The cold mountain air stings your cheeks as your breath emerges in a puff of steam. All around you are majestic white mountains rising like walls to touch the royal blue of the Alpinesky. There's no wind here in Germany's largest Alpine resort, Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Your conception of the Alps has probably been one of jagged peaks, advanced skiers jumping and schussing their way down magnificent slopes. This is partly true, but even beginners can enjoy skiing here and come away with a feeling of accomplishment.
Some say there's better snow in the southwest U.S., more vibrancy and zip on the slopes in Colorado, more beauty in the stark expanse of the South American Andes. but German Alps yield a different ambiance.
As you wind down the slopes, you can almost hear a fugue by Bach playing in the wind, for German skiing is a cultural experience. Even lunch on the slopes is hardy and convivial, a stick-to-the-ribs menu of bratwurst and kraut served on china plates and beverages in glasses. No Styrofoam and paper plates here.
One the average, the sun is warm, affording you many days of sweater skiing. The air is light, but not as dry as the western U.S., with its vast temperature changes between sun and shade. Not only is there more moisture in the air, there's more in the snow, making skiing a thrilling experience.
The atmosphere here is different, maybe because the Germans have a different attitude towards their mountains. Half the people who come to Garmisch don't even ski. Many go walking on Alpine trails, while others swim in temperate pools, or lie about on deck chairs and do nothing.
The hotels in Garmisch-Partenkirchen are generally small and homey. Even the largest ones employ experienced help, not part-time skiers who keep a job so that they can live at the resort and ski every day. Time slows down. Nothing is hurried. There's individual service, good food and comradery in the dining rooms and lounges and comfortable sleeping quarters with impeccable cleanliness.
Folk art and antiques add to the atmosphere. Everywhere you go in Garmisch, you'll see Luftmaleri or fresco paintings depicting religious or occupational scenes on the facades of buildings, most built in Bavarian Alpine style. Many of the townspeople dress in traditional Bavarian-style clothes, down to their ledderhosen or leather- suspendered pants.
Unlike most resorts, Garmisch-Partenkirchen doesn't try to take advantage of its guests. Quality comes first, both in service and hospitality. The town controls prices so no matter where you go, you'll always know that you're being given a fair deal. That applies to drinks, as well. All bars must serve you the required amount specified by the line on the glass for all alcoholic beverages.
But the main attraction here is the slopes. Skiing is just about perfect with much less of the commercialism found at U.S. resorts and some of the more famous European ones. If you're a skier or would-be skier, this is the place. No fancy lodges for snow-bunnies here.
Known as the winter sports capital of Germany, Garmisch-Partenkirchen offers 72 miles of downhill trails and 83 miles of cross-country trails maintained by the five communities in the valley. A cog railway takes skiers and hikers to the mid-point of the Zugspitze, Germany's highest peak. Due to its location, snow falls heavily in Garmisch from the beginning of December to late March.
As the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics, Garmisch offers fine winter sports facilities. The Olympic Ice Stadium stands in fine condition and provides lessons, both private and group, as well as open rinks for hundreds of skaters.
Next to it and heated by the heat drawn off the ice is the Community Wavepool Complex or Wellenbad. With your lift ticket, you can gain entrance for three hours at 3 P.M. after skiing for a substantial discount. Consisting of six large pools with a whirlpool, shallow beginner's pool, a dividing pool, massive pool with wave-like action once an hour, adjustable children's pool, restaurant, bikini bar, sauna, and solarium, the Wellenbad offers the ultimate in relaxation for your ski-weary body.
In Garmisch, skiers retire to small cafés to share delicious German pastries and hot coffee or chocolate and maybe even a stein or two of frothy German beer for their apres ski. There's nothing like pure German schnapps to take the chill away. After a great day on the slopes, you'll say Prosit (cheers) to one of the best experiences you've ever had.