Bringing Back the Sierra Timberfest

By Emily Compton

Although the formal history of lumberjack sports and woodchopping competitions is spread out and often inconsistent across sources and countries, all can agree the competitions have a rich history dating back to the mid-1800s.


Alan Lloyd, in the foreground, of Reno, Nevada, and Zelenskyy Sandburg, of Corvallis, Oregon, square off in the choker race. Photo by Jack Lipkin.

Lumberjack games go back as far as the mid-1800s in the United States as well as other countries including the Basque region of Spain and Australia. In North America, before the age of mechanized timber harvesting, lumberjacks would stay in logging camps all week cutting and hauling timber. Eventually, competitions began among the lumberjacks to determine who was best at each endeavor, from bucking trees to crosscut saws.

As gold mining in the Sierra Nevada’s began to slow, Loyalton’s logging industry also declined in the early 1900s, with a decline in timber demands due to mines closing. However, the timber industry continued to be an important aspect of Loyalton’s economy and culture and still is today.

Sierra Timberfest, an American Lumberjack Association-sanctioned competition, began in the 1980s when the mill in Loyalton was still running. When the mill closed in 2000, the event stopped happening, too.

Jack and Jill teams get ready for the race to start. Photo by Jack Lipkin.

So, what is a lumberjack competition? Essentially, it is a contest with events primarily inspired by skills essential to lumberjacks and logging. The contestants showcase their skills with tools such as axes and chainsaws, as well as their abilities with climbing, agility, speed and balance. Today, you are likely to find these competitions as their own free-standing events, on college campuses, at festivals and on T.V. The sport has gained popularity, especially among college students and female athletes. At the 2022

Annual Collegiate Logging Competition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, teams from more than 12 schools participated in the competition.

Sierra Timberfest Today

David Moses Jr. of Snqualami, Washington and announcer Chrissy Ramsey discussing how David’s event went. Chrissy not only announces but is a multigenerational competitor and has represented
the US in Australia. Photo by Jack Lipkin

Fast forward to 2022, and Terry LeBlanc, one of the original organizers of the Sierra Timberfest in the 80s and 90s, organized an effort to bring back the event—and succeeded. Last year was the first year back for the event. It drew 24 competitors.

The Sierra Timberfest event is held in downtown Loyalton, typically in early May, with the vacant lot across from Leonard’s as the home of wooden platform “deck” where the competition happens. This deck acts as a stage for the athletes to compete.

Close to 40 athletes from all over the Western U.S. competed at this year’s event. A Canadian athlete also made the trip down to compete, and 13 of the competitors were women.

Although anyone is welcome to participate, the athletes who participate in the event train and prepare for these events year-round. Most of them have full-time jobs as teachers, firefighters, veterinarians and more.

This year, there was a locals event on the first day of the 2-day fest. Eight local athletes competed, and the top four competitors moved on to the Saturday competition.

From left to right, Andrea Hand, Erin Cramsey, Kate Page and Jessica Karraker compete in the womens underhand chop. Photo by Jack Lipkin

Forester Wes Palmer, a Sierra Timberfest competitor and Westwood resident, got his start in timber sports in college when he attended Humbolt State University. He has traveled as far as Pennsylvania to compete but mostly attends events on the West Coast.

Wes plays a pivotal role in the planning of the Sierra Timberfest Event and the execution of the weekend as a whole, with the help of announcer Chrissy Ramsey (a 3rd generation competitor, announcer and logging show organizer) and the Sierra Timberfest volunteers. With the help of fellow competitors and event sponsors, he collected and transported all the competition wood for the event. Wood quality is important so that there is as much consistency across competitors as possible.


  • Single Buck: In this event, competitors use modified peg and raker racing saws. This ranks high as one of the toughest disciplines in the sport, especially in larger diameter wood.
  • Double Buck: 2 competitors use a modified peg and raker saw to cut through up to 24 inches of wood.
  • Jack and Jill Crosscut: A male and female competitor pick up the modified peg and raker saw to cut through up to 24 inches of wood.
  • Underhand Chop: Competitors use specialized racing axes to chop through 14 inches of wood below their feet.
  • Springboard Chop: Competitors use their racing axes to chop pockets into a standing pole. They then use “springboards” to place in the pockets where they will stand on them to complete a vertical chop 9 feet in the air.
  • Stock Saw: Competitors use stock STIHL MS 660 chainsaws to cut through 2 cuts of 16-inch diameter wood. This technique can make or break this race.
  • Hot Saw: Competitors take a snowmobile or motorcycle motor and craft it into a big chainsaw. Saws range from 250 cc up to 350 cc, making three cuts.
  • Axe Throw: Competitors throw double bit axes at targets from 20 feet away. Bullseyes are worth 5 points down to one point for the outer ring on the target.
  • Obstacle Pole: Competitors use both speed and agility to run up an inclined pole (6 to 10 inches in diameter) around 6 feet off the ground. They then use modified chainsaws to remove a wood disc before racing back to the bottom.
  • Choker Race: Competitors run a foot race over log obstacles carrying a choker and set the choker around a log at the end of the course for the fastest time.

Definitions provided by Sierra Timberfest

Looking Forward

The Sierra Timberfest is a 501(c)(3) organization and awards scholarships to local students going into timber- related trades or fields of study such as forestry, agriculture, biology, mechanical engineering, diesel mechanic school and more. As part of its mission, the organization hosts the fest and provides education about the timber industry at local events.

The event is funded entirely by sponsorships and donations—as well as T-shirts and hat sales—but the organization also relies heavily on volunteers. There were more than 60 volunteers who helped make Sierra Timberfest possible. If you are interested in getting involved or making a monetary donation, email Sierra Timberfest.

Next year’s event is tentatively scheduled for May 3 and 4, 2024.

For more information, visit the Sierra Timberfest website, email Sierra Timberfest or find the organization on Facebook at @Sierra Timberfest and Instagram at @sierratimberfest.