This is the time of year that I miss working seasons the most. The rest of the year, I’m glad that I no longer have to work eighty hour weeks and deal with grumpy tourists and their comedic mishaps. At Christmas and New Year, however, I really would rather be working abroad. If I could just go back there for two weeks of the year, I would. Spending Christmas in ski resorts always seemed so much more genuine than my experience of the holidays here in the UK. For a start, everyone in resort has to carry on working over Christmas, and it’s the busiest time of the ski season, so you don’t have time to plan much. Friends, colleagues and sometimes complete strangers come together to make the most of the spare time you do have. You share the chores and cobble together a Christmas dinner with what you can find in the local shops. You might even have a Secret Santa to make sure that everyone has a present to open. And then there’s the snow. Not the mushy, grey stuff that we sometimes get here in the UK, but proper snow. Snow that you can ski on, which is a great way to de-stress when you do manage to get some time off. Skiing was one of the hardest parts of my old life that I had to leave behind. Every year, at the start of the ski season, I ask myself if I made the right decision. Then I remember those tourists and airport runs at four in the morning after two hours sleep and decide that yes, coming back to the UK definitely was the right choice. Although I don’t get to ski anywhere near as much as I used to anymore, or as much as I’d like, I do make the effort to get back on my skis whenever I can.
I first visited Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, about 5 years ago. At the time I was working as a travel rep in Seefeld, just over the border in Austria. The company I was working for had reluctantly sent me to Seefeld for the final six weeks of the ski season to cover someone who had resigned. Their reluctance was no reflection on my ability to do my job, they were just adamant that an alpine skier like myself would not enjoy working in Seefeld. The resort is sold as being a ‘winter wonderland’ destination, which in travel company talk means that there’s not much skiing to be had. I seemed the only person to not be concerned. I figured that if I couldn’t alpine ski, I’d just learn to do whatever it is that is popular in Seefeld. That turned out to be cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing.
When I arrived in Seefeld, it soon became apparent that I was indeed the first serious alpine skier to be sent there. I loved it, though. Although the alpine ski area isn’t that big, it’s good fun, and I was determined to get the most out of it. So one of my first errands was to claim my free (well, technically – we had to work our arses off in return for all the ‘free’ stuff we got) area lift pass. What did surprise me was that I was the first rep to actually ask for a full area pass. The mountain owner looked genuinely shocked when I asked to see him, but his shock soon turned to excitement when he realised he was in the presence of a rep who could promote his mountain, and he eagerly told me about all the benefits of his lift pass. One of which was that it covered ski areas other than Seefeld, including Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I didn’t have to be told twice. I begged a day off from my manager, and jumped on a train over the border.
That first day’s experience of Garmisch-Partenkirchen would have been perfect, had I been able to see anything. Unfortunately, it was a complete white-out. I still managed to get some skiing in, but I decided to call it a day when, whilst skiing on the glacier, I stopped for a breather and looked down to see that my skis were dangling precariously over the edge of something.
I promised myself that one day I would return to Garmish-Partenkirchen and see what the place actually looked like. Hence the reason I returned this March for four days skiing.
So imagine my dismay when I arrived into the town to find it grey, drizzly and the mountains invisible behind a cloak of cloud. I was starting to wonder if Garmisch-Partenkirchen always looked like this. Maybe even the locals had never seen the mountains.
I tentatively opened the curtains the next morning to check the weather. I could not contain my excitement when I saw bright sunshine and clear skies, and I raced down to breakfast to fuel up before heading out skiing.
There are two ski areas accessible from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the Garmisch-Classic area and the Zugspitze glacier. Click here to see the piste map of the area. The Zahnradbahn connects the areas via one of the coolest train journeys I’ve ever been on. From the main station in the town centre, the train makes it’s way along the valley floor, stopping at Hausberg and Kreuzeck/Alpspitze, from where you can access the Garmisch-Classic area. If you’re too impatient to wait for the train, there is also a local ski bus that will take you to these access points. After travelling down the valley to Eibsee, the train then continues it’s journey to the glacier via a tunnel through the mountain. There’s also the option to travel over the mountain, by the Eibsee gondola and then the Gletscherbahn cable car. This will take you via the top of the Zugspitze, the highest point in Germany. On the return journey, a lot of people choose to get off the train at Riffelriss and race it down red 30 to the Eibsee stop. If you are planning to take the train to the top of the glacier, be aware that the journey time from the main train station is 1hr 15mins.
If you’re an adrenaline-seeking, off-piste nutcase on snow, then you’ll probably get bored very quickly in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. The only black runs are a few home runs. If you’re looking for somewhere to have a few, fun days skiing, I would highly recommend it. Although a small area compared to some of it’s neighbouring resorts in Austria, most of the runs are graded as red and there is lots of different terrain to explore. It’s spread out, too, so you don’t just feel like you’re skiing up and down the same bit of snow. The glacier is also home to one of the best terrain parks I’ve ever seen.
Garmisch and Partenkirchen were separate towns for centuries. In 1935, their respective mayors were forced by Adolf Hitler to combine the two towns in preparation for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games, the first to feature alpine skiing incidentally. The united town is quite often just referred to as Garmisch, an offence to the people of Partenkirchen. I must admit that, until my visit this year, I was also guilty of this.
Garmisch-Partenkirchen itself is definitely more of a working, living town than a ski resort. The shops all close at five, and I was amazed to discover that nowhere sold ski wax. There are plenty of restaurants to visit in the evenings, and if you’re thirsty after a hard days skiing, the Irish bar is definitely worth a visit. Your guest card also allows you one free entry to the local swimming baths, a great way to relax after a day on the slopes. Their hot pool is as good as any ski massage. All in all, I’m glad I gave Garmisch-Partenkirchen another chance.
Easyjet fly from London Gatwick to Munich and Innsbruck, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is about halfway between the two.
From Munich airport, take the Lufthansa bus (German bus stops are marked by a green H in a yellow circle) to the main train station (€10.50). There’s a bus every 20 minutes, and it’s a 45 minute journey to the station. There’s a direct train from Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and it costs €19 single fare.
Similarly, from Innsbruck airport catch the local bus to the main train station. The train from Innsbruck to Garmisch-Partenkirchen is also direct, and costs €15.10 single fare.
I stayed in a private en-suite room at Hostel 2962, a two minute walk from the train station. I booked the room through booking.com, and it was a bargain at €235 for 5 nights bed and breakfast. The hostel was excellent, and booking.com has lots of other cheap accommodation options to choose from.
At the moment, I have no plans to go skiing this season, but I am determined to get my skis back on my feet before the end of the winter. Even if it means me flying over to Innsbruck, visiting my family there and heading out to one of the local slopes, I will get there. Besides, my brother sent me some videos of my four-year-old nephew skiing at the weekend, and I think I need to practice before he gets better than me! I still dream of (skiable) snow on an almost daily basis during the winter, but when it starts to get me down I remind myself of the reasons I moved back to the UK and everything I’ve achieved since I did. Who knows, maybe one day I will make it back there for a whole season?