Two ski tourers on their way to the summit against a blue sky.

Ski touring

Under your own steam

Sustainable, mindful, close to nature: from Munich, you can experience the combination of climbing under your own steam and descending (if all goes well) through untouched snow in a weekend.

Crunch, crunch, crunch: our skis forge a path through the deep snow, left, right, we are the first today for a change. Because for once I am on time, and for once I didn't misplace the key to the roof box, pack the wrong skins, or make some other stupid mistake, Aki and I are tramping up to the Geierköpfe (mountains). It's a winter's day worthy of a holiday brochure: blue sky above us, knee-deep fresh snow beneath us, we can see nothing of the green of the fir trees and spruce around us – they are under a thick white blanket.

The thermometer in the car showed a crisp -18 Degree Celsius so we wasted no time putting our ski shoes on, attaching the skins to our skis, and quickly checking each other's avalanche transceiver. But now, having tramped through the forest for a few minutes, our bodies get going, not too cold, not too warm, as if were made for nothing else but ski touring.

The stingy ones who don't want to pay for a lift pass. The extreme sports people who are drawn to climb the rock faces in winter too – just on skis. The people who are anti those skiers who, with their old, UV-bleached equipment, just about manage the corners: this was once the image people had of ski tourers, whether deserved or not. This is an outdated picture, and the sport has become hot. Ski touring is to winter what mountain biking is to summer: an on-trend activity with ever-improving equipment, with new destinations constantly being added, and with ever brighter, more fashionable colours. Ski tourers use various mountain portals, Instagram and Facebook to post, preferably on Mondays, all the places they visited at the weekend.

It's a winter's day worthy of a holiday brochure: blue sky above us, knee-deep fresh snow beneath us.

But it's very easy to start out. Travel by BOB (Bavarian Uplands Railway) and bus to Spitzingsee, from there head to Schönfeldhütte or up to Rotwand. Take the Werdenfelsbahn (train) or Flixbus to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and return to the Kreuzjochhaus in the evening. Because – as Munich ski enthusiast Michael Vitzthum is currently proving as part of an Experiment – it's possible to enjoy climate-neutral ski touring using public transport for an entire season. Or, as far as I'm concerned, it's with the car and kids to Bad Kohlgrub and up to the Hörnlehütte. Or like today, to the Geierköpfe in the back Graswangtal.

Crunch, crunch, crunch: we have left the forest behind and below us, and the slope upwards gets steeper. 30, 35 degrees? Such is the approximate gradient of the slope, at least that's what the map I looked at beforehand said. The avalanche report says the snow has fallen with no wind, has stuck well to the ground, but what about the possible risk of life-threatening snow slabs? Quite low today: on the five-level scale used by the avalanche warning service, today is a low two – so moderate risk. Aki skis a few lengths ahead of me, to minimise the stress we put on the steep slopes. Warning signs such as bulges of driven snow, fresh avalanches, or even booming sounds below the snow? There's none of that.

According to the long-term average, around 100 people die in the Alps each year because of avalanches, the majority of them while enjoying winter sports. In winters with a lot of snow, the number of victims falls because the massive snowpacks tend to reduce the risk of snow slabs; in winters with low snowfall, it is easier for skiers to trigger dangerous sliding layers of snow. But the fact that the ratio of avalanche victims is remaining constant, and even falling, while the number of off-piste ski tourers, freeriders and snow-shoe-ers in the great outdoors has seen a huge increase – that's a success story!

It's probably because of better weather forecasting and avalanche reports, better equipment, and better educated winter sports fanatics. To maintain that, every ski tourer should carry, and be able to use, a complete set of safety equipment, regularly consult the avalanche report and its recommendations before heading out, refresh and regularly practice their knowledge of how to avoid snow slabs and how save their fellow skiers in an emergency. This could be on an Alpine club course, at a mountain skills school, or anywhere else.

The snow turns to powder, our skis slide over the hillside, Aki and I take it in turns to whoop out loud: there's something very childish about ski touring.

Crunch, crunch, crunch: a few more steps, then we take off our skis. The famous Felsentor blocks our route to the summit, we strap our skis to our rucksacks for a few metres, and tramp upwards to the summit ridge. And we finally have the sun on our faces. Before us is the solid grey block of the Wetterstein range and the break-off edge of the Zugspitze to the west. To the left, in the east, are the peaks of the Karwendel range, while further afield the Zillertal glaciers glisten in the sunshine. And to the right we have views to the Lech Valleys, and beyond to the Allgäu Alps. We put our skis back on, shuffle along the ridge for another quarter of an hour, and soon reach the summit cross. A few more ski tourers have passed us in the meantime, but they all make a stop here: one takes out some nuts, another eats a muesli bar, and one cracks open a can of beer.

There are ski tourers whose aim is the ascent, and for them it's the sport that's most important; they are the ones with narrow skis and tight-fitting, streamlined clothing. There are those focused on the descent, the ones with wide pants and broad skis whose focus is on the fun of the descent. For some, the camaraderie is the most important thing. Others prefer to ski alone. And yet others goes to all this effort mainly for the après-ski. If I am honest, I am one of the latter.

So: skins attached, ski shoes on, into the bindings – and we're off at a rattle, hammering down all the elevation we put so much effort into conquering on the way up. The snow turns to powder, our skis slide over the hillside, Aki and I take it in turns to whoop out loud: there's something very childish about ski touring. If it goes well, and today it's going well, your tracks cut through a slope of fresh snow, your happiness hormones are raging, and the trials and tribulations of daily life are far, far away.

