With winter right around the corner, I imagine most people are preparing as they always do, with dry land training, sets at the gym, dusting off gear, and watching ski movies. For many these are fall rituals. Mine are typically right along those lines, and of course, this goes hand in hand with great anticipation. But what happens when this ritual is disrupted by a potentially lifestyle changing disease? This year my anticipation for winter has a bit different feel than years past. It brings a sense of appreciation and perspective.

This past spring I began to experience some unusual aches and pains, primarily throughout my joints coming in waves. Over a short period of time, a few weeks to be exact, the aches and pains grew significantly worse, limiting my flexibility and my joints swelling to abnormal proportions. At this point, I could tell something was off and concerns set in.

Fearing the worst, doctor visits, labs and testing began. Symptoms grew worse and worse, and I began to face the fact that this could be the end of my skiing career, or worse. It got to the point where simple movements were painful and I dropped everything I touched because my hands were too swollen and sore to grip. At first, my symptoms were a likely candidate for rheumatoid arthritis, however, that was ruled out through testing. The usual cancers (pancreatic, testicular, etc.) were also cleared. Thank God. By then the doctors seemed stumped and though I was cleared of many things, there were still no answers. Neither of us would admit it, but both my fiancée and I still feared the worst.

After relentlessly researching my symptoms online, we decided to try removing gluten from my diet. Though some of my symptoms were indicative of Celiac Disease, many of them were not, and this seemed like of a long shot. At the same time, Celiac Disease has a wide range of symptoms and is a fairly uncommon and under-researched disease.

Low and behold, after a week or so of cutting gluten out of my diet my symptoms did show signs of improvement. I went in to the doctor for more testing and mentioned my improvements and change in diet. It was still unlikely that Celiac Disease was the cause but we convinced them to test for it anyways. The next week, my doctor called with results. I was officially diagnosed with Celiac Disease and possibly Angioneurotic Edema. While the seriousness of these conditions are not to be taken lightly, I cannot express the relief I felt to find out that it was not worse, much worse. I can deal with these conditions largely through my diet, which compared to many things, is a huge win!

It’s been a month since the doctor gave me the diagnoses and my body is, for the most part, back to normal. Not only has the swelling mostly subsided, but cutting gluten from my diet has improved my overall nutrition. I’m starting to prepare for the ski season and am learning to use these diet changes to my nutritional advantage. As the air becomes crisp, I’m filled with not only excitement, but also gratitude. I’m feeling less pressure than I have in years past, and am quite ready for a winter of simply enjoying being on my skis. My usual goals for winter include things like shooting photos, acquiring publications, generating content for film or video spots, etc. Honestly, after a summer of battling with thoughts like “what if I can’t do what I love to do,” this winter is simply about cherishing each turn.

I would like to wish everyone a happy, fun, and safe winter. Start on those fall rituals, get out there and enjoy it!


w/ Scarpa at http://blog.scarpa.com/a-new-season-cherishing-each-turn-with-mike-leake/

Posted in Fall 2013 | Comments closed

Alaska Range (Lil Swiss)

Earlier this month, Joe Calder and Jason Oneill flew up from Teton Valley to join Cody Pink, Michelle and I for a trip into the Alaska Range.  Arriving in Talkeenta, we decide to pop into the Fairview for a beer and to see where we could find a room or two for the night.  Low and behold, the bar keep asked how many rooms we wanted and we were set.  It was like a scene out of the old west, with small rooms right above the bar in this 100 year old building.  The next morning we woke to temps well below zero in Talkeetna.  A nice little sample of what was to come.  The cold morning quickly led to the need for food and warm coffee.  After all, whats a trip into the Alaska Range without one last big meal at the Roadhouse.  After grubbing down we checked in at the Rangers Station, and then headed over to Talkeetna Air Taxi.  It is quite common for climbers to be stuck in Talkeetna for several days due to weather, or just to wait their turn for a flight during the busy season.  With nothing but high pressure in the forecast and being one of the first groups in the range for the season, we were in the air in no time.

Everyone’s faces were wide-eyed and full of excitement.  As we approached the mountains, their shear size began to become a reality.  The further in we got, the more the peaks grew in size and steepness.  Massive vertical rock, wrapped in snow and ice, and unbelievable views of Denali (20,320 ft) and Foraker (17,400 ft).  Probably the most amazing flight of my life!  Before we new it, Paul Roderick (pilot) had us right next to rock faces and banking turns right around spires like they were slalom gates.  Jason literally tried to jump out of his seat, luckily his seatbelt was there to remind him not too.  As we flew between two peaks and over a saddle, there it was…..Pika Glacier.  Paul came over the radio and welcomed us to our destination “Little Switzerland”.  We flew down glacier to make our turn and approach to land on the upper end of the Pika.  This provided for quite the introduction to the area.  Overwhelming really.  We certainly had our work cut out for us.  There were endless options to ski, but certainly not many gimmies.

