Rhone Alpes Summary & Vid

Last month I was fortunate to be able to head to the French Alps (Rhone Alpes) with photographer and long time buddy, Gabe Rogel.  We spent week one reconnecting with our hostel days in Tignes 1800 (just below Les Boisses), and getting familiarized with Tignes and Val d’ Isere (VDS).  The weather was anything but ideal for skiing much less shooting and sadly, two local guides actually died in a glide avalanche the day we arrived.  As a result, we basically skied around during the day hoping for the weather to break and then shooting around the village in the evenings.  It was still a blast and, supprisingly, we did come away with a few good shots from the week.

The second week Bosse Landberger and Jess McMillan joined us, along with VDS locals Clare Burns and Johan Ogren.  Bo always says that when he is in VDS it snows and then aventually goes blue…….check and check.  Thanksfully, it did just that.  It was still a bit active snowpack wise and lots of sluff, but what a week.  Couloirs, steeps, big traverses, new friends and good people all round.  I really enjoyed the opprotunity to shoot with Jess and see how she appraoches everything…..what a pro!  It was also great to see Gabe rip up terrain and manage exposure as well as he does.  He is one of the best athletes I have ever skied with and I cannot help to think that he is often on the wrong side of that camera lens.  To say the least, I really learned a lot on this trip.

After a week with Bo and crew, people started to head out and it was back to Gabe and I. Now that Bo headed back to Sweden, the weather rolled back in as well.  Gabe and I basically turned our last few days into decompress time.  We shot some fun lifestyle stuff and once back into Geneva, I was able to be a true tourist and emerse into the culture and history (see hidden edit in my vid below).  I’m quite a sucker for museums. What a great trip.

Here is my edit from the Rhone Alpes:

130304-130321 Rhone Alpes from Teton FreeRide on Vimeo.

Now, I am back in AK for the remainder of the Spring and am looking forward to it.  Spring in AK is AMAZING.  In just a few days, we will be dropped about 25 miles SW of Denali, on the Pika Glacier, in an area dubbed as LIttle Switzerland!  Stay tuned………………….. Mikey

Posted in Spring 2013 | Comments closed

2013 Chugach Open

This past weekend Alyeska Resort held it’s annual Chugach Open, a freeride event displaying the local big mountain talent over several disciplines.  The event included alpine skiers, snowboarders, and telemark skiers, as well as the International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA) junior categories (12-14 and 15-18 yrs).

I was fortunate to have been asked to act as IFSA’s liason and head judge for the event.  Joining me in the pit were fellow Alyeska athletes Jason Scheben and Ryan “RD” Davis.  Jason is a born & raised Alyeskian, founder of the athlete team, and long time professional skier.  RD is a former Chugach Open champion and long time ambassador of all disciplines.  It was both these guys first time judging and they knocked it out of the park.  Their competition and freeride experience was clearly on par with the direction IFSA would like to take the sport.  Also in the judges pit was the Alyeska Resort Events & Mountain Services Manager, Brian “Burntski” Burnett.  Brian is no stranger to the pit, as he has been a regular on previous Chugach Open judging panels.  I was honored to be in the pit with these guys and appreciate the opportunity.

The Open was not without the usual challenges experienced during events of this kind.  In true Chugach form, the projected venues received several feet of snow during the week leading up to the event.  This combined with the forecasted weather limited us to our lower elevation venue, the Northface.  This venue is by no means a back up, as it provides an arsenal of steep, technical terrain, and is quite the leg burner.  We were not blessed with good visibility and were only able to run athletes for one of the 3 possible days scheduled.  Thanks to the hard work of the Alyeska ski patrol, events staff, and all of the athletes, we were able to pull of running all competitors through the venue.  We even ran all junior competitors twice.  A big thanks to everyone involved in making this happen!

All and all, the 2013 Chugach Open was, once again, a success!  The level of riding was quite impressive and the interest in such an event brings nothing short of a smile to my face.  As the sport continues to grow, I look forward to seeing this event grow with it.

Thank you to all of the competitors, judges, IFSA and to Alyeska for quite the weekend!!!!!!!!


