Steep skiing: first ski descent of Epena, one of the most challenging faces in the Alps

Au sommet de l'Épéna, Symon Welfringer et Xavier Cailhol s'apprêtent à descendre sa face nord. ©Coll. Cailhol/Welfringer

They ski the first ascent of the North Face of Épéna, in the Vanoise region of the French Alps. On March 22, Symon Welfringer and Xavier Cailhol combined ski touring, mountaineering, steep skiing and cycling for a new adventure they had been dreaming of for several years. Weather conditions, “luck, opportunity and level” were all on hand to overcome a 1,000-metre wall that had to be climbed with ice axes and then skied down. With an incline of between 50 and 60 degrees, undoubtedly one of the toughest ski descents in the Alps.

There’s something inexplicable about L’Épéna,” says geographer and aspiring guide Xavier Cailhol. If you look at its north face from Tarentaise, it merges into the Grande Casse, it disappears. If you look at it from Pralognan, the petite and grande Glière erase it. […] L’Épéna doesn’t catch the eye. Its ridge seems debonair, its north face uninteresting, its east face uninteresting and its south face uninteresting. And yet… from all those who have traversed its itineraries, an echo of an entirely different nature returns. This mountain attracts, it fascinates.

And yet… Accompanied by his faithful friend, mountaineer Symon Welfringer, they decided to tackle the North Face of Epéna on March 22. This was of particular significance to Symon, who learned to ski in the area. A long-held dream for Xavier, who has been observing it for several years.

I’ve been watching it regularly for three years now, and we’ve been keeping an eye on the conditions