Written by Joseph M Gaffney
If it can be done on ice or snow, not only have the Germans done it, but they’ve also perfected it. So, if you prefer the exciting, heart-racing challenge of winter sports to the relaxed pace of most warm-weather sports, Germany is your ideal tourist destination.
Let’s start with Alpine (downhill), Nordic (cross-country), and freestyle skiing. The best online listing of ski areas in Germany seems to be http://www.bergfex.com/, so, while I’ll list my favorites, check out this web site’s listings to see all the skiing goodies available to you.
My overall favorite is Oberjoch in Bad Hindelang-Oberjoch, about a two-hour drive from Munich or about four hours by train via Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Instructors in both Alpine and Nordic skiing are readily available and the resort offers six lifts, Alpine skiing on over 32 km of groomed trails, 16 classic Nordic cross-country runs, & 4 Nordic high cross-country skiing courses. Oberjoch also offers snowboarding, ice skating, curling, sleigh rides, canyoning, winter hiking trails, dogsledding, and a very challenging 3.5 km toboggan run.
My recommendation for the best in Nordic skiing is the Bodenmais Bretterschachten cross-country center, quite near the Czechoslovakian border, about a 2½-hour drive from Nürnberg. The center offers 114 km of 9 well-groomed classic cross-country runs and a well-groomed 60 km high cross-country run as well as 8 skating courses covering 110 km. Both rentals and ski-touring services are available. For those who want to include Alpine skiing, there are two nearby ski resorts: Grosser Arber and Bodenmais Silberberg, both of which are delightful and worthwhile.
Freestyle skiing is something special: it can be simultaneously dangerous and artistically magnificent because it blends Alpine (downhill) skiing with acrobatics. One might as well combine gymnastics with skateboarding! Freestyle skiing’s mélange of acrobatic elements include 2-4-meter jumps that can end in a vertical-drop landing of as much as 20-meters, giving the skier a chance to twist and somersault before landing. Breathtaking! Other elements that are added to or substituted in the freestyle skier’s repertoire include mogul skiing, ballet skiing, cross skiing, half-pipe skiing, and slope-style skiing. All elements of Alpine skiing are employed and pressed to their limits. If you want to learn how to ski freestyle or if you want to get professional help to hone and improve your skills, contact Skischule Thoma; Dr.-Pilet-Spur 13; 79868 Feldberg im Schwarzwald; telephone 49 7676 92688; www.thoma-skischule.de. The ski school is about two hours by car from Stuttgart and about one hour by car or train from Freiburg (a city on the edge of the Black Forest and well worth visiting on its own!). It has all the equipment you might need and the village is invitingly romantic for couples of all ages.
If you delight in snowboarding, head for Garmisch-Partenkirchen, mentioned above. Only an hour and a half by train from Munich, this ski area gained worldwide renown as the venue for the 1936 Winter Olympics. First and foremost for snowboarders is the Zugspitze Glacier Ski Resort, which averages 2,360 meters above sea level. It now offers more than 19 kilometers of well-groomed trails for snowboarders. The neighboring Garmisch Classic Ski Area comprises three linked mountain ski areas: Hausberg, Kreuzeck, and Alpspitze maintains 17 ski lifts, including two gondolas and two tramways, all feeding into 40 kilometers of well-groomed trails as well as four downhill runs with artificial snow-making equipment.
Bobsledding is a rather specialized sport for enterprising adventurers who enjoy the rush as much as they enjoy the accomplishment. To indulge this urge, go to the bobsled track at Königsee near Berchtesgaden, where you can ride with an experienced pilot on the World Champion 1,200-meter ice track down Watzman mountain. Here’s an excerpt from a recent participant’s thrilled comments: “We took a bobsled ride down the world cup track at Konigsee . . . in a 4-man bobsled with a professional driver. . . . The 1 minute . . . was amazing! . . . 120km/hour and . . . 4-5 Gs around the bend. . . . What a rush!” Contact Berchtesgadener Land Tourismus GmbH; Bahnhofplatz 4; 83471 Berchtesgaden; telephone 49 (0)1805 865200; e-mail: email@example.com. Other bobsled sites include Altenberg bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track at http://www.wia-altenberg.de/; Oberhof bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track at Rodelbahn Oberhof; and Winterberg bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton track at Veltins Eisarena. Gute Reise!
Bear in mind that ice climbing is one of the most exciting, risky, and intoxicating endeavors one can undertake. Proper training is an absolute requirement; one mistake can doom the individual as well as companions. Probably the foremost ice climbing school and venue in Germany is in Ohlstadt, a quite small town (fewer than 3,500 residents) in Upper Bavaria, about two and a half hours by train or car from Nürnberg; an hour by car or train from Munich. You first stop in Ohlstadt, if you’re interested in learning ice climbing from true professionals, is die Bergführer; Hauptstraße 20; 82441 Ohlstadt; telephone +49 (0)8841 627 08 52; firstname.lastname@example.org. As a bonus, you can take advantage of ice climbing instructions and experiences in both Germany, on the Zugspitze glacier and in the area around Lenggries on the Isar, and into Austria, specifically to the Pitztal and Sellrain valleys. Ice climbing courses include a single day for groups of at least two and no larger than seven people, weekend courses, or intensive courses in the Karwendel range in Germany or the Jochberg Nordwand (Austria). The more experienced you are, the more ice climbing opportunities can be made available to you.
Winter sports are an excellent cure for those of us who go all out in the warm months, particularly those of us who want to exercise for health reasons, with tennis, soccer, bicycling, swimming, etc., but, when the cold weather sets in, we shut down. From daily exercise to no real exercise. That’s unhealthy and a shock to our system. Consider winter sports as an alternative to wearing out the television remote and the electronic games.