Posted in Spring 2013 | Comments closed

Tignes à Val d’Isère

The 5 Fingers (aka The Zebra Couloirs)

Last week, Gabe Rogel and I spend most of our time scoping lines, zones and access for the hope of it going blue.  We, of course, did manage to ski a lot of fun couloirs during our scouting missions.  We found an area we called the Zebra Couloirs because it is a wall of dark rock spires, split with inter-connecting, white couloirs.  The couloirs end right at the edge of Tignes Le Lac and clock about 1,700-ft of vert from top to bottom!

On Saturday (the 10th) Gabe and I ended up hitch-hiking from Tignes 1800 (where our hostel was) to Val d’ Isere (up canyon) where we met up with our other Swedish buddy, Bosse, at Hotel Victors.  The Victors is a Swedish run hotel (in France) with a really fun crew, great bar for Apre, and some amazing food.  Bosse says it always is sunny, snowy, or both when he is in VDS…….sure enough, we have had a bit of both so far.  Even some legit POW the past couple of days!  This place is pretty insane in general, but with fresh snow…..WOW!!

Coffee in Les Lanches

Tuesday (the 12th), Jess McMillan joined the crew in VDS and we did a traverse from VDS to Tignes to La Plange, and ended in Les Arcs.  It was about 70 kilometers by gondola, lift, ski, hike, bus (few kilometers), elevator, t-bar, rope tow…..I think that is it.  It is crazy how you can travel through the mountains here and just end up in some tiny alpine village in the middle of nowhere for a quick coffee break, and then be on your way.  We skied a 2,500-ft couloir off of the Bellecote (11,200-ft elevation) and proceeded to ski down to Les Lanches / Peisey-Nancroix for a quick coffee (6,000-ft down from the top of the couloir).  The Bellecote is a mountain in the Vanoise Massif of the Graian Alps, lying in the northern part of the Vanoise National Park and overlooking the Peisey-Nancroix valley in Savoie.  Our guide’s name was Bazu, and Bazu was exactly what you would imagine a French mountain guide to be.  Take a moment to imagine a French accent for this quote…..OK “I, ah do not wear z helmot, because you cannot hear z mountains and I must hear z mountains for what I do” Bazu.  He wore sunglasses all day… no hat or anything.

Wednesday (the 13th) was pretty socked in with scattered snow showers here and there.  Johan, the manager of the Victor and a ripping skier, took us up to some couloirs off of Dome de Pramecou.  We found some great snow and it was awesome to follow Johan around.  He is one hard charging skier.

One of the ramps

Thursday (the 14th) was finally blue.  Gabe, Jess, Bosse and I went up to the knife ridge / ramp area that we had scoped a few days prior.  I was pretty amped about this ramp and finally got to ski it.  Though it was not as big as it had looked when we scouted it, the ramp was still way fun and made for great shooting.  After shooting in that zone all morning, we went to an area called the Mickey Mouse Ears (two com antennas) that is full of, you guessed it, even more couloirs.  Johan was able to meet up with us and we made a few laps shooting and skiing fun steeps.

It was GOOD!

Friday (the 15th) was quite the day.  It snowed a bit through the night and the temps dropped significantly.  Jess and her friend, Claire Burns, met for some breakfast at the Victor, and then we went right to an area called Rocher de Bellevarde.  The boot pack goes right by the old downhill start house.  We of course, popped off the other side into a couloir that housed some great rock features and the best snow we have skied so far.  It was absolutely incredible.  After a kebab, crape and cappuccino lunch we headed up to ski this zone my buddy Stellan had pointed out to us the previous week called Rocher du Charvet.  Gabe and I have been calling it the Reach Around because you have to traverse half way around a peak to get into it.  And once you’re in, you’re in.  Having not really scouted specific features because of the bad visibility, Jess and I had to put our trust to Gabe (lining up shots from below) to get us “safely” into the right spots.

Jess McMillan dropping in!!

