Day in the Trees with Burandt – From Doo to Polaris

There I was in the early morning, driving to go ride with Chris Burandt again.  It was about a year earlier when I rode with him for the first time.  Driving up I-70 I was wondering how I would be able to hang this year, so much has changed from the past year, I couldn’t wait to get out and test my skills.  Riding with Chris last year lit a fire under my ass to become better, I realized what was possible on a stock snowmobile and came into the 2017/2018 winter with a goal to push it in the trees and become a better rider.

Since last year, I sold my 2016 Skidoo XM T-3 154″ and picked up a low mile, base model 2016 Axys RMK 163″.  At this point I’ve heard it all from my friends, “one ride with Burandt and you go buy yourself a Polaris, he must be one hell of a salesman”, “oh Tom you know Chris has this and this on his sled, you should probably get that too…”  Here is the truth of the matter, Chris did not convince me to buy a Polaris.  I went in last year expecting to get my ass kicked by him and for him to talk up the Axys and talk down my Doo, he didn’t talk down my Doo by the way. It was the other riders in the group who convinced me to try a Polaris and they didn’t say one word to me about it, I just watched them ride.  There was one steep, tree-infested hillside we rode last year where I pulled a sidehill and for the life of me could not get the front end of my sled to stay down.  I was as forward as possible on the sled and the back end still washed out slightly and left me stuck.  Then one of Chris’s other clients, a ~18yr old kid, sidehilled right over to me like it was nothing.  He parked his sled at the perfect angle on hill (pointed slightly downwards), helped me get unstuck and then drove off.  At this point we have been riding for a few hours and I would put him and I at the same riding skill level (he definitely wasn’t better), but he was sidehilling slopes that I could not on XM.  I realized pretty quick the fat sidepanels on the XM were limiting me.  Once late spring hit, I put my Doo up for sale, sold it and found a killer deal on a 2016 Axys 163.

Fast forward to this year, I pull up to Chris’s shop in the morning and now I feel like a seasoned pro.  Having been there last year, I knew what to expect, where to go and my nerves were a bit less than last year.  I walk into the shop to find Chris running around getting ready for the day.

 

He notices me, comes over shakes and my hand, asks if I am ready for the day and how I am liking my sled.  We talk for a few minutes and then he gets back to running around getting everything ready, so I check out the sleds in his shop.

 

His personal turbo

 

And the new Polaris 850

 

I was hoping I would get to ride the 850, turns out I would.  More on that later.

The group gathered up and Chris did his quick 10 minute riders clinic in the shop.

 

From there we all headed out to the trail-head.  We were told we would ride out of St. Elmo, being vaguely familiar with the area I knew this was a different trailhead vs the one we rode out of last year, this got me excited as I love riding completely new areas.

Got to the trail-head, geared up, rode 6 miles of bumpy ass trail and quickly re-grouped with everybody.

 

Today there was going to be two different groups.  Chris was leading a group and Chase Bunting, Chris’s other guide, was leading a 2nd group.  Each group has a lead guide, a sweep guide and ~4 clients.  So 6 to a group including Chris, his sweep guide and the clients.

From there we headed up a creek with Chris leading. The next hour or so of riding is him evaluating the group making sure he can take people where he wants to take them and not lead anybody into a bad situation.

Here is a question I hear a lot about riding with Chris, “What if I’m a good rider and I get stuck in a group of shitty riders, I dont want to pay all that $ and only end up riding and sitting in open meadows all day?”

My answer is dont worry about it, it will not happen.  Last year the group I was in had a guy who was a ditch banger from the plains who never rode mountains before.  It became quickly apparent he could not hang.  Chris made the quick decision that he would go with the sweep guide all day and they would work on mountain riding basics, meanwhile he took the rest of the group into the steep and deep.  This year there was a some riders in our group that had experience in the mountains, but were still tree riding beginners and needed to get the basics of mountain riding down.  Chris gave them great instruction, but I still got more than my far share of chasing Chris through the gnarliest of terrain and getting stuck.  Long story short, I did not feel short changed at all.  More on that later as well.

Back to riding – Chris takes us up a climb to the top of a ridge, pushing around 12,700ft if I had to guess.

 

Skies were clear and the scenery was unreal.  The Sawatch Range, home to many of Colorado’s 14,000ft peaks, is an impressive mountain range.

