the Northwest and includes all logging teams in the western United States.

This makes them national champions, a title they’ve held for the last two years. And the dominance isn’t slight: FVCC outscored the second-place team at last year’s national championship by 116 points, with 16 of the team’s 20 members placing in events.

Meeting the members of the current logger sports team, though, there’s neither a hint of arrogance nor the appearance of resting on laurels.

The team bustled around the logger sports arena during practice, swinging and throwing axes, bucking logs, climbing 35- and 50-foot vertical poles, and preparing for the upcoming event.

Team co-captains Luke Stahlberg and Austin Styler said the events are based on logging’s rich traditions, which run deep in the Flathead Valley. In the past, members of the logger sports team typically studied forestry or were directly involved in the logging trade in the valley, Stahlberg said.

However, now that logging is not the economic powerhouse it once was in the Flathead, Stahlberg said the team sees fewer members with distinct logging backgrounds. But the sports help keep the heritage firmly in place, he said.
“It’s keeping traditions alive,” Stahlberg said.

Both Stahlberg and Styler said they have logging in their family histories, and both have been on the team for three years. Stahlberg majors in microbiology, and Styler is focused on civil engineering. They said they like to compete because it’s fun, and it’s also one of the few clubs that provide tuition scholarships for FVCC students.

Their team, which is coached by Annie and Bob Beall, is diverse, the co-captains noted, and that only enhances the experience.

“It’s a wide variety of kids of all backgrounds,” Styler said.

And while winning national championships is fun, both co-captains said it is even more enjoyable to watch their teammates progress and grow. Some have never used a chainsaw before they join the team, Stahlberg said, but by the end of the season they’re treating the logging tools as familiarly as appendages.

After sprinting up the log and starting his chainsaw, Schon Long cuts through a small log while practicing the obstacle pole buck. – Lido Vizzutti | Flathead Beacon

“We all started from ground zero anyway,” Stahlberg said.

And the logger sports community is small, they said. FVCC regularly competes against larger schools such as Oregon State University, Humboldt State University, Cal Poly, Northern Arizona University, University of Montana, and Colorado State University, but the competition is friendly.

“All I’ve met is good people,” Styler said.

FVCC has a decided advantage over many of the larger schools when it comes to equipment, the co-captains said. When FVCC wins an event or a championship, a nice saw or axe is typically rewarded.

So because they’ve dominated for so long, they’ve got an arsenal of sharp, solid tools at their disposal. They have no qualms about sharing their bounty, Styler said, and typically loan out pieces of equipment to other teams.

“We’ve got beat by our own saw before,” he said.

After Stumpjumper Days, the team will head to Missoula for the conclave on April 23-27, followed by a trip to compete in Moscow, Idaho.

Stumpjumper Days is free and open to the public, and will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The arena is located on the first road north of campus and east of Hutton Ranch Plaza on U.S. Highway 93.

For more information on the FVCC logger sports team, visit www.fvcc.edu/current-students/student-life/logger-sports.html.

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