It was a full-on roll-over effect (convex) so we couldn’t see anything below, but the cross valley slope and a chair lift going up the other side from what seemed to be depths of the earth.  Every feature we hit seemed to be going right off the edge of the world, but they of course were not.  It definitely got us both a bit wound up nerves wise, and we each building on the others nerves, to boot.  Normally, we are all there to help motivate and pump up one and other. In this case, we decide to go the other route……we basically freaked each other out the whole way down… and for no real reason, it was good every time.  It ended in a slightly exposed, hourglass sort of exit. By the time we made it to this exit, Jess had literally found a cave to crawl into, I had lost my shit and poor Gabe had two athletes who were literally worthless.  It happens; fear is a good thing, but I will admit, it was not completely necessary in this case… ha ha ha.

La Grande Motte Glacier

Saturday (the 16th) did not get off to an exciting start with poor Jess McMillan having been up all night with a stomach flu.  No fun I am sure.  Claire showed up at the hotel, solo, with the news of Jess’s not-so-stellar night.  So the 3 of us (Gabe, Claire and I) headed out to find some more goods.  Not before bidding good-bye to our buddy Bosse.  It was an awesome week with him and I hope we can hang again sooner than later!  To start the day we went to shoot in an area which had some pretty crazy looking avy barriers, just around the corner from the couloir we skied first thing yesterday.  There was a pretty strong wind throughout the night and morning, so this area was slightly loaded (hence the avy barriers).  As Gabe skied down toward the entrance a portion of the zone below, sympathetically triggered, about 10cm deep and on a hard crust.  It actually was not very big, but ran quite a ways.  After this slope test, if you will, we took it pretty safe and were able to find a few cool features to hit up.  Unfortunately the winds and intense sun has taken its toll on the fresh snow in many places.  Slowly figuring this out through the morning, we then decided to head up to the glacier off of the northern aspect of Grande Motte.  The snow was a little wind effected here too, but skiing on such a large, steep and broken glacier is not about the snow… necessarily.  To the left of us were massive spires of ice and deep crevasses.  As we worked our way further down it began to roll-over more and more until a final 45 degree pitch with the same spires of ice and crevasses to the left, but a perfectly smooth run out down and slightly to the right.  It was pretty puckering, but quite a fun ski!

After skiing, it was time for Gabe and I to make the move to our next accommodation called Hotel Grand Nord.  On that note, a big thank you to Johan for helping set us up here.  It was also time to say good-bye to Jess and wish her good luck on her next adventure; a full on shred session in Iceland!

Good times!!!

Today, (Sunday the 17th) it has started to snow again and is too gray for shooting.  To say the least, we are taking a bit of a leisure morning because we have been pretty much going hard for 11 days now.  No complaints… this is SOOOO fun, but a little R & R is not a bad thing.

Stay tuned for my final trip report from the Alps and an overall trip recap later this week!

Mikey (and Gabe)

Posted in Winter 2012/13 | Leave a comment

Made it to Tignes

NYC from 40,000 ft

Flying out of Anchorage Alaska (Mikey), two consecutive red-eye flights, a day of walking around Washington DC, meeting up with Gabe Rogel and the Chickering-Ayers bros at Dulles International Airport, a 4 hour bus ride through the Alps, and 36 hours of travel time later, Gabe and I finally made it to Tignes.  The bus ride from Geneva to Tignes, France really dropped us into the vibe of the Alps with small old villages, the French countryside, and finally the accent into the South Western Alps.  Oh, and the bus driving really fast through all of the villages and curvey alpine roads.

Once in Tignes 1800 (just below Tignes’ Les Boisses) we surprisingly found our hostel right around the corner from the bus stop and waiting for us there was my good buddy Stellan Fries.  Also, Frederick and Cecelia who stayed with me a few years ago at my house in Driggs.  It was really exciting to see them!  After an apre beer or two with Stellan, Gabe and I got settled into our sewage-scented room in the basement of the hostel, which is ideal because we have it to our selves.