Our gear was quickly piled up on the glacier and Paul was gone.  It was SO silent.  Just us, the breath taking surroundings, and not a single track.  The feeling was as though we had just been dropped off on another planet.  With the temps being as cold as they were, we decided to dig in and set up camp right away.  Setting up camp on the glacier was actually a lot of fun.  Everything had to be excavated and bermed to minimize direct wind.  This took a couple of hours.  Once we had base camp in respectable shape, it was time to ski.  The Trolls were just to our east and that is where we went.

The Trolls are a series of 4 spires with couloirs between each.  We figured we would ski the most sluffed out couloir to start and get a handle on the snow pack.  Glacier travel always takes a little getting used to for me and somehow I was leading this first climb.  You could tell I was a bit crevasse shy by the sparatic route I lead across the glacier and up through the bergschrund.  The sun began to creep behind the peaks lining the west side of the glacier and the immediate drop in temperature was more than noticeable.  After ascending about half of the couloir, we decided to get back to camp and get dinner and water going before the sun set.  The temperature pretty much caught us all a bit by surprise.  We knew that early season in the Alaska Range would be cold, but it was damn cold.  It was literally all we could do to cook dinner, fill water bottles, and crawl into our tents.  I was rigged with a -20 deg F sleeping bag, and we figured it was about -30 deg F that first night.  Brrrrrrr.

The next morning we woke to what we thought was direct sunlight for the day.  It was SOOOO nice to see the sun.  As it turned out, camp was positioned in a manner that the sun would disappear behind a ridge line to our southeast for about 45 minutes after already risen through a saddle.  I have to admit, after having been quite cold and jumped out of bed at first light, this false sun rise was a bit disappointing.  And it would continue to doop at least one of us every morning.  However, pretty funny thinking about it now.

After jamming our feet into our boots, warming up and eating some breakfast, we headed out to ski and get a better handle on the snow pack on other aspects.  This day did not consist of any major couloirs, but still some fun climbs, a little steeps, and some great snow!  We climbed/skied this area called the Munchkins.  Not super long by AK standards, but a great test slope and steep.











Michelle droppin in

Then we skinned back up to the saddle between the two Munchkins and skied a super long glacier section with great snow off of the back (northern) side.  Quite memorable.  By that time it was mid afternoon and we skinned the mile or so back up glacier to camp for some lunch.





















After lunch we went for a tour toward the ridge line that had stollen our sun that morning.  This was quite a solid evening pow ski.

Cody & Jason













That evening at camp seemed much more manageable temps wise.  I am not sure if it was because we got back to camp with the sun still up, or if we were better prepared mentally, but it sure felt more comfortable than the first night.

Mornings to come, I believe at least one person fell for the false sun rise.  I usually did so on a voluntarily basis to get going on the morning routine.  Climbing from our tent, shoving my feet and liners into my frozen boot shells, and running around camp until my feet no longer hurt.  On this day, we decided to head down glacier a ways and try to up the ante a bit terrain wise.  We found one couloir that was pretty heavily shedding cornice from above.  Joe and Jason decide to have a closer look.  Mich, Cody and I slid down glacier a bit more to a ramp we had been eyeing from camp (on the same wall/aspect as the cornice shedding coulie).  Just about the time we starting heading up to the bergschrund, Joe and Jason radioed in that they were bailing on the ice spitting coulie and heading across glacier to a glaciated cirque.


This way we could all have eyes on each other and radio coms.  We worked our way up through the bergschrund and about 1500 ft up this ramp.  It was really quite cold while booting up this thing in the shade.  Toes were pretty much numb.  The snow was punchy, but after digging around a bit, felt stable to ski.  We dug our selves into the side of this thing and right as we began to get our skis on, we saw Joe and Jason descending a thousand or so feet of 38 degree pow in the cirque across the way.  It was one hell of a site.  Our ramp was about 50 degrees with some exposure on the skiers left.  The snow was not a gimmie conditions wise either.


