Prairie tree climbers compete for top spot in the west

Saskatoon's Ashworth Holmes Park is hosting the 22nd annual Prairie Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture's Tree Climbing Championship this weekend.

Twenty-five arborists from Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba are competing in Saskatoon

First time Prairie Chapter Tree Climbing Championship competitor Kali Alcorn poses next to the 'work climb' station, moments before competing on Saturday. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

The best tree climbers in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta are competing this weekend at Saskatoon's Ashworth Holmes Park.

This is the second time in 22 years that the city has hosted the annual Prairie Tree Climbing Championship for the Prairie Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture —​ a professional group of people who work primarily with trees.

"There is a high degree of adrenaline here," said ​Gerard Fournier, Chair of the Prairie Chapter Tree Climbing Competition. 

Fournier is a certified Master Arborist who works as a journeyman landscape gardener and as the acting president at For Trees tree company in Alberta. He is one of the senior arborists who oversees this weekend's competition.

Not for the faint of heart

Fournier explained that while a basic love of nature is needed to be in the industry, it is not for the faint of heart.

"People who are arborists tend to thrive on, you know, dangerous situations and high-stakes, risky occupations," said Fournier.

Known fondly by some as "tree surgeons" arborists study the management, cultivation, distribution and characteristics of tree life across Canada and the world.

Kali Alcorn is one of two female arborists competing in the weekend's challenges. Alcorn got her start climbing while working for Fournier at For Trees.

"I just fell in love with climbing, and it keeps you fit, and it is so fun," Alcorn said.

Alcorn admitted the thrill of being up high in a tree with a job to do is what drew her to the intensive profession.

 "I don't know what it is, I just love chainsaws. I don't like cutting trees all the time ... but I would rather see a tree pruned than removed."

More than two-dozen arboriculturists, more commonly known as arborists, from across the three provinces have come to Saskatoon for the event.

This weekend, the tree climbing competition has the contestants testing their skills in:

  • Work climb: Contestants climb to five stations in a tree, performing a different task at each station.
  • Aerial rescue: Contestants reach and safely lower an injured climber (actually a life-sized mannequin).

  • Throwline: Tests contestants' ability to accurately place lines 9 to 18 metres up in a tree.

  • Belayed speed climb: Contestants ascend a predetermined route from the ground to about 18 metres.

  • Secured Footlock: Measures climber's ability to perform 12 to 15 metre vertical ascent using double-climbing line.​

On Sunday the Master's Challenge will begin where the top arborists from the weekend square off for the best male and female ranking.

The two highest ranking arborists to leave the competition will make their way to Orlando, Florida, next year to compete against the world's best climbers.