As we dropped down into the next basin over I notice a huge patch of trees on a steep hillside across the valley.  I instantly think to myself “5 bucks says we go ride those trees”.  Sure enough we do.

Chris shoots into the trees and starts pulling a line.  I’m hot on his tail thinking to myself this year is different, my confidence is at all time high, I feel good on my sled, I’m going to show him what I can do.  The hill starts out shallow and I can see it gradually gets steeper, I weave left and right by the trees, do a few nifty moves and then STUCK.  Found out quick the snow in the trees has a somewhat tough top layer and bottomless sugar as the base, aka not the easiest snow to ride in.  Either or, Chris managed to pull a nice line, not get stuck and then come help me get unstuck.  Here he is coming back around to help me out.

 

From there it was Chris, myself and another rider all together up in the trees.  We were missing about the half the group so we went back down to the bottom of the hill to find them.   We found the rest of the group down at the bottom of the hill, mostly stuck, with Chris’s sweep guide helping them get unstuck and lending riding advice.

Chris, feeling it was needed, found a small open hill and gave the group some riding instructions

 

It’s amazing how quick Chris and his guides can pick up on what riders are doing wrong.  He quickly and constantly will shout out instructions when he feels they are needed.  “Eyes up” and “finger on the break” can be heard being shouted quite often throughout the day.

After a ~30 min clinic session, we continued down the valley and pulled more tree lines.  All day I was so determined to match Chris’s riding, while I felt like I was twice the rider I was last year, I was still getting out rode all day.  I pulled this one line I was quite proud off, made it to the top of the mountain and was all by myself.  I shut my sled off, caught my breath and didn’t hear anybody so I started heading down hill slowly.  Then I heard/saw Chris ripping up through the trees and pulled a line to the top.  Of course I wanted to be on top the mountain with Chris Burandt, so I turned around and tried to meet him up top.  I try to find his track but have no such luck so I dive a bit deeper into the trees and end up coming across it.  I think to myself “perfect”, me vs Chris Burandt’s track, I’m determined to pull the same line he did.  I follow it for a few seconds, all going well so far, then it shoots up a very steep part of the mountain, still in the trees.  I go for the same line, but quickly decide to go to my Plan B deciding I won’t make my original plan.  I take a lower line through trees and have to hop over a log in a sidehill with some speed…  STUCK.

 

The nose of the sled went into the snow and the back end washed out.  I look above me at the line Chris pulled and notice he must have did a left to right hop-over right around a tree to pull a line to the top.  He was on the 2019 Polaris 850 RMK for the day, either or, color me impressed.

I roll my sled over to get ready to head out and hear a sled ripping up the hill again, I figure it must be Chris.  I rip my backpack off as fast as possible, get my camera out as quick as I can and snap the few pics I could.

 

Oh ya, that log I had to hop over and what got me stuck.  Chris didnt have any problems getting over it, even after I washed a good chunk of the snow out on it.

We break for lunch.

 

I have talked to people about riding with Chris and some have said that they heard when you ride with Burandt all you do is watch him pull lines, do hop-overs and get stuck.  After riding with him twice I can see how some may think this, but I dont find it true at all.  Let me explain.

In our group of riders I would say Chris pushed himself harder than anybody else did, myself included.  I think he said 2 or 3 times during the day “I’m going to go get stuck up in those trees there”, and dang right I tried to follow him.  I would follow him cause that is what I’m there for.  I am there to get pushed and to get in uncomfortable situations where I don’t currently have the skills to pull the line, but I try anyway and then Chris is there to help me get unstuck and generally gives a tip or 2 on what I did wrong.  Or the more likely situation, how to now get my sled down this steep ass hill loaded with trees without breaking anything.

Chris is there to push you, take you out of your comfort zone a bit, but similarly he is not there to make you wreck your sled.  He tells you to give it your all but to listen to that screaming voice inside of you when it is telling you not to do it.

So back to “Sitting around and watching Chris ride”, Chris is there to open yours eyes to whats possible on a sled.  That’s part of the “experience” in my opinion, as many of the areas we ride with him most people wouldn’t even consider them riding areas.  Now when I ride with my normal riding group I have twice as many areas to ride, as Chris opened my eyes to what can actually be done on a sled.  So to those people who just sit on the bottom of the hill and watch him.  I say don’t watch him, follow him, get stuck and learn something.  Chris doesn’t take it easy on himself, so he sure as hell is not going to take it easy on his clients.

