How I end up on my hands and knees crawling into a little hole in the side of a snow bank at the bottom of the halfpipe is beyond me. I am just following 23 year old Chris Engelsman who had hollered, “Come check this out.” One minute he was standing on the downside of a snow mound at the bottom of Windell’s pipe, then he disappeared.

Slightly intrigued by this disappearing act, I slid down the slope to where he had just been and saw a crevasse in the side of the snow mound. I poked my head into the opening, surveyed the small room, and crawled in.

The cave is big enough to sit four people comfortably, but not high enough to stand up. Empty plastic salt bags littering the floor provide makeshift seats. At the end of the little room is another tunnel, out of which Chris, a.k.a. Etree, pokes his disheveled blond head.

“It goes a little further back here,” he says as I crawl over to him. I look over his shoulder at the beginnings of another tunnel. His idea of ‘a little further’ is maybe a foot more before the tunnel stops at a dead end. “We got sick of digging,” he says grinning widely like a five-year-old as he crawls out of the little unfinished tunnel. “We built this cave so that on days when it’s pouring rain and the kids still really want to ride, we can hang out in here and not get wet.”

At about six-foot-three-inches, Chris looks like the Jolly Green Giant stuck inside of a tin can as he sits on an old salt bag and folds his daddy long legs up against his chest.

“Why did you move to Utah,” I ask him as we peer out at the awesome view of the Cascades encircled like a picture frame by the opening of the snow cave.

“Because it’s the Midwest,” he replies. “Did I tell you my midwest theory? See, I’m from the Midwest and lived in Colorado for a while. But in the snowboard world Colorado is the East Coast, Utah is the Midwest, and the West is the west. The true East Coast is really a distant place called the Ice Coast. You only go there for the occasional contest. Alaska is a different country. Most of my time is spent west of Colorado. So, it makes sense that I’d move to Utah, I’m just getting back to my midwest roots.”

Just more of that pro snowboarder’s logic, I think as we crawl out of the cave. Chris is from Holland, Michigan, however looking at the way he rides big mountains you would never guess it. He’s not really a park or pipe boy as he says he once was in Michigan. He prefers extreme riding, but hates to be labeled.

“Everyone always wants you to determine your riding style. I don’t really have an area that I would say I’m best in. I just try to ride everything,” he says as we re-entered Windell’s world. “I’ve got to get to work. Since Brian Harper left for Europe, I’m sort of the B.M.O.C.,” he says apologetically grabbing a shovel.

And off he goes to dig out the lower pipe.

Later that afternoon we slide into my borrowed car to drive down to Windell’s. I toss him the keys so I can interview him while he drives. “Is this a stick?” Chris asks me as he pushes the seat back as far as it will go so he can fit his daddy long legs in.

“Yeah. Don’t tell me you can’t drive a stick,” I say in disbelief.

“I’ve always had automatics,” he says looking very serious. “Let me try driving though.”

He puts the clutch into first and I brace myself for jolting forward. I still don’t quite believe him and the next thing I know we are driving down the road and he is laughing, obviously enjoying the fact that I am so gullible.

“I have an ‘83 Buick La Sabre Limited with a 305 V8 engine. It’s brown with gold metallic flake and brown velour interior,” he says proudly, then adds, “It kind of broke down recently and I don’t know if I’ll fix it. This car handles pretty well,” he says leaving a little rubber around a corner. We are flying down the highway toward The Arc (an old roadside motel that houses the Windell’s staff) when Chris decides we should take a detour.

“You don’t mind do ya?” he asks whi turning onto a windy road that looks like it leads up to nowhere in particular. Within five minutes we are at a bridge with a gate in front of it. A sign reads: Watershed! No Trespassing.

“You just brought me up here to kill me or something, didn’t you,” I ask, forgetting that I have the advantage because Etree is a pro snowboarder and the more articles written about him, the more he gets paid.

My first experience with Chris was a few years earlier when virtually every pro at this one event just played the “I don’t have time to talk to the press” game. Chris came loping up to me and said “Hi, I’m Chris Engelsman, and I heard you need some quotes for an article.”

Once again I’m in an interview situation and this time the topic is not some event, it is Chris Engelsman. He is as he was a few years ago, incredibly comfortable rambling. He talks about his car, his friends, skateboarding, Sunday school, and growing up in Michigan. “Everyone went to church just like all of my friends were jocks,” he says proving his point by vaulting the gate leading into the watershed with ease. “I played basketball and football. Then one summer I got a skateboard, and that was the end of football. I still played basketball, but liked to skate in my free time instead of lift weights. So, eventually I quit playing school sports and snowboarded all winter.”