The Sweds are staying in the town about 300 meters (vert) down valley from Tignes 1800.  Naturally, Gabe and I put on our ski boots (with our street cloths), grabbed our skis, and skied down in the dark to meet the Sweds for dinner in Tignes’ Les Brevieres.  I knew a few of the other’s in Stellan’s crew and we was introduced to a few more… what a crew.  The restaurant was your quintessential French alpine setting.  It was in a old stone building that smelled like the slinkiest cheese you can imagine.  Honestly, it was one of the greatest meals I have ever eaten and if I don’t gain 5 lbs on this trip then I will have not taken full advantage of the cuisine.  I mean they served a block of cheese (Raclette), the size of a basketball cut in half, on a stand with a headed coil slowly melting the cheese onto a plate.  Great eats and great company!

Imagining the view from the top of Grande Motte

The next morning Gabe and I met Stellan in the main village (Tignes’ Le Lac) about 300 meters (vert) above Tignes 1800.  From there Stellan showed us around Tignes and Val di Sere for the morning, until he had to head out to Chamonix.  It is too bad we didn’t get to spend more time with him, but it was awesome to get to hang out for the time we had!  Until next time buddy.  It was way nice to have Stellan to show us around a bit because this place is unimaginably big, to the point where you do not know where to begin upon showing up for the first time.   I mean, there are ski lifts, gondolas, trams and trains (yes underground trains) to the top of nearly every peak in sight.  When you leave the piste (designated runs) it is hard to tell if you’re still near the area or off into the side country.  It is quite easy to ski very far from civilization in little time.

Unfortunately the weather has been really warm and has consolidated the snow and then even gone isothermic in places with quite a lot of wet-slide and glide activity.  Yesterday, however, it was over cast most the day with the sun coming out for the late afternoon and evening.  We were able to fire off a couple shots, but it was a bit late.

It cleared up last night…..

We also shot a bit last night with a strobe, but the feature we were gunning for ended up being off-limits.  There is this really old stone hut just up from our hostel in the woods, and you can ski right onto the roof.  It is tiered with a couple levels of roof to ski like a pillow line.  As it turns out, someone actually still lives there (only in the alps) and they preferred we did not ski on their 200 year-old roof.  We will check again tonight and see if they are, by chance, not home (damn Americans).

Now, Friday morning, we are getting ready to head out again, but it is pretty gray out and hopefully snowing a bit.  We have time and shall see what Mother Nature give us to work with.  Either way, we are in the Alps and it will happen!  We will report again shortly, so keep check into tetonfreeride.com.

Mikey and Gabe

Posted in Winter 2012/13 | Leave a comment

Tetons…..mixing business w/ Pleasure

On January 25th I flew down to the Tetons with Michelle to spend a few days with the family, shoot for the Library Project, and judge a couple freeride events. I’d say we had pretty good timing. A storm front carrying over 50 inches of light and fluffy Teton POW arrived right behind us. It was nice to be home in the Tetons with Michelle and my family, and I think they would agree. During Michelle’s long weekend in the Tetons we got in a ski day with the fam, a super fun tour on the pass and, to top things off, it absolutely dumped the night before Michelle had to fly out.  So like any true “powderwhores” we figured we had better ski that morning as long as possible before driving her to the airport.

Once Michelle left, the pace changed from family/vacation time, to game time, as it was time to get ‘er done. I had two weeks to lock down as much quality footage as possible for The Library Project, while judging both the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and Grand Targhee Resort IFSA Jr Regional Freeride Competitions. The first few days we were still in the 50+ inch storm cycle and to say the least, we landed some pre sick storm POW footie. We also did a pretty sick night jib sesh at the Ghee in a secret lil zone. The features were quite unique, but were not what I would call gimmies. Especially for someone who has not sessioned man made features in almost 2 years. However, I think we snuck away with a few shots. Its always a good sign when midnight rolls around and everyone with a camera is asking for more!

After the night shoot, and with just a few hours of sleep, we were right back at it again the next morning………dropping sleds in the canyon, shredding POW and pillows.  That evening the shooting marathon came to an intermission and it was time to head over to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for a few days to head judge the IFSA Jr Regional Freeride Competition. This could not have come at a better time because I was a bit sore from the jib sesh. What a show in JH, those groms continue to impress me event after event. In the pit with me were Don Watkins (for the second year in a row) and Hadley Hammer (fellow Marmot Team member). A great crew to say the least and a fun couple of days hangin with them. It was also super nice to see my good buddies Ryan Elvis Dunham, Brenton Reagan, and Rob LaPier. Thanks again JHMR!!!