Another thing I have heard, “thick tree riding isn’t really my style of riding, I don’t know if it would be for me”.  Fair enough, but here are my thoughts.  I ride most all snow conditions and terrain styles throughout the year.  You don’t ride with Chris to just get better at tree riding, you ride with him to become a better rider in all conditions (at least I do).  You ride trees with Chris because that’s the fastest way to learn how to properly ride.  If you don’t keep your momentum up or keep your edge, you will get stuck.  If your riding technique is incorrect in the trees, you will get stuck quick.  Once you get stuck Chris or his sweep guide will find you, help you get unstuck and go over what you did wrong.  Remember you get out what you put into this experience.  You want to sit at the bottom of the hill and watch Chris become a better rider… cool, no problem.  But me, I’m going to be full pinned doing my best to follow, so that when I go back riding with my normal group I am not only better, but I kick their ass so good that’s it’s not even a competition anymore.  That’s what I love about riding with Chris, he can get you to that level!

Speaking of sitting around and watching Chris ride, it can be very entertaining.

 

Yes he does get stuck and fall off his sled at times.

 

But overall his riding is unreal and fun to watch.

 

How much room does Chris need to turn a sled around?  Well in this instance about 2ft.  Yes he came from the left in a wheelie, turned the sled around and then exited out back to the left in a wheelie.  Pretty cool.

 

Some of the group taking a breather.

 

Shot of Chris during one of the “catch your breath breaks”.

 

Chris would often give me the “follow me” signal with his hand and then dive off into the trees.  He then would generally shoot up in the trees after crossing some steep creek or by sidehilling across an exposed downed tree.  Most of the time I would have to find a more “friendly line” up to the area he was ripping around in, sometimes I found one and sometimes I didn’t.

Doo to Polaris

As the millions of die-hard SledSmoke fans out there know, my last 2 sleds were Skidoo XM T-3’s.  Now I have the 2016 Axys 163 with the 2.6″ and Polaris belt drive.   I loved my Ski-Doo’s, no doubt about it.  I had roughly ~3500 of the most trouble free miles on them.  Other than changing the chaincase oil and adjusting chain tension I did no maintenance on them, stock clutching was great, no complaints at all.

After picking up my Axys, my desire to get out and ride was higher than it has been in a few years.  Nothing like buying a new sled to get you crazy excited for the upcoming season.  I put on alot of early season road miles to get a feel for the sled.  It definitely wasnt love at first ride for me as you handle Doo’s and Polaris’s differently in order to get them to do what you want.  However, I was able to pick out some things that got me excited.   For one, the Axys seemed to be a little more snappy out of the hole, likely do to the fact it weighs ~50-60lbs less than my XM and likely due to the belt drive.   Also the front end was “smooth”.  I could get the sled up on one ski on the trail and go over bumps at a pretty fast speed while being able to maintain control.  To me this meant once I got a better feel for the sled I could hopefully increase my riding speed/momentum through the trees, while maintaining control, which would allow to pull better lines.  Also the last thing that jumped out to me on my early rides was the Burandt Edition Fox QS3 shocks I put on.  Valved to Burandts specs, these things were unbelievably plush in the small chop and at the time there just wasn’t the big bumps yet to test them out in, but my god they erased small trail chatter like nothing.

Fast forward to today, I am absolutely in love with Axys chassis mostly for 2 reasons.  One is that I can side-hill hills that feel twice as steep as the hills I could sidehill on my XM.  The best part about it is that it doesn’t take anymore effort to sidehill very steep terrain.  Just get as far forward as you can on the sled and the back end will refuse to wash out and you can always get the front end pointed downhill if need be on a steep slope, on my XM that was impossible to do on a very steep slope.  Second reason is how predicable the front end is, as I touched on before I love the confidence it gives me and I now find Doo’s front ends to be very unstable and jittery.   I rode a Doo 850 this past winter and the front end is so unpredictable for me now its almost laughable, I carved a flat meadow with a bit of chop in it on a Doo 850 and struggled beyond belief to carve a circle.  Not saying the Doo 850 is a bad sled at all, I’m saying the way you ride a Doo and Polaris is different and now that I’m use to riding a Polaris I can’t and don’t enjoy riding a Doo anymore.  The handling on the Polaris, now that I am use to it, has blown me away and in my opinion it has made me a better rider.  Also ~1200 miles on my 2016 Axys now and I have had no problems.  The belt for the belt drive got torn up on the outside of the belt somehow one day, my only thought is that it was from a chunk of ice that somehow formed in there, broke off and got lodged between the bottom of the belt and belly pan?  Either or I tree rode the rest of the day with that belt on and it never failed.  I did replace it however later replace it for piece of mind.