We look over the edge of the bridge at the rushing water. I suggest we walk up the road and look for a view of the mountains.

“I never venture much past the No Trespassing sign,” he says. I think he is joking again, as he often is, but his facial expression is serious. Chris doesn’t really seem to break the rules much. On the mountain for example, he’s best known for his extreme riding and smooth pipe style, not for spinning exhibitionism. It’s not that he can’t do this stuff, it’s just not his style.

“I don’t like flipping tricks much,” he explains. “When you go blind and don’t see that landing until the last minute. I don’t like sliding mountains either. You have to really be aware of your surroundings when you’re riding extreme. I usually push myself as far as I know I can go.”

How did Chris get into snowboarding?

“My parents got me into everything. They were really supportive. One summer when we were in California they bought me a skateboard. I was on that thing all summer long. Then a few years later my friend was going to get a snowboard and my parents just said, ‘I bet you want one’ and got me one.”

Chris’ first board was fiberglass and could be used on the snow and on the sand dunes near Holland, so he rode it in both the summer and winter. Then after graduating high school, Chris decided to move to Colorado and attend Western State near Crested Butte so he could snowboard while working on a degree in business marketing.

“That lasted about two and a half years. Then I was just snowboarding all the time, so I quit. I’d like to go back eventually because I know if I ever want a job, I’ll need a degree.”

Later in the evening as the sun is setting we go into the woods behind The Arc. At the edge of a little meadow is a piece of blue webbing (the kind used in rock climbing) strung up between two trees. I had heard about the infamous tightrope from a few different people around Government Camp, but had yet to witness the action live. Chris runs his hand along the webbing and before I have a chance to ask him what he is doing, he swings his feet up onto the rope and stands suspended in mid-air for a second. Then the rope slams him to the ground without mercy and snaps back up to its taught position between the two trees.

“How did you get your nickname?” I ask him as he collects himself from the ground.

“I used to have a skate clothing company with my friends back home. We sewed Etree onto all of the clothes. We made shirts and hats, stuff like that. When I moved to Colorado people saw Etree all over my stuff and started calling me that. It just kind of stuck. Then my parents gave me this ring,” he says holding up a chunky silver ring with “Etree” carved into it.

“Did you say you sew,” I ask him a bit surprised that he is so open about this particular hobby. I mean this isn’t like motocross or tattoo artist, this is sewing.

“Yeah, I really like to sew. When I started snowboarding I used to make all of my own outfits, but that takes a lot of time, so now I just get clothes from my sponsors, NFA.”

It’s well after sunset by the time we leave the tightrope and head up toward Government camp where we are going to meet some people at a bar called the Ratskellar. I have one last thing I am wondering about him, then I figure I can let him have his life back. “What’s it like to be a pro snowboarder for you? Do you ever get a big head about it all?”

He laughs a little at this question. “Well, yesterday when I was at the pipe some camper asked me if that was Jim Rippey over there. I told him it was, and the kid says, ‘Wow, are there any other pro snowboarders here?’ How can you have a big head when kids don’t even know who most of the pros are? I just like to have fun with it all. You gotta have fun and can’t take things too seriously.” Then my parents gave me this ring,” he says holding up a chunky silver ring with “Etree” carved into it.

“Did you say you sew,” I ask him a bit surprised that he is so open about this particular hobby. I mean this isn’t like motocross or tattoo artist, this is sewing.

“Yeah, I really like to sew. When I started snowboarding I used to make all of my own outfits, but that takes a lot of time, so now I just get clothes from my sponsors, NFA.”

It’s well after sunset by the time we leave the tightrope and head up toward Government camp where we are going to meet some people at a bar called the Ratskellar. I have one last thing I am wondering about him, then I figure I can let him have his life back. “What’s it like to be a pro snowboarder for you? Do you ever get a big head about it all?”

He laughs a little at this question. “Well, yesterday when I was at the pipe some camper asked me if that was Jim Rippey over there. I told him it was, and the kid says, ‘Wow, are there any other pro snowboarders here?’ How can you have a big head when kids don’t even know who most of the pros are? I just like to have fun with it all. You gotta have fun and can’t take things too seriously.”