What a ski though, this thing was puckering to say the least.  With Joe and Jason watching from the comfort of their sunny white beach across the glacier, everyone pretty much nailed it!  Mich did have a bit of a bobble airing over the schrund near the bottom, but she threw her edges in and rolled right into a controlled turn.  A really solid recovery and certainly part of the game!  We all met up on the glacier and decided to switch, Joe and Jason would head up the ramp, and we would head up the cirque.  It was SOOOO nice to hit the direct sun light again.  We were pretty cold by this point.  It was also nice to have a boot pack already set by Joe and Jason.  We booted up the glaciated cirque to a point just below the schrund.  At this point Joe and Jason we just bringing their descent of the ramp and once again, what an amazing vantage point!  We followed them, with our 1000 or so feet of wide open pow.  The few miles of skinning back to camp appeared to help warm us back up a bit and we made it back to enjoy some sun before it dove behind the ridge line.  What a day!!!!  That evening we celebrated with some hot coors and whiskey.

“Hot Coors”

Yes, I did just say “hot” coors.  Think about it, its well below zero, you just hiked and skied your ass off all day, and you have that yearning for a refreshing drink or two.  Well, believe me, you’re not yearning for a cold beer.  I know this sounds awful, but a “hot” coors is serious amazing in this situation.  You get about half of a pot of hot water going (not quite boiling, but hot).  Grab one of your cold or frozen coors (or as many as can fit) and set them in the pot, rotating them from end to end until Joe does his face test to make sure their done.  But be careful, this is not with out the occasion explosion, and honestly it is not recommended with out the supervision of one of us.  Any of us would be happy to supervise on another amazing adventure!

When crawling into my sleeping bag that evening everything seemed to be comfortable, relatively warm and I was quite content.  However, 3am rolled around and I awoke to one hell of a burning, tingling, pain in my right foot.  I pulled my foot out of my sleeping back and there it was…..a super swollen, bright red and blackening little toe.    My foot had apparently been a bit colder that I thought throughout that previous day.  At this point it had been frozen for about 12 hours and had just started to thaw through the night.  Pretty uncomfortable.  The next morning, once the sun rose (for good), I showed everyone my foot.  It was now bright red, ballooned to twice the size of my other little toe, black around the knuckle, and blistered on the underside.  No good…..  Now I was at risk of refreezing it and possibly losing it for good.  This meant, no more skiing and keeping it warm in overboots for the day and a half remaining until we were schedule to be picked up.  I was still pretty damn grateful for the skiing I did get to do and at least it was sunny and beautiful out.


While I spent the rest of the trip laying in the sun, reading, journaling and packing up camp, the rest of the crew knocked off two more really cool couloirs and skied another amazing glacier pow run.  They climbed as far as they could up a couloir theyaptly called Little Toe Couloir ha ha.  It also was challenging snow and super steep, but they nailed it and I could see the whole thing from camp.




Mich dropping

















The last morning, they all decided to try and get up and down the northern couloir in the Trolls, which was about 2000 ft up to a really steep chimney that clocked in at about 55 degrees.  I was able to watch this go down right above camp and it was impressive!  I was getting so pumped I ket haltering and running around camp.  They crushed this thing.  When they skied back into camp I ran out on the skin track for some high fives!!!  I really wish I could have skied these two coulies with them, but I am glad I at least got to watch them.  It was really quite neat.



Once the celebrating slowed down, we packed up camp just in time to wait for a couple of hours for Paul to swoop in and pick us up.  Naturally we killed the time by laying out in the sun, sipping whiskey, and shooting guns!  What a freaking awesome adventure!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The Alaska Range is seriously not to be taken lightly.  Wow.


Joe, chillin
















As usual, here is a POV edit of the trip.  Also, check out some photos from the trip at Pics or picasaweb.google.com/mikeleake.

130410-130416 Lil Swiss from Teton FreeRide on Vimeo.


Gear Highlights:

Marmot’s Col MemBrain sleeping bag is 800 fill goose down and rated to -20 deg F.  I pretty well exceeded this temperature rating on this trip and I did just fine.  Infact, I frost bit my foot one day and owe the re-warming and capability of keeping it warm to this sleeping bag!

Scarpa’s 2013/14 Freedom SL Freeride Boot is probably the most diverse boot to hit the freerdie touring boot market yet.  It is quite stiff for it’s incredibly lite weight, and really allows you to power a ski.  Skinning and boot packing for hours up a couloir, and then shredding back down as if you were just dropped by a heli is the name of the game for this boot!

Marmot’s Alpinist 2P tent provided for the perfect base camp home on this trip and with it’s strong pole structure, we were able to block snow closely around the parimeter.  This thing is certainly burly enough for glacier base camps as well as high mountain camps.


Posted in Spring 2013 | Comments closed

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
  • 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.