What’s funny to me is to think that this year when the weather gets warm and the snow sets up a bit I get excited… Why?   Cause running my stock sled, setup conditions mean I can get higher on the steep hills and actually ride technical terrain.  Don’t get me wrong I love 2ft pow days as much as the next guy, but unless you have 200hp+ your just not going to be pulling the same lines you can with the setup snow.  The Axys has brought out my competitive nature, I want to ride the steep tree’d stuff now to see what kinda of trouble I can get into and get out of.

 

Burandt Edition Fox QS3 Fox Float Shocks

What do I think about the Burandt edition Fox QS3 shocks?  Short answer is they are unreal.  And they should be for the price!  ~2800$ I believe for a set of all 4.  Biggest thing I have heard against Fox Floats is that a lot of people have the opinion that the initial softness in the stroke is not there as compared to a coil over.  People have the opinion that with air seals there is enough initial friction that you dont get the smooth consistent stroke you get with a coil over.  Fox Floats of the past may have had that problem, but I can say with complete confidence the initial plushness and smoothness of the Burandt QS3’s is unreal.  They cut through small chop like nobody’s business and will refuse to bottom out on the big stuff.

Next best thing about the shocks?  Thats easy, the QS3 adjuster is simply awesome.  After running the Zbroz Exit shocks on my Doo (also awesome shocks and would recommend to anybody) that had 20 clicks of compression adjustment, I found myself never adjusting the compression likely due to minor OCD on my part.  I always wanted the front shocks to be on the exact same compression setting and therefore would click them all the way to “0”, then count clicks as I turned the adjuster to stiffen them up.  Also 20 clicks is unnecessary, I dont think anyone can tell the difference between click 17 or click 18.  Point being, 3 compression settings is perfect; soft, medium and hard.  Also I can adjust the fronts with just leaning over the bars and reaching the adjustments, no need to get off the sled, super convenient.  Due to the convenience I actually adjust the shocks quite often.  I run “soft” on the trail ride in and out, then switch to medium when out boondocking so that when the sled is up on one ski, there is a bit more dampening to control the weight of the sled on 1 front shock vs both.  Chris also says, when it is super deep pow he will run all shocks in the “firm” position.  I should also mention the initial travel is so smooth it makes getting the Axys up on edge easier with less required effort.

Riding with Chris, one of the guys in our group was from Summit County.  He owned a 2015 Polaris pro with the piggy back Walker Evans.  He rented a sled from Chris for the day, an Axys which had the Burandt QS3 floats on it.  The trail ride into the riding area was 6 miles of trail that has not got groomed all year, point being it was bumpy, very bumpy.   As soon as we got to the riding area and jumped off the trail we stopped for a quick minute and he could not get over how smooth the QS3 Floats ride as compared to his Walker Evans, he went on about them for 2-3 minutes.   Speaking of the bumpy ass trail in and out.  I rode in on the trail with all my shocks set to “medium”, I then rode out the trail at the end of the day with the shocks set to “soft”.   The trail ride back on “soft” was noticeably more compliant than on the “medium” setting.  Point being there is a nice noticeable difference between the QS3 settings and even on full soft the shocks are able to handle big bumps great.  Finally, I overheard the before mentioned Summit County client mention something about the shocks to Chris and how they worked awesome.  Chris said “for the price of the shocks they better work awesome”.  Point being, yes they are pricey and even Chris knows that.  But also, yes they do work awesome.   I would strongly consider them if you are looking to upgrade shocks on the Axys.

