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About two months ago, when the Washington-in-January-feeling-like-crud was at its peak, my brother called me with an idea: skiing in Germany. More precisely, the proposal was to fly with him and his two young daughters to Germany, where we would meet up with his wife, Nino, who was in Prague on a business trip, and spend a few days skiing in Bavaria. How could I say no — who wouldn’t want to escape the damp cold of the District for the dry cold of the Alps? My last vacation followed similar logic. I went to Mexico in August, leaving steamy Washington for the arid heat of the Yucatan. That trip, planned in just a week and a half, was unforgettable (in a good way). Why not give the formula another try? So less than two weeks after my brother’s call, we were at Dulles on a Tuesday night, checking in for our flight. I love to ski. I’ve skied since I was a child and never remember being particularly challenged by the nuts and bolts of it. Nor, I must admit, have I ever grasped its finer points. So when asked my skill level, I will forever be doomed to reply, “Intermediate.” In short, despite relatively frequent forays on those long, smooth strips of fiberglass, I have never come even close to being an expert skier. I have made my way down a fair share of “black diamond” slopes — often with speed, but rarely with grace — and sometimes ending with a wipeout. I am most in my element on long, steady grades, so the prospect of a week of Alpine skiing was a little daunting. On the flight over, my brother talked up the promises that powder held for a skier such as myself — accustomed as I was to the icy slopes in the Northeast United States. In the main, we agreed that it would slow me down, not a bad thing. But skiing wasn’t my only concern. With my well-insulated and distinctly practical Columbia snow bibs, low-end Smith goggles, and weathered L.L. Bean windbreaker, I wasn’t exactly geared up for glamour. But thankfully there are a few things that Garmisch-Partenkirchen isn’t: Gstaad, Chamonix, or Zermatt. In other words, the twin skiing towns nestled in the Alps on the German border with Austria aren’t overwhelmingly chic. You will find some luxury goods, but it’s not choked with Chopard boutiques, Pucci snow-booted crowds, or too many apr�s ski activities you have to actually change clothes for. (Although one day poking around Garmisch’s shopping district, I did discover a store selling warehouse-size helpings of season-old Celine and Prada.) What you will find in Germany’s best-known ski resort is a uniquely Bavarian welcome, diverse slopes, and laid-back fun for skiers and nonskiers alike — and low costs for everything from lift tickets to lodging. The site of the 1936 Olympics, Garmisch-Partenkirchen sits in the shadow of Zugspitze, the highest peak in the German Alps at 9,716 feet. Originally two towns, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were officially joined for the Olympics, but remain separated by the Partnach River, a main thoroughfare, and a little territorial animosity. The greater Garmisch-Parktenkirchen area includes more than 40 ski lifts that transport skiers to 68 miles of downhill skiing. The area offers a range from gentle beginner slopes to World Cup runs, including the legendary Kandahar. (For two days each year at the end of January, Kandahar is taken over by the world’s best skiers for Alpine World Cup racing.) But Garmisch-Partenkirchen’s real reward is for enthusiastic intermediate skiers like myself. So for anyone who has ever been frustrated putzing along lilting bunny slopes or pitching (and screaming) down black diamond runs, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is alpine paradise. Gliding down the back side of the Zugspitze or zooming along the Kreuzeck Mountain’s curvy Olympia (which runs roughly parallel to the Kandahar and is also used for World Cup events), intermediate skiers can hit their stride in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. (Yet beware: When groomed, these runs also serve as race tracks for experts.) A Classic pass, at about $34 a day or $58 for a two-day ticket (at $1.20 to the euro), gives access to the 28 ski lifts on the Wank-Echbauer, Kreuzeck, and Alpspitze ski areas. For $40, you can get a full-day pass to all of the Classic mountains, as well as the mighty Zugspitze. Generous family packages and half-day and two-day passes are also available at a discount. Open December through May, the slopes around Garmisch-Partenkirchen, or GAP for short, include the Eckbauer, a tame hill that also has ski jump ramps, the Hausberg and Kreuzeck/Alspitze areas, served by parallel cable cars about a mile apart, and Zugspitze, which can be reached by an historic cog-wheel train from Garmisch or a zippier cable car. In addition to access to an impressive