Germany has world-class downhill ski destinations, but Skilanglauf (cross-country skiing auf Deutsch) is also a popular activity. Most downhill resorts offer a few cross-country trails, but some locations are better than others.
After consulting with some local experts, I've put together a guide to cross-country skiing in Germany.
(Top tip: If you travel in summer, many of these locations double as fabulous hiking trails.)
Cross-Country Skiing in the Alps
The obvious answer when you are looking for skiing in Germany is the Alps. This showstopper mountain range is a major attraction for downhill skiers and scenery hunters. However, they are not necessarily the best location for cross-country trails.
Your best options for cross-country skiing in the Alps include:
- Oberstdorf: This former site of the Nordic World Championships, this location still offers world-class cross-country skiing. There is a modern track system and optimum snow conditions.There are ten cross-country ski tracks at different levels with multiple-lanes and various entry/exit points. Trainers are available for beginners with several paths challenging the most advanced skiers.
- Schwangau: Lacking nothing in scenery, you can ski directly below picturesque Neuschwanstein castle. What better way to catch a unique glimpse of one of the most visited spots in all of Germany?
- Oberammergau: The site of the century's old Passion Play, the trails of the Ammergau Alps are an excellent winter attraction along with nearby Ettal Monastery (and brewery) and Linderhof Palace. It also hosts the König Ludwig Volkslauf event.
- Mittenwald: Located along the Austrian border, there is a network of trails leading into Seefeld. Crowds are generally light and the views and skiing are just as impressive as more well-known areas. Make sure to stop in the small village as it the essence of gemütlichkeit (German charm).
- Ruhpolding / Reit im Winkl: These are just two of a series of villages in the Chiemgau region that are perfect for cross-country skiing. This is the site of the World Cup biathlon competitions as well as many good trails for amateurs.
- Garmisch-Partenkirchen: The focus on Germany's premier ski resort is indeed of the downhill variety. However, it does have several miles of cross-country trails and its many accommodations make it a good base for Oberammergau and Mittenwald.
Cross-Country Skiing in Mittelgebirge
The Mittelgebirge offer less dramatic backdrops than the Alps with their rolling hills instead of death-defying drops, but that really suits cross-country skiing. The snow is better as well since the trails actually stand at a higher elevation. And unlike the Alps, services are geared toward cross-country skiers with better rental equipment, lessons, and supplies.
Your best options for cross-country skiing in Mittelgebirge:
- Mittelgebirge Erzgebirge / Vogtland / Klingenthal: Within this region of Saxon Highlands and Uplands there is a huge network of well-maintained trails. From here, skiers can even cross into the Czech Republic.
- Harz: These are the closest mountains for much of northern Germany, meaning you may need to fight the crowds. Schierke, at the foot of the Brocken (or Blocksberg), Göslar, and Braunlage are a few of the best sites.
- Thüringer Wald: Places like Oberhof were the elite training site of the DDR and it still hosts World Cup cross-country and biathlon competitions. A professional indoor skiing hall is open to the public. Completely dedicated to cross-country skiing, the area features miles of trails like Rennsteig, Germany’s oldest long-distance trail.
- Schwarzwald: There are trails all over the picturesque Black Forrest when the weather cooperates. The best trail is the Black Forest High Road where snow reliability is virtually guaranteed at an altitude between 700 and 1164 meters. There is also a connection to the Nordschwarzwald trail.
- Bayrischer Wald: Once again along the borders of the Czech Republic, the Bavarian forest is brimming with mountains, valleys, lakes and nature reserves.
- Rhön: Volunteers maintain several trails surrounding the Wasserkuppe mountain. Ideal for a day trip from Würzburg, this is the perfect outing for a laid-back trip.
This guide to cross-country skiing in Germany helps identify the top destinations, but each is still at the mercy of the weather. Germany is not the best place for skiing in Europe simply because it doesn't always get enough snow to make it worthwhile. In warm winters, focus on areas with high elevation and be ready to turn a cross-country ski into a hike.