More riding

The end of the riding day was getting near.  I was worked, but once again Chris said “I’m going to go play in those trees up there”.  Being beat I did not have much interest in following, but in order to not miss out on another opportunity to try to match Chris line for line I followed.  Early in his line he hopped a log in a sidehill that I knew I had no chance of getting over, so I cruised the base of the trees looking for another point of entry to get up the hill.  Trees were thick, I was not seeing much but I shot up into the hill anyway went into a sidehill, couldn’t find a good line so I went back down and tried again.  I find another potential line, go for it… STUCK…

 

Looking back down at my attempt on the hill.

 

Polaris 850 RMK Review

During the day, Chris gave me an opportunity to ride the new Polaris 850.  In the attached video below it is the black sled in the Go-Pro footage.  I got maybe ~30 mins of ride time on it.  I got it stuck, rubbed it up against a handful trees and put it through its paces best I could.  Given I only rode it for 30 mins I can’t give a thorough review but here is what I can say about it.  Two things instantly jumped out at me, the power and the front end.  The engine is awesome and there is more power than Axys 800 has in all ranges of RPM, enough said there.  Second is the front end, it is awesome.  It makes the sled feel lighter and makes the sled easier to get up on edge as compared to the 800.  I even have the 1″ offset spindles on my Axys to make it a 37″ front end and I feel the new 2019 front end is quite an improvement over my 37″ front end.  Being honest, I felt the new Polaris 850 felt better in every way as compared to my Axys 800, except rear suspension, as it has stock shocks and those dont compare to my Float QS3’s.

Chris raced a Doo 850 that day in a flat meadow and the Polaris 850 beat the Doo 850 in the first race, Chris then hopped on the Doo 850 and Doo owner rode the Polaris 850.  They dragged again and the Polaris 850 won again.  Of course racing in flat meadows means nothing when it comes to mountain riding, so who cares who wins in the drag race.  Having rode with a few Doo 850 165’s w/3″ tracks this past season, I can say that those Doo’s can and do outclimb my Polaris 163 w/ the 2.6 all day.   It will be my guess that next season, given riders of similar skill, the Polaris 850 163 w/ 2.6″ track will be able to outclimb the Doo 165 3″ers.

No I won’t be buying a Polaris 850 this year, I will be riding my 800 one more season and then decide where I want to go from there sled wise.

 

The Burandt Backcountry Adventure Lodge

The riding day was over and it was time to head back.

This year I stayed a night in Chris’s “lodge”, where as last year I drove straight home after riding with Chris.  I must say staying at his lodge is an experience in itself.  After riding I shot back to his shop, then followed a group to the lodge.

 

While I dont know the exact specs on the place, it felt like a 12 bedroom 8 bathroom massive log cabin.   I walked in to find a home-made meal being prepped and cooked.

 

The cook/caretaker showed me to my private bedroom

 

I walked around the place to check it out.  It was pretty sweet.

 

I took a shower, got cleaned up and by that time dinner was served.  The food was soooo gooood.

 

Chris stayed a bit late in his shop to get some things prepared for the next day of riding, but he and his second in command, Chase show up for dinner as well to eat and socialize with their clients.

 

I would argue most people see Chris as a sponsored Polaris rider who gets to ride everyday, gets to build mod sleds for free due to his sponsors (I have no idea what $ he personally puts into his sleds vs what is “free”) and is living the dream.  After riding with Chris for the second time I can’t help but start to see him as a small business owner who busts his ass to make his business what he wants it to be.  Based on my two experiences, I would say Chris gets to his shop around 8 or so in the morning and doesn’t get home to his family till about 8:30 or so at night.  While in the shop he is constantly running around getting things done.  His employees come up and ask him whether they should do this or that, he gives them direction on what he wants done.  Everything about the experience is very well thought out and his employees are the same page as him.  He takes the time to socialize with every one of his clients, Chase does the same.  Both Chris and Chase are incredibly likeable people who are easy to talk too and always seem to have a smile on their face.   After a short time I start to realize Chris didn’t make it this far just because of his talent, he made it this far because of his talent and the huge amount of hard work he puts into his business to make it succeed.

So to sum it up…

Want to become a better rider?  Book a trip with Chris and learn from the best.
Think you are already a great rider?  Book a trip Chris and see how you hang, come in with a open mind, ask him questions and you will leave a even greater rider.

Yes it cost a lot of $, but you get a high end experience all around and I am confident you will not feel your $ was wasted.

I can already say I will be going back next year.

Check out the below video from my day with BBA!

Thanks for reading!

Ride on