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March 2005

Sloping Off

Where To Go Skiing To Avoid the Crowds

Fresh air, powder snow and the swish of skis beneath your feet. What could be more exhilarating or relaxing than a day’s skiing or, alternatively, snowboarding for the younger or trendier among us? For starters, how about being able to hop on to a ski lift without first having to battle hordes of pushy people who are standing on your skis? Then skiing down empty slopes, as opposed to an obstacle course full of moving children and novice skiers? And, finally, being able to relax over a hearty lunch without having to perch on the edge of a bench because of a lack of seats?

Yes, though Munich is ideally situated for easy access to a wide range of excellent ski resorts—some of the most renowned lie within a couple of hours’ drive from the city—their popularity often leads to overcrowding on the slopes and long lift lines.

But there are alternatives—you don’t have to go skiing with half of Munich. Anyone who wants a quieter day on the slopes should try the Wipptal twinned resorts of Bergeralm and Sattelberg. Wipptal lies just half an hour away from Innsbruck, next to the Brenner Autobahn, and is one of the Tyrol’s best-kept skiing secrets.

Wipptal is also less expensive than most of the better-known resorts. Indeed, a trip there with the Europa-Reisen-München bus company has to be one of the cheapest ways around to get to the slopes. A day ticket, which includes travel to and from the resort, a ski pass and even a decent cheese roll for breakfast, costs € 29.50 on a Saturday or Sunday and € 26 on a weekday. The bus leaves Isartorplatz at 7 am and arrives back in Munich at 7 pm. I decided to check out the three-day package, which includes a three-day ski pass and two nights’ bed and breakfast accommodation for € 119.

I arrived at Isartor at 6:45 am, blurry-eyed and laden with skis, boots and an overnight bag. My fellow passengers seemed younger and less affluent than other passengers I’ve seen on ski-bus trips. At least the atmosphere was jolly, as groups of teenagers chatted and laughed outside the bus. At 7 am the doors of the bus promptly opened and the chaos started. We were told our allocated seats and loaded our skiing equipment into the bus. Unfortunately, I discovered that a 17-year-old boy and I had both been given the same seat. I gladly escaped the blasts of music blaring from his friends’ stereo at the back of the bus and moved to sit on an empty seat next to my boyfriend. An angry father who wanted to sit behind his children soon evicted me from my new spot. I eventually found an empty seat and settled down for the journey as the bus set off at 7:30 am, half an hour later than planned.

The chaos returned when we reached the resort town of Steinach am Brenner. The passengers were dropped off at various hotels and guesthouses, which took time and patience, as our guesthouse, the Hotel Post, was the last on the list. Luckily it was worth the wait. The Hotel Post, where we were going to collapse and sleep for the next two nights, was a pleasant surprise. The hotel was large, with comfy rooms and a friendly staff. It was right in the center of Steinach and surrounded by restaurants and cafés—useful if you fancy an alternative to hotel food. What’s more, the hotel was just a five-minute walk from the main ski lift or a short, one-minute trip with the ski bus, which stopped in front of the hotel.

The resort itself was an even greater surprise. It was small but the runs were long and enjoyable. Two of the blue slopes were closed because of insufficient snow. The rest of the resort’s 32-km worth of pistes were open thanks to snow cannons, which sprayed artificial snow on top of the real stuff. A long red run wound its way down from the top of the mountain, at 2,200 m. There was a shorter red run to enjoy, as well as a fun blue slope. Beginners, meanwhile, could take their first faltering slides across the snow on the practice slope.

For those with endless energy, the resort also offers night-time skiing, which can be witnessed from the town, as skiers speed down a spectacular, floodlit slope to the bottom of the valley. For me, meanwhile, the hotel’s sauna was calling. It had been a full day’s skiing—for although it’s all very well not having to wait in line for lifts, you then miss out on the chance to stand around and recover a bit of energy!

