Evergreen conifers in boreal forests can survive extremely cold (freezing) temperatures during long dark winter and fully recover during summer. A phenomenon called “sustained quenching” putatively provides photoprotection and enables their survival, but its precise molecular and physiological mechanisms are not understood. To unveil them, here we have analyzed seasonal adjustment of the photosynthetic machinery of Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) trees by monitoring multi-year changes in weather, chlorophyll fluorescence, chloroplast ultrastructure, and changes in pigment-protein composition. Analysis of Photosystem II and Photosystem I performance parameters indicate that highly dynamic structural and functional seasonal rearrangements of the photosynthetic apparatus occur. Although several mechanisms might contribute to ‘sustained quenching’ of winter/early spring pine needles, time-resolved fluorescence analysis shows that extreme down-regulation of photosystem II activity along with direct energy transfer from photosystem II to photosystem I play a major role. This mechanism is enabled by extensive thylakoid destacking allowing for the mixing of PSII with PSI complexes. These two linked phenomena play crucial roles in winter acclimation and protection.