And if you're really lucky, you'll get your fill in other ways too: we complete our descent, carry our skis across the street, and the midday sun has now hit the Ammerwaldalm (restaurant). No sooner have we sat down than owner Marion brings us glasses of wheat beer. And a little later, we're served with spinach dumplings with sage. Don't let anyone say ski touring is an extreme sport …

About the author: That fact that his mother took him ski touring at the age of 12 didn't stop Christian Thiele becoming a passionate ski tourer himself. His favourite spots are the Ammergau Alps in the Wetterstein mountains, and the Lechtal Alps. Raised in Füssen, he spent several years in Munich before moving to Garmisch-Partenkirchen where he lives today. And now he is trying – with varying degrees of success – to get his own two children passionate about ski touring. He is behind '101 Dinge, die ein Skitourengeher wissen muss' (100 Things a Ski Tourer Needs to Know, published in Germany by Bruckmann-Verlag).

 

 

Text: Christian Thiele; Photos: Frank Stolle

Covid-19: current regulations

Hotels and accommodation establishments, shops, indoor and outdoor catering, and also clubs and discos are open. However, restrictions apply. All other important information on the coronavirus and your stay in Munich can be found here.

Neuschwanstein Castle in the surrounding region of Munich.

Royal wanderlust

Herrenchiemsee, Linderhof, Schachenhaus and Neuschwanstein: Bavaria’s castles and palaces are among the most beautiful in the world.

Herrenchiemsee, Linderhof, Schachenhaus and Neuschwanstein: Bavaria’s castles and palaces are among the most beautiful in the world.

Landscape near Kochel am See

The home of ”Der Blaue Reiter“

Our author goes on a hike in search of the places where Franz Marc found his inspiration.

Our author goes on a hike in search of the places where Franz Marc found his inspiration – and finds a magical place.

Two hiker are on a mountain ridge near Munich.

After-work hiking

Getting out into nature quickly: no problem in Munich, even in the afternoon. Five hiking tours for late risers and after-work athletes.

Getting out into nature quickly: no problem in Munich, even in the afternoon. Five hiking tours for late risers and after-work athletes.

View of an alpine hut in front of a mountain panorama in Munich.

Hiking in wonderland

Barren rocks, wild mountain forests – and a fairy-tale castle.     

Barren rocks, wild mountain forests and a fairy-tale castle: The perfect tour for a lonely weekend in Munich’s landmark mountains.

A woman with the Tegernseer chalet in the background at the Bavarian foothills of the Alps in the surrounding region of Munich.

10 mins from the main station

In Munich you can reach mountain tops, Alpine views and creature comforts in no time. Here are a few suggestions.

In Munich you can reach mountain tops, Alpine views and creature comforts in no time. Here are a few suggestions.

Two women with a bicycle on a pier by a lake in Bavaria.

Bathe, banter, bike

Whether „Hopfen and Bier-Schleife“, „Salz-Schleife“ or „Kunst- and Kulturschleife“, Munich is the hub for all routes of the water cycle paths.

Whether „Hopfen and Bier-Schleife“, „Salz-Schleife“ or „Kunst- and Kulturschleife“, Munich is the hub for all routes of the water cycle paths.

Entrance of the Hündeleskopfhütte, the first vegetarian hut in the Alps near Munich.

Alpine huts around Munich

 With this selection of alpine hut restaurants, everyone will find their ideal destination.

Families, mountaineers, connoisseurs: With this selection of alpine hut restaurants, everyone will find their ideal destination.

Two skiers skiing down in deep snow in front of a mountain panorama.

Under your own steam

From Munich, you can experience the combination of climbing under your own steam and descending through untouched snow within a weekend.

From Munich, you can experience the combination of climbing under your own steam and descending through untouched snow within a weekend.

Boat trip at the Königssee with panoramic view of the Alps in the surroundings of Munich.

A boat ride to a natural paradise

Emerald-green water at the foot of the legendary Watzmann.

Emerald-green water at the foot of the Watzmann – taking a trip to Königssee lake is to enjoy a singular natural experience.

Kehlsteinhaus Berchtesgaden including a panoramic view of the valley in the surroundings of Munich.

Hitler’s tea room

A historical lookout high above Berchtesgaden, offering a stunning panoramic view.

The Kehlsteinhaus has been retained in its original form as a historical monument from the Third Reich, and is among the most popular destinations for trips in Germany.

A man is standing on rocks at the shore of Eibsee nearby Garmisch in the surrounding region of Munich.

Breathtaking panorama

The Zugspitze is only 90 kilometres away from the Bavarian state capital.

While Zugspitze in the Wetterstein Mountains may not be one of Munich’s local mountains, it is a mere 90 kilometres away from the Bavarian state capital.

Nymphenburg Palace in Munich at sunset.

Castles and palaces in and around Munich

The magnificent castles and palaces in and around Munich are world famous. An overview.

Residenz, Nymphenburg, Herrenchiemsee, Neuschwanstein: The castles and palaces in and around Munich are world famous. An overview. 

Munich Card & City Pass

Discover Munich in a relaxed and uncomplicated way: discounts for the diverse range of art, culture and leisure activities with our guest cards.

Public transport is included

Many discounts with the Card, many things for free with the Pass.

Online or at the tourist information offices

View of the Salzach river and the castle in Salzburg.

Salzburg and the Lake District

Visit the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and relax on the journey to beautiful Lake Wolfgang.

Book now from 59 €!

Visit the birthplace of composer extraordinaire Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, stroll through the Baroque old town and then relax on the journey to beautiful Lake Wolfgang.