KAMAS — As yet more evidence that man is capable of turning just about anything into a competition, meet Ryan Torcicollo, tree climbing champion.
Last month, Ryan, 28, placed second in the world in speed climbing at the International Tree Climbing Championships in San Antonio — a competition he qualified for by virtue of winning the Utah Tree Climbing Championships last summer in Ogden.
The sport of tree climbing, as you’ve no doubt guessed, involves climbing trees; but it’s not just how fast. Besides speed, you’re also scored on style, safety and technique. Think figure skating with a chain saw.
There are five categories: aerial rescue, work climb, secured footlock, belayed speed climb and throwline.
Ryan was crowned Utah champion in 2015 by virtue of being the best at all five combined.
So how does one go about training for such a sport?
Ryan just grins.
“Go to work,” he says.
• • •
He started out competing as a rock climber as a teenager back in New Jersey, where Ryan grew up in the town of Westfield, a suburb of Newark. His father, Peter, was an attorney; his mother, Paula, a homemaker. He has a younger sister, Jamie, who is finishing up her master’s degree in speech pathology in New York.
Ryan gave college a go in New Hampshire, but he liked working with trees better. He started working for a tree service company in New Jersey when he was 19. One of his co-workers was a six-time world tree-climbing champion. He talked Ryan into entering the New Jersey competition. He placed 22nd out of 60 in a sport he didn’t previously even know existed.
He’s been competing off and on ever since, although more off than on because the sponsor of the competitions, the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), holds just one championship per year in each of its 20 chapters in the U.S. and more than 30 chapters and associate organizations around the world.
Chapter winners qualify for the international meet, which rotates from state to state and country to country.
At most, that's two meets a year.
Mostly, Ryan climbs trees for a living. It’s what he did in New Jersey, what he did in Colorado, and what he’s done since coming to Utah three years ago.
He rented a room in the little town of Francis in the Kamas Valley, and, thanks to his experience in trimming and tree removal, immediately got a job with the Great Western Timber Company, a tree-pruning and removal business headquartered in Kamas. Last year he bought out the owners and changed the name to Wasatch Arborists (www.wasatcharborists.com).
He prunes and removes trees in the warm weather months. In the winter he does snow removal part of the time, and gives his snowboard a workout the rest of the time. (It was family snowboarding vacations as a kid that lured him to Utah in the first place.)
The secret to getting good at climbing trees, according to Ryan, is there is no secret.
“Just do it eight hours a day and you figure it out,” he says. “Mostly you learn what not to do.”
Ryan takes a laid-back approach to tree climbing as a sport. He has no special diet, no structured exercises, no weightlifting, no coaches, definitely no running.
“Every day at work’s a workout,” he says. He enters the competitive events, he explains, “because it’s fun more than anything. It’s one of the few competitions you’ll see where your competition cheers you on. There’s not a bunch of egos involved.”
He finished third at the Utah Tree Climbing Championship in 2013 and 2014 before breaking through with last year’s victory, winning a new chain saw, some other gear, and $1,000 in expenses to get to the international meet in Texas as Utah’s champion.
He’ll have a chance to defend his championship on June 3-4 when the Utah ISA chapter will host the 2016 Utah Tree Climbing Championship at Robinson Park in American Fork (for details, see utahurbanforest.org).
It’s the one day of the year Utah’s tree climbers get to get together and show off.
Or, as Ryan Torcicollo might put it, just another day at the office.
Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays.
Email: [email protected]