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Woodsmen, Don't Spare That Tree
A sport that keeps traditional lumberjack skills alive

By Kurt Mullen '94
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To win points for the UNH Woodsmen team, Katie Noyes '12 and her partner had to paddle across a reservoir in a canoe and build a fire on the other side. But their canoe tipped over and they both landed in the water, their firewood bobbing nearby. "We have a really great picture of it," says Noyes, a psychology major who is quick to laugh at herself. "My face is half underwater."

That was her freshman year, only weeks after she joined the university's team of axe throwers, wood choppers and log rollers—a team with an almost 50-year history at UNH. Their goal is to keep alive traditional skills that were once used to cut timber and get it to the mill.

In woodsmen competitions, strength is a factor, but there's also a right way to chop a block of aspen, to chainsaw a fallen oak and to heave lengths of white pine into the air, and coach A.J. Dupere '97, '03G and his two assistants break it down to the proper technique for the students.

UNH placed in the top three in many events last year. Competition is part of the attraction to students like Trevor Beaudry '11, a dairy management major, who can chop through an 8-inchby- 8-inch white-pine block in 20 seconds. But lumberjacking, he says, can also help soothe the soul: "It's a great stress reliever to go out and hit something as hard as you can with an axe."

With so many sharp tools around, safety awareness is key. So is protection. For chopping events, team members wear aluminum guards and chain mail on their legs and feet, and protection for their eyes. "They look like the Tin Man from the 'Wizard of Oz,'" says Dupere. Serious injuries are very rare, says Dupere, who has been with the team for nearly 20 years, beginning as a student and team member.

The group fields men's, women's and coed teams. Most years there are twice as many men as women; this year 10 of the 30 members are women. Noyes says it's just flat-out fun to be a part of the team, and she says as a result of her "klutziness" she has a growing number of funny stories to tell.

Take the day she was practicing the "fire build." In this event, participants light a fire and bring a can of soapy water to boil. Noyes was careful to blow on the embers, not the flames. To do that, she says, "I got really close." Then, deep in focus, she bent over a little too close. One moment she had bangs. Then she didn't. After practice she had an astronomy lab, and her lab mates sniffed her out. "Everyone was like, 'What is that smell?'" she says.

"[The Woodsmen team] is not the most serious competition" at UNH, says Noyes. "But sometimes it's fun to just put yourself out there. I mean, why not just go for it all the way?"

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