A day in the trees with Chris Burandt. Its been a dream of mine for quite some time now and it finally became full-filled this past week. He has been my favorite pro rider ever since I can remember, from watching him rip a Cutler 1000 big bore in “Mountain Mod Mania” to wearing out DVD’s of “Schooled” to pick up every little riding trick I could. In the videos he makes everything look so effortless and I would learn that it would be no different watching him ride live in person.
The day of the ride I left Fort Collins early and worked my way to his neck of the woods. On the drive up I was thinking about alot. Doing some math in my head I figured Chris had probably 100 days or so in on the snow already and that didnt include his month in Chile in August. Figured he has to be sick of riding, at least a little bit, wondered if I would be able to pick up on that at all during the day. I wondered how I would be able to keep up, if I would get pushed to hard and pile my sled into a tree. Wondered where the best breakfast burrito stop on the route is?
I pull into Burandt’s compound, followed the the guest check in signs, open the door and am greeted with the site of his 2 mod sleds up front and 15 or so Polaris Axys spread throughout his massive shop.
So many fun things to look at.
His crazy turbo mod.
Chris immediately spots me and comes over to introduce himself with a smile on his face. We shake hands, he asks how I’m doing, am i excited, what sled am I riding… So on and so forth.
A few minutes go by and he rounds up the riding group for the day. He goes over a few quick safety things, does a quick 5 minute “ride clinic” in the shop, going over a few basic ride techniques and things to do & not to do on the mountain. Chase Bunting, one of Chris’s guides would also be riding with us for the day. Chris and Chase made the point you get out what you put into the ride. If you want to leave being able to ride new areas you never thought you could ride before then ask them questions, listen to them and (safely) push yourself. If you want to just go out and ride around with Chris for a bit, that is fine too. Its up to you.
We loaded up, headed to the trail head and geared up in Chris’s trailer.
From there we took off down the trail a few miles till we jumped off and into the trees. The first hour or so of the day is Chris assessing his riding group so he can judge just how gnarly of terrain he will ride for the day. Our group size was about 8 including guides Chris & Chase. One rider was experiencing mountain riding for the first time and it became clear very quick that he had to learn the basics. Chris made the decision to split the group up, the new mountain rider would go with Chase and work on the basics of mountain riding for the day while the other 5 of us would go with Chris.
We rode a few more tree lines with Chris still assessing the group. Decision was then made to crest an alpine ridge and drop into a basin Chris had not been down into yet this year.
It was pretty sketchy traversing hard, icy, wind blown snow on a angle to access the zone. My comfort zone was already being pushed. Keep in mind pictures never do justice to the terrain.
We all make it down, Chris asks if we’re pissed at him yet. While I think we were all a little sketched out and happy to not have lost and totaled our sleds down the hill, we all say were good. Chris takes off and as we follow he pulls a line up a hill through some trees, I immediately say to myself “fuck that”. I decided to go to the right instead and take the less steep/less treed route to the top of the hill. Did I mention yet Chris was riding a stock sled this day and not one of his mods?
After checking out this treed slope for a bit, I decide to pull a line up through, see how well I can hang. Its steeper than areas I generally ride but with the snow being more setup you got plenty of traction up hill, but coming down is where the skill comes in. So I pull a line, climb aways, go into a sidehill, hit a steep section and somewhat get stuck in a sidehill right above a old dead tree. Im trying to pick my safest line down as Chris comes sidehilling over to me and helps me situate my sled and pick the best line down. He parked a bit below me, I believe he told me “feel to run into my sled to slow ya down if need be” haha. I safely make it down, but from there realize I need to be smarter about picking my lines so I don’t end up totaling my sled out today.
From there we find the rest of the group and help another guy get unstuck. Here you can see Chris coming in to lend a hand.
Chris riding the sled out.
We ride another 1/8th mile down the valley. Chris shoots off into the trees again we all do our best to follow.
Playing follow the leader in the trees with Chris Burandt. How could it get any better?
Thumbs up for the camera while eyeing his next move.
The group I was in could ride. I would put us all very close to the same skill level. Made for a very fun day.
