Adventures on snow
Family winter breaks in Bad Hindelang, Germany.
The village in the Scottish Highlands where I grew up was, and remains, a ski resort. Not the largest, most exclusive or best in any way but it had snow, lifts and some excellent late season skiing in the springtime.
All of us kids had the chance to at least try our hands at skiing through schools or clubs. It wasn’t everyone’s bag but for those of us who fell in love with swishing and swooping around a mountain, this place provided an introduction to flying. It gave a feeling of being able to leave the constraints of real life behind as we clipped into the bindings.
Skiing was my addiction. Higher than heroin, livelier than coke, faster than speed and none of the hangovers of alcohol.
Like so many addicts I lost sight of the world around me and dived head first into the welcoming embrace of this arcane, dayglo community.
Leaving my job, I headed off to race, tour, instruct and have fun. My addiction took me to North America, Japan, Norway and all over Europe. It took over twenty years to shake off the hold it had on me and I only went fully cold turkey once I had been settled in Ireland for a few years.
Fast forward to now and I indulge once a year if I’m lucky. As a mature, responsible adult, I hold down a real job and stay in one place for more than the few months it takes to earn the cash for a ticket to somewhere snowy. A winter holiday now has to be something for the family rather than just me. There have to be slopes that work for my wife who is a moderate skier and now that she is old enough there has to be terrain that will allow my daughter to enjoy her first experience of learning to ski so that she will want to go again and again. One of my greatest fears has been that she would absolutely detest skiing, hate the snow and complain incessantly about the cold. For our first family ski holiday we needed a resort that made it easy to get started and easy to move on from the basics and had plenty of alternative activities on hand. It couldn’t be too expensive and it couldn’t be too much of a journey to get there. The intention was to tie the holiday in with a work trip to a major outdoor industry trade fair in Munich so somewhere near to the city would be ideal.
So, affordable, flexible convenient. Simple.
Acting on a tip we booked into the village of Bad Hindelang in the Allgau region of southern Germany. Less than two hours from Munich and just a few kilometres by bus from the main ski area at Oberjoch. The clincher for us was the amazing value offered by the local tourist tax scheme, the Bad Hindelang PLUS card. When you book your stay with a PLUS card participant your lift pass is included with your accommodation. The value on offer, especially for families is absolutely unbeatable.
Munich is a major airport and is well served by a variety of airlines. Deutsche Bahn provided our onward transport but regional bus services also go to the nearby town of Sonthofen and the usual car hire options abound.
Lodgings were in a typical German Ferienwohnung (holiday apartment), Haus Richter. This was a cosy, clean and very comfortable apartment in a large family home. There was a small kitchen area, a living room with fold out bed and a larger en-suite bedroom. Centrally situated and just a two-minute walk from the bus stop, the location was ideal. Two nearby supermarkets, several cafes and a bakery within strolling distance took care of the essentials and a variety of pub/hotel/restaurants took care of everything else. The family were very pleasant and extremely helpful, even picking us up and dropping us off again at the railway station in Sonthofen.
The selection on the Bad Hindelang website covers loads of options from basic rooms to very high-class luxury hotels so whether your budget is in the tens of euro per night or the thousands there should be something suitable. Having stayed in German ferienwohnungen several times we have never had a terrible experience and the standard is generally higher, and the welcome more personal than the average Alpine self-catering block.
The cost for five nights for the three of us was €365. This included our lift passes for Oberjoch, the nearby Unterjoch area and free use of the Bad Hindelang Rodelbahn or sledging area. This is three and a half exciting, bumpy, twisty kilometres of hairpins from near the top of the Imberger Horn mountain and was highly recommended by our eight-year-old test audience. Bring a cushion says the middle aged man.
The PLUS card provides unlimited use of the local bus service. Ideal for the morning trip to the slopes but it will also take you to the nearby town of Sonthofen and one free entry to the Wonnemar swimming pool complex. Wonnemar has multiple indoor pools, wave pool, lazy river, flumes, tyre slides, hot tub and a lane pool for lap swimmers. Outside is another heated pool with a built in jacuzzi and views out toward the mountains. There is also a spa area with the usual sauna and massage and solariums but we didn’t get near this as the main pool had more than enough to keep us occupied. Gets busy at times but well worth a trip.
The resort at Oberjoch has about thirty five kilometres of pisted skiing. The smaller Unterjoch area has another seven or eight kilometres. The lifts are laid out across one aspect of the mountain and the small village whilst pleasant isn’t competing to be the alpine rave capital of Europe. This is not a bad thing.
Wannabe racers and high-end skiers looking to ski cruise hundreds of kilometres of runs probably won’t take long to find it a little repetitive. Likewise, younger groups looking for a clubbing holiday with a bit of sliding attached will probably find the nightlife less than required. The pubs are very pleasant but Ibiza it ain’t.
Runs are fairly short but with varied gradients and plenty of tree cover. Piste maintenance is excellent and there are snow parks with plenty of jumps, rails and obstacles for all those middle-aged men who want to recreate the glory days.
There are five fast, modern chairlifts. All have windshields for bad weather days and some have heated seats. The loading platform rises up when young kids get in line which makes for a safer and easier experience for children starting out.
There is also a segregated kids’ and beginners’ area with several small rope tows and magic carpets. Ideal for first timers and nervous toddlers. This just makes for a much more comfortable learning environment. Spend half a day here and the big slopes look a lot less intimidating.
It is as a family ski area that Oberjoch excels. Friendly on the wallet. Easy to navigate and with refreshments and shelter available at the foot of every run. Progress from the basics is easy to achieve and the layout makes it easy to move around without getting lost.
Ski schools and rental.
We pre-booked equipment and lessons with Skischule Iseler totally at random. They were plucked off a webpage and the results were excellent. The equipment was modern, very well maintained and the service was professional and friendly.
Two of us took lessons and that was also beyond reproach. Instructors spoke English and group sizes were noticeably smaller than in some resorts I have worked in.
There is no reason to doubt that the other equipment suppliers and Wintersport schools would also have been as professional and well run. The general ethos of the whole place tended more toward quality than quantity so I would happily recommend following our example and choosing at random.
As stated earlier this is not a place for wild nightlife. There are some nice restaurants and pubs and a very good pizza takeaway.
We ate at a place called the Wiesngrund a couple of times. This is a traditional German hotel/restaurant which does regular menu specials, music nights and has extremely friendly, helpful staff. Other places in town provide similar and there are also a couple of classical French and Italian restaurants.
There are enough pubs that you wouldn’t go thirsty and at least one wine bar.
Mostly though unless you are bringing the party with you the evening activities tend towards “Pleasant” rather than “wild”.
All in all this is a lovely area for a family ski break. Perfect for beginners and younger children with enough to do to keep most skiers happy. Travel, accommodation, transport in Germany, ski hire and lift passes cost less than 930 euro for all three of us. That kind of value for a five day ski holiday would be hard to find anywhere. Highly recommended.
Thank you to Bad Hindelang Tourismus / Wolfgang B. Kleine for supplying the photos that were a huge improvement on my amateur efforts.
https://www.badhindelang.de/ Tourist office website. Scroll to bottom of home page and click on the flag for English language version. Attractions, accommodation and information.
https://oberjoch.info/ Website for the Oberjoch ski area. Lift status, webcams and info about everything on the slopes as well as links to all the ski schools.
https://www.wonnemar.de/sonthofen/ Information about the swim, flume and spa complex in Sonthofen.
https://www.hornbahn-hindelang.de/winter/rodelbahn-allgaeu.html Website of the sledge run in Bad Hindelang.