That Saturday (Feb 2nd) my buddy John from AK flew down to take advantage of my pad in the Tetons while I was there. After I wrapped things up in JH we headed over to my folks house for their annual super bowl party (damn Ravens). Of course, bright and early the next morning, it was time to get back to work shooting for TLP. We had some fog, but with it coming and going I was able to stomp a line down Sunny Side and a few other hits in the GTR sidecountry. Good thing we got what we did, because in true Teton fasion, some weather rolled in and provided us with a couple of down days (no shooting). This actually worked out well because I was able to get out and make some turns with John. The forecast began to shape back up and a couple days later we were back at it. Finally, it was a beautiful blue bird day. I was fired up and knew exactly what I wanted to hit right off the bat……an area off of Peaked Mtn called The Condos, down through the skiers left (sign line) of the A, to a steep and spiney air out of the bottom. I had skied this line before, but never quite how I’ve always envisioned it. This time it was on! I told Jake that I saw a sneak through the tight trees to my air and that I was feeling it. Jake could not see the sneak I was talking about but said that if I saw it to go for it……..I finally nailed it!!! That was pretty much my final day of shooting for TLP in the Tetons this year, and it was one pretty amazing day.

Once again, it was time to put my shooting hat away, and the judging cap back on. Now I had the Chickering-Ayers brothers in the judges pit with me for Grand Targhee Resort’s IFSA Jr Regional Freeride Competition. The conditions were very soft and really punchy. This stood out with the smart skiers toning it back a notch in line choice and focusing more on skiing. I was just as impressed as always with these youngsters, but for a different reason than the norm…….using their brains as much as their talent!!! Thank you IFSA and GTR for another amazing event!

What an amazing whirlwind of a trip to the homeland. Though I did not get to spend time with everyone I would have liked to……..Who ever said “mixing business with pleasure is a bad thing” is full of sh%t. Thank you Mom & Dad, Austin & Christina, Elvis, Jake Hawkes, Alex Gilbert, Gabe Rogel, Eric Daft, Eric & Sarah Anderson, Kevin Cass, Gary Mackenzie, Max Mackenzie, Amber Nelson, Dorian Densmore, Ken Rider, Andy Williams, Margaret, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Grand Targhee Resort and GTR Ski Patrol! It was awesome to see & ski with you all!!!!!!!!

Now, I am back home in AK for a bit to get some work done, and most importantly, be with my amazing fiancée! She is so amazing that in 3 weeks, she is allowing me to disappear on another shoot. It’s almost time to head to Europe with Gabe Rogel and Jess McMillan so stay tuned!

Here is an edit from my trip home to the Tetons:

130125-130211 TLP preview from Teton FreeRide on Vimeo.

Gear Highlights:

The Marmot Silverton Jacket is absolutely impervious to wind and moisture, light weight and perfect for layering. This 3-layer fabric system by GORE-TEX is unstoppable!

The Smith I/OX Goggle offers the biggest peropheral view, best helmet fit, and quickest interchangable lens swap-out of any google on the market.  I am diggin it!


Posted in Winter 2012/13 | Leave a comment
  • About Teton FreeRide

    Teton FreeRide is a content based blog founded and operated by Mike "Mikey" Leake. Mikey has lived in the Teton Valley region of southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming most of my life. He has also had the opportunity to live and play in the Lake Tahoe area, and now, Alaska too!

    After competing on the Freeskiing World Tour on-and-off for 10 years Mikey has transitioned to judging various events and become an advisory board member with the International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA). Over the past 13 years he has worked in the ski industry through skiing as an athlete, coach, guide, ski patrol, event coordinator, event judge, marketing consultant, team manager, videographer, and as an associate producer. Mikey has a true passion for the outdoor industry and tries to be involved in every aspect possible.