Why Skiing In Germany Deserves A Closer Look This Winter
OK, I have to confess. Winter is not my favourite time of year in Germany. In fact, it's not even my third-favourite season.
But even though I pine for sunshine and warm weather, there's one thing about the German winter which I absolutely love. And no, it's not Glühwein. It's the white stuff and the exhilaration of hitting the piste for the first time of the season!
Skiing in Germany is probably not the first activity which springs to mind when you think either Germany, or a ski or snowboard trip. Yet it boasts a wealth of ski resorts which are great value, well developed, less commercialised and more intimate than their more famous Alpine neighbours.
So for those of you based in Germany thinking of where to take your winter holiday, why not avoid the traffic jams, motorway tolls, expensive accommodation and outrageous food & drink prices of France and Switzerland, and stay local this winter for your snow fun. Or for those of you based in the UK bemoaning the weak pound, avoid the eye-popping prices in France and Switzerland this winter and jump on a plane to Munich. Your bank balance and your belly will be eternally grateful.
If you're curious about exactly where to go, then subscribe to our feed to be the first to get our upcoming post in a couple of weeks time, giving everything you need to know about the most popular ski resorts in Germany. Until then, let me whet your appetite with a quick look at the main arguments for skiing in Germany.
This may sound like an obvious one. Taking a weekend on the piste in Germany means that anyone located from more or less Frankfurt and all points south and east can reach the Alps for the weekend relatively easily, without having to use up any vacation time. Yes, the jams on the A5 and A8 on a Friday night are horrible, but here's a tip: Leave after 19:00 and you'll zoom down to the Alps with very little traffic to contend with for the most part. As soon as the dreaded Stuttgart rush hour has subsided, it's pretty much plain sailing. Reaching Germany's 2 premier ski resorts of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberstdorf is doable before the clock strikes midnight, even from the Rhein-Main conurbation. From Stuttgart or Nürnberg, you'll even get there in time for a Weißbier and some thigh-slapping music before hitting the sack!
So admittedly, you can ski a lot cheaper in Bulgaria or Slovakia. But you have to fly there, and once you do get there, the infrastructure and number of runs aren't half as good. The bottom line is: All things considered, it really isn't that much cheaper if you factor in the flight and transfers. Skiing in Germany is the best compromise between the top-notch Alpine resorts found in France, Austria and Switzerland and some of the more budget destinations of Eastern Europe.
While lift passes are broadly similar in cost to neighbouring, more traditional ski holiday destinations, it's the accommodation, food and drink and ski & equipment rental where there is a significant cost difference. For a group of 4 sharing an apartment, it's quite possible to find a modern, well-equipped apartment (Ferienwohnung) for around €100 per night, within walking distance to the centre of the town. Add to this the low price of groceries in Germany thanks to Aldi, Lidl, Penny & Co., and you can easily buy 3 days' worth of breakfast provisions, snacks for on the piste, as well as a couple of crates of beer for well under €100. That's a great start to your long weekend!
The Food & Beer
The biggest and best ski resorts in Germany are located in Bavaria and Baden Württemberg, both of which are known for their hearty cuisine, large portions and wonderful beer. These are living, working towns and villages which are not purpose-built ski resorts and are not completely overrun with tourists. Even in high season during February (except for when the Dutch invade during school holidays!), it's relatively easy to find a restaurant without reserving in advance.
What's more, because these places are not catering to hordes of package tourists, they are not full of plastic restaurants just serving burgers and pizza. You want to go and eat deer or wild boar, why yes you can. You want to go to a traditional Brauhaus for a pork knuckle or quarter of duck, fill your boots. One of the things I love most about a ski weekend in the German Alps or Black Forest is that you can have a fine, quality meal in a down-to-earth atmosphere, with a great, mixed clientele and without the snobbery of some of the more chic Swiss, French and Austrian resorts.
Not to mention wonderful Bavarian beer. A Weißbier on the piste costs as little as €3.50, and a couple of the resorts also have their own microbrewery in town. Even if they don't, you'll be spoilt for choice of local beers to try. You'll never want to drink Kronenbourg in Chamonix ever again!
Pistes in Germany are usually well prepared, well signed, and there are a great range of runs for all standards in the larger German ski resorts. The number of piste kilometres and length of the runs can rival all but the top resorts in the neighbouring countries. I would definitely argue my point with anyone that Germany is at the top of the “2nd tier” ski destinations for range and quality of pistes, as well as having a great lift infrastructure.
Granted, if you cross the border into Austria and Switzerland, you will find more developed resorts with a more modern lift infrastructure, but you will get the crowds and the prices to match.
Sunny Sundays can sometimes get a bit crowded, especially during mid-morning up until lunchtime. Here you sometimes notice that the 4-seat chairlift could really do with being upgraded to an 8-seater. But otherwise, queues are usually manageable, even during the weekends.
Many German ski resorts offer a free ski bus from all points around the town to the base stations of the major lifts. The local tourist tax usually covers local public transport, as well as discounted or free entry to things like the local spa or sauna. Parking is usually easy in and around the resorts, and even in car-free central locations, parking charges are very reasonable at just a few Euro per night maximum in municipal car parks or on the street.
The local shops also offer specialities such as wonderful mountain cheese Bergkäse, found in the Allgäu in resorts such as Oberstdorf and Balderschwang), or Black Forest ham if you venture onto the piste in the villages around the Feldberg.
The Family Friendly Environment
Skiing in Germany is particularly popular for families with young children. Perhaps this is because the accommodation and general cost of winter sport holidays is lower than in neighbouring countries. We all know how much Germans like a good bargain! What this means is that it's very easy to find a ski school in most resorts which will cater to kids. The instruction will most likely be in German but hey, they're kids, and they learn by doing. Plus falling over doesn't hurt so much when you're tiny.
Hiring equipment for kids is also easy. All ski resorts containing more than just one single pull-lift (T-Bar) will have a ski rental shop and most likely also a ski school. Enquire beforehand and you'll find your way. The local tourist office will in almost all cases have somebody who speaks English, and also is often very useful in advising kid-friendly accommodation options.
This being Germany, it goes without saying that many restaurants and accommodation providers are also pet friendly, so as long as somebody stays back to look after the family pet, your 4-legged friend can come along too.