Terrain we were in was great, but we stuck to the trees. Chris makes it a point to do this as he says if you screw up in the trees you realize it, get stuck and learn from it. If your out riding open terrain all day you can make a mistake, turn down hill and not think/realize what you did wrong. Therefore you dont learn from it.
Did I mention we rode trees?
We take lunch, rest and shoot the shit for a bit.
Riding with Chris you quickly realize the difference between an amateur who thinks there good and can hang (me) and a professional who has so much natural skill and does it for a living. I got humbled real quick. Throughout the day there was ~10-15 times were Chris would pull a line and I would think “hell no”, I can’t and am not doing that. He never seems to have to work for anything, his riding is so smooth and even at 12k ft elevation he is never outta breath.
After lunch we keep hitting it hard.
I pull a line to the top, well almost to the top. Later get the nickname 9/10ths, cause I made it 9/10ths of the way up.
Radio over to Chris I need a hand. Sooner than later he shows up to help me out.
A ski pull or 2 later I crest the ridge and enjoy the view up top.
Some of the crew is up top taking in the view with me.
We head down to the bottom of the valley to meet up with Chris as he has already taken off. I don’t think Chris is fan of taking breaks, as soon as the group gets back together he is always the first one pulling the rope and getting moving.
We go up the valley a little more and pull some more tree lines.
Thumbs up all around
At somepoint through the day I end up pulling maybe the best line of my life to the top of a ridge. Chris follows me up, high fives me. Im thinking does life get any better! So much fun being around a snowmobile idol of yours for the day, talking about lines together, radioing back and forth etc. Anyway…
After topping out on the ridge, I looked back at the last little bit of my line.
Once outta the trees the last little bit of the climb is a rock hard, windblown, steep ass drift. Following Chris we decide to take a different route down it. He leads and goes down the drift, I poke my head over the edge of the drift and look where he went and have another “oh hell no” moment. I barely see Chris’s tracks so I know the snow is rock hard and controlling my speed down in the trees seemed impossible. I quickly look around and see no other nearby route down that looks any easier. So I lay the sled over, start descending on 1 ski and speed picks up quickly. I loose my edge and am now on both skis again. I am now uncontrollably descending the hill knowing this isnt going to end well. With everything I have I rip the sled over onto its side (back on 1 ski again) and brace for impact as I am heading straight for some trees. I nail a dead tree straight on with my bumper, the top half of the tree breaks off from impact. Expecting the worse, I am pleased to give my sled a quick look over and see no damage.
Giving credit where it is due, a friend Tony Ryan makes the bumper I have on my XM, it is spring loaded and will “give” a bit upon impact. It very likely saved my sled from damage here.
Looking back up at where I descended down and lost control.
As Chris came to help me, I would later find out he tried to radio to me to abort the descend and find another way down, as he “struggled” not running into anything as well. However the preset on his BCA radio got bumped and switched so I never got the message. However, no damage done so all was good!
We rode more. At this point I was so exhausted from Chris kicking my ass all day I was ready to head it home. But I spent my $ and wasnt going to sit anything out. Meanwhile, still having not seen Chris breath heavily at all he was still ripping through trees helping others and doing what he does best.
A short while later we did call it a day, headed back, loaded up and headed home.
Overall it was an incredible experience for me. As I am semi local, I drove up just for the day, rode my own sled and drove home that night. For the experience, tax and everything included cost me ~480$ for the day. I am not sponsored, do not get anything for free, am not rich and I will say it was totally worth the $ for me. Chris made the point that he wants you to look at riding areas differently after you ride with him. Mission accomplished for me. While it truly was an ass-kicking, riding steep heavily treed areas all day with the best backcountry rider in the world cheering you on made me push myself and made me a better rider. On top of that it was just cool to be riding with my favorite pro rider.
If you want to get your ass kicked and see what real tree riding is all about call Chris up and have him take you out!
Here is a little go-pro clip of one of my tree pulls with Chris, with a few breathing breaks edited out! Thanks for Reading! Like us on FB. https://www.facebook.com/sledsmoke/