Axamer Lizum is another area that offers excellent skiing without the crowds. The ski resort is one of the smaller ski stations in Austria, with access to 40 km of piste. A day’s ski pass costs € 27.50. While it may not be the most challenging of areas, it is more than adequate for the average skier. Axamer Lizum was the site of the women’s downhill run in the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics held in Innsbruck. There is an excellent 6.5-km-long piste to race down to the parking lot. With skiing above 2,000 m, snow cover is generally reliable. The highest lift goes up to 2,340 m, while the resort itself is at 878 m. In fact, it’s worth a trip to the resort just to visit the new panorama restaurant, Hoadlhaus, set at 2,340 m. The restaurant has a wall of windows and a sun terrace with spectacular views of Innsbruck and the surrounding region. The Hoadlhaus is modern, spacious and has the feel of a luxury restaurant rather than a crowded, ski resort eatery.

If you want to spend the night at Axamer Lizum, there’s accommodation in the village of Gotzen, a 15-minute bus ride from the slopes. If you’re looking for wild après ski establishments, you’ll need to travel 20 minutes to Innsbruck, but Gotzen does have the odd pub.

The linked resorts of Serfaus, Fiss and Ladis are little known, but they offer superb skiing, mostly above treeline. Serfaus, Fiss and Ladis are high above the Inn Valley, between Landeck and Reschenpass. There are 160 km of runs, including 37 km of easy slopes, 99 km of red runs and 25 km of black pistes for the more experienced skiers. A day’s ski pass costs € 36. There are many possibilities to ski between the three resorts, which means an endless selection of runs. The only problem is avoiding getting lost, as the size of the resort makes it easy to become disoriented!

For something extremely cheap and cheerful, head to Bavaria’s Wendelstein, where a day’s lift pass is priced at € 23.50. The Zahnradbahn cable car has been taking skiers up the 1,838-m-high mountain since 1912. The small ski area offers demanding slopes, great scenery and a wonderful view: on a clear day you can see for miles around.

The Wendelstein is best suited to more capable skiers as the first slope from the cable car is a black run. You can then zoom past the mountain huts, down the 5-km-long red run to the cable-car station in Osterhofen-Bayrischzell. There are two other intermediate descents, as well as a demanding black piste down the east side of the mountain, which is recommended only to experienced skiers.

Those who aren’t looking for an obscure resort but who want something more traditional should head 90 km south of Munich to the winter wonderland of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, home of Germany’s highest mountain, the 2,300-m-high Zugspitze. The resort boasts 53 cable cars, lifts and the cogwheel train that lead to Garmisch’s mountain peaks. The area features 58 km of well-groomed trails for learning, as well as historic advanced and expert runs: the Kandahar and the Olympia runs. A day’s lift pass costs € 35.

Another alternative is to take a day ski trip with the Munich sports store SportScheck. A trip costs about € 49 per person. The price includes the bus journey to and from the resort, a day’s lift pass and free goodies on the bus, such as coffee, chocolate, soft drinks and then beer on the way home. SportScheck travels to a different ski resort each weekend, using Autobus Oberbayern buses. The bus normally departs at 6:30 am from the parking area at Donnersbergerbrücke, next to the S-Bahn station. Be sure to book in advance because the number of places on each trip is limited and the buses are usually full. <<<


Isatorplatz 1, Tel. 29 77 66

Tel. +43 (5272) 63 33
Fax +43 (5272) 63 33 14

Axamer Lizum Aufschliessungs AG
Archenweg 52,
6020 Innsbruck, Austria
Tel. +43 676 82 94 33 33
Fax +43 512 33 03 33
Snow phone +43 523 46 82 40

Bergbahnen Fiss-Ladis
6533 Fiss, Austria
Tel. +43 (5476) 63 96
Fax +43 (5476) 63 96-50
Snow phone +43 (5476) 69 69

Kerschelweg 30
D-83098 Brannenburg
Tel. (08034) 308-0
Fax (08034) 308-106

Bayerische Zugspitzbahn
Olympiastrasse 27
D-82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen
Tel. (08821) 797-0, Fax (08821) 797-901
Snow phone (08821) 79 79 79

SportScheck Travel Center
6th floor, Sendlinger Strasse 6
Tel. 21 66 12 53

Autobus Oberbayern Travel Center
Arnulfstrasse 8 (near the Central Train Station),
Tel. 54 90 75 60

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