LEHI — When it comes to the professional lumberjack world, Jason Wynyard knows a thing or two about wood chopping.

Wynyard has won more than 100 championships in New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. Since joining the STIHL Timbersports Series in 1996, he has won seven U.S. national titles and claimed a world championship in 2006.

In that time, Wynyard has seen how much the competition, and the series itself, has grown — making it harder than ever to reign among lumberjacks.

"On a world scale with wood chopping competitions, it's the biggest event there is," Wynyard said. "It's always a challenge and always a pleasure to come over and compete."

Since ESPN started airing the STIHL Timbersports Series in 1985, timbersports competitions have steadily increased both nationally and worldwide. Eighteen countries stage their own timbersports series. International expansion, in turn, led STIHL to stage world championships for the first time in 2005.

For the 2007 World Championships, challengers were drawn from 15 countries — many of which had no official timbersports competitions a decade ago.

The sport's growth lies in its appeal to outdoor enthusiasts. Many competitors in the series are second- and third-generation lumberjacks.

"I guess it's just like a drug," three-time STIHL champion David Bolstad said. "You get addicted to it. You have that much money invested in your equipment and time over here that it's hard to stop."

Efforts to expand the sport led to forming a collegiate series four years ago. Currently 52 colleges compete nationwide in five conclaves and the college series champion earns a berth into the pro series for the following season.

The collegiate series has also grown into a staple of ESPN programming with ESPNU broadcasting it since its inception.

The 23-year relationship between ESPN and STIHL benefits both sides. For ESPN, it is an inexpensive programming option because STIHL underwrites many costs associated with staging its timbersports series. And STIHL gets valuable promotion of a sport that would be virtually unknown without ESPN.

"It's always been a great relationship," said Roger Phelps, Promotional Communications Manager for the STIHL Timbersports Series. "ESPN sees this as kind of a unique niche sporting event."

Drawing the series to Utah became a goal of the Utah Sports Commission because of the national exposure and the economic impact it would create.

The two-day competition will air on ESPN2 in four separate segments starting in November. In addition, ESPN Outdoors featured a live stream broadcast on its Web site on both Friday and Saturday.

All of it adds up to millions of dollars in media value because it gives Utah a venue to showcase its appeal to outdoors enthusiasts nationwide.

"(The series is) fairly consistent with Utah and our image as an outdoor recreation state," Utah Sports Commission President Jeff Robbins said.

The Utah Sports Commission put in a joint bid with the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau, splitting event and lodging costs, to improve chances of landing the series. A site visit to Thanksgiving Point sealed the deal because it fit what STIHL officials wanted.

"We were looking for new venues," Phelps said. "We were looking for venues that have a good tradition in outdoor sports. Beautiful venues that look good on TV."

The series is scheduled to remain at Thanksgiving Point through 2009. And those who brought it to Utah hope this will become a catalyst to draw in more high-profile sporting events.

"You prove yourself with a successful event like this and there will be others lining up to come in," said Joel Racker, President and CEO of the Utah Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau.


E-mail: jcoon@desnews.com