glacier area, Zugspitze is also home to Germany’s highest church, boasts a panoramic view of four countries — Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Germany — and for snowboarders offers a fun park and half-pipe. Ski and snowboard rentals are available at many shops in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A four-day ski rental runs about $80. The resort’s diversity allows intermediate skiers to push limits and works well for groups at different skill levels. For example, once on top of Alpspitze, skiers have a choice between making their way down a breathtaking snow field, telemarking further up the mountain, taking a guided (and steep) run down the north face of the mountain through the forest, or sticking to a wide and lightly groomed path. Further down the mountain, however, the runs can become narrower, icy, and chopped with deep moguls. Before we made our way down the Alpspitze the second time one morning, we stopped for an early lunch at the top of the lift in the Kiosk Osterfelderkopf, a bustling self-service restaurant where a super-size bowl of goulash and a liter of beer run about $9. Furnished with heavy wooden tables and benches, this restaurant is a pleasant stop for lunch. Its terrace offers a view of the Loisach Valley, but if you’re looking for sweeping panoramas or a more demure atmosphere, head to the dining choices atop Zugspitze. Wherever we found ourselves on the slopes, food was never far. Huts offering an array of beers and such hearty food as liver dumpling soup, pork roast — and lots and lots of sausage and strudel — dot the ski area. In the evenings, bars and restaurants fill up early. But that doesn’t make the fun buttoned down — just unusual. We had just dug into venison stew one evening in a Garmisch tavern when about a dozen costumed and masked people entered the dining room. A large group of older men in lederhosen and walking gear enjoying beer and conversation barely took notice of what began as boisterous accordion and fiddle music. We thought, Gypsies perhaps? Maybe a tourist trap gag? But we were the only tourists in the restaurant. Hungry and safely ensconced in a booth, we happily observed. They sang. They drank — on the house — not removing scary wooden masks for beer consumption. They didn’t ask for money, and they didn’t go away. Their schtick included cross-dressing (in tightly cinched dirndl skirts), lipstick (scribbled on our foreheads, our hands, my brother’s glasses, anywhere but where lipstick is usually applied), shaving cream (a giant dollop of which a fellow diner obligingly wore on his head for the remainder of his meal), and a rubber chicken. They spritzed copious amounts of cheap perfume and proffered porno magazines and shots of a bluish liquor of undetermined origin (the latter of which we accepted). Turns out we had hit upon the celebration of Fasching, a public carnival that officially starts on Nov. 11 or Jan. 7, depending on the region, and continues until the beginning of Lent. Celebrated in most of the Roman Catholic regions of Germany, Fasching features costumed revelers, elaborate parades, and balls. If you aren’t lucky enough to experience Fasching and want to guarantee a glimpse of Bavarian entertainment, try dinner and the Bavarian floor show at the Fraundorfer on Ludwigstrasse in Partenkirchen. For more upscale activities, sample the establishments in the big hotels, such as the Post-Taverna in the Posthotel Partenkirchen, the M�hlradl in the Oberm�hle Hotel, or Post-H�rndl in Clausing’s Posthotel. Lodging on the edges of the two towns extends to within about a quarter-mile from the lifts. We stayed in an apartment in Haus Hart, a guest house in Garmisch about a mile from the Hausberg lifts. For about $140 a night we had a spacious two-bedroom apartment with a fully equipped kitchen, a balcony with a perfectly framed view of the Zugspitze, and a series of welcome surprises such as heated tile floors, a luxurious bathroom, and limited cable television. Garmisch-Partenkirchen has many large hotels, from the Ramada-esque to the elegant. But we found a guest house to be a less expensive and more flexible option. For those who prefer not to hurtle down hills while strapped into ski boots and bindings, there are more than 80 miles of cross-country ski trails in the area, sled runs, winter hiking, and even a public indoor swimming hall. Despite the smorgasbord of winter activities, we concentrated on downhill skiing. And I’m glad we did. Finding a resort that is exciting and diverse — and supremely skiable for someone who isn’t an expert — made me realize that now when asked what kind of skier I am, I can proudly answer, “Intermediate,” knowing that, in southern Germany, there awaits between the bunny slopes and black diamonds a blissful world.

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