alan little’s weblog archive for january 2010

january snow

26th January 2010 permanent link

I don’t claim to be a meteorologist, but I’ve lived in Bavaria for ten years, and had an active interest in snow sports for five of those ten years, and I’ve noticed what seems to be a fairly typical weather pattern.

Namely: there are often one or two big snow dumps before Christmas – I spent a fun day hiking in one of them at the beginning of November last year – but then January is generally cold but dry, with the really big snowfalls of the year coming later in February & March. This year has been typical: while northern Europe and the southern and western Alps (and the US too, so I gather) are under heaps of snow, here in the middle we had only a couple of very light snowfalls.

What this means, for early season skiing and snowboarding in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, is a lot of on-piste scraping around on cement-hard artificial snow; off-piste thumping and bashing your board over snow cover with not much depth and lots of sticks & stones (my board is currently in the shop for repair of couple of nasty holes).

You generally can find some decent snow, but exactly where is very variable, depending on the exact weather and the local terrain. Last January I was in Gasteinertal, and the good snow tended to be in sheltered runs lower down in the trees; this year I was in the Zugspitz Arena, further west and a little lower down, and in those ski areas the decent snow was mostly higher up.

For quasi-local snowboarders like myself, spending the early part of the season on on rock-hard pistes isn’t fantastically much fun, but it’s good technique training and a warm-up for the proper snow later in the season. If you’re traveling from far away for your only ski or snowboard trip of the year, though, you might be well advised to plan your trip to Austria later in the season, or go to Italy or France (or Scotland, this year) instead.

related entries: Snowboarding

Ehrwald, Biberwier, Lermoos ☆☆☆

26th January 2010 permanent link

Times visited:six
Last visited:January 2010

The ski areas of Ehrwald, Biberwier and Lehrmoos are part of the “Zugspitz Arena”, a group of smallish ski areas in the Loisach valley south west of the Zugspitze, just across the Austrian border from the Bavarian resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I just spent a few days there, traveling from Munich on a ski school bus with my family. (The normal advantages of bus versus car travel, from the perspective of the car driver, apply).

I was impressed. The valley, with the Wetterstein range to the north and the Mieminger range to the south, is spectacularly beautiful. I had driven through it many times, for example on the way to bigger and more famous ski resorts like Serfaus and St. Anton, but never stopped before. Now that I did, I discovered that the ski areas are good too – highly recommended for beginners and families with kids. If you're skiing with kids and/or of modest ambitions yourself, you don’t necessarily need big famous ski areas on huge mountains.

Ehrwalder Alm

Ehrwalder Alm is a small ski resort oriented to kids and families. It has some of the most spectacular scenery of any ski resort I’ve ever been to, being situated directly in the valley between the south face of the Wetterstein and the north face of the Mieminger Alps (I noted some excellent looking possibilities for summer trips in the Mieminger with my wife). The runs at Ehrwarlder Alm are shortish but pleasant, including the token “black” run that every ski resort feels it has to have – this, despite being pleasant and not too hard, had almost nobody on it, so my wife and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours one afternoon doing laps on it.

Drawbacks of Ehrwalder Alm: the (otherwise rather nice) blue run back down to the valley gets very crowded in the afternoon – slalom around groups of ski-school kids who you really don’t want to hit. The restaurants are few, mediocre and overcrowded. And the only way to the top half of the resort is via an old, slow double chairlift. This has quite a steep exit ramp that tends to be frequently blocked by fallen beginners, especially in the afternoon when the snow has got a bit bumpy.


Biberwier is a very small ski area - basically one quite long run (800 metres of descent), plus a little plateau at the top of the hill with a couple of draglifts that were closed when I was there because of insufficient snow. As with all ski areas where I have only been once, my perceptions are greatly affected by how the snow was that day, which in the case of Biberwier was pretty sparse and stony in places on piste. But while I was there it snowed for a couple of hours and there was some thin but rideable powder by the side of the piste; I spent my day happily going up and down that.

The Sunnenalm restaurant at the top struck me as one of the nicer ski area restaurants I have visited, although this may have been helped by the fact that hardly anybody was up there.

Apart from being small, Biberwier has one major drawback, namely: the only way to the top half of the mountain is an old, slow and freezing cold double chairlift.

My wife was generally underwhelmed by Biberwier; I found it utterly charming and would definitely go there again – albeit only right after a big dump of snow.


Lermoos is the largest of the three areas. It has lots of good beginner and intermediate runs, but there didn’t appear to be all that much for the ambitious. (We were there with two other families with small children, so “ambitious” didn’t apply to us anyway[*].) It is, however, north-facing, and the early season snow was pretty hard and nasty in the afternoon.

There’s no single ski area in the Zugspitz Arena that would be interesting for anybody except an absolute beginner for more than a couple of days, but since all the little ski areas – there are a couple more that I haven’t been to – are close together and linked by buses, the area as a whole would certainly be viable for a week’s family holiday.

[*] Although this will be my six year old son’s third ski season, and I have the feeling that by around the end of the season, “ambitious” for me might well mean “keeping up with him on the piste, just about”.

related entries: Snowboarding

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