Wintersports with a difference. Expect good prices, simple accommodation, and plenty of alternative attractions.
Skiing in its Alpine form is a very expensive holiday. Skiing in its east German form is quite a different story, for the ski resorts in the Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge) in Saxony and in Thuringia are amongst the cheapest in Europe, and certainly the best value in Germany. In the Ore Mountains, whose main resort Oberwiesenthal is the highest town in Germany at 914 metres, you can get a six-day package with accommodation, food and ski pass, for as little as €219 per person. And in the Thuringian forest a four-night package for cross-country skiers, including meals and baggage transfer along the route, costs from €180.
Of course higher prices is just one of the consequences to committing to an Alpine skiing holiday. There are others. Usually you are incarcerating yourself in a purpose-built (ie ugly) community, high up in the mountains, where skiing is practically the only occupation on offer. What happens if you don’t like it? You get tired of it? Or one of you gets injured? Too bad. You’re stuck in your mountain fastness for a week, and you’ll just have to grin and bear it, and watch others having fun while your cash drains away.
On the other hand, the lower altitude of this east German skiing can mean that the snow is far less reliable. Accordingly it’s a destination for shorter stays and last-minute decisions, and for people who want to mix skiing with other activities for a broader-based stay.
A former training ground for GDR skiers
Of the two key regions, Thuringia is mainly undulating forest, and so is best for cross-country skiing and tobogganing, with a bit of downhill thrown in. The resorts are tiny – Oberhof is one of the biggest and only has four lifts – but then this is also Germany’s cultural triangle, so there’s lots to see and learn about Goethe, Luther, Bach etc, and an array of castles such as the imperial Wartburg to see, along with the city of Weimar, which has no fewer than 16 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The Ore Mountains (Erzgebirge), particularly the Fichtelberg above Oberwiesenthal, were once the key training area for GDR skiers, and remain a favourite destination for athletes intent on competing in the Biathlon (cross country skiing plus rifle shooting). As it is on the border with the Czech Republic, Oberwiesenthal’s clientele is interestingly mixed and this keeps the prices down. There’s a sufficient array of downhill slopes served by the seven lifts to keep an unambitious skier occupied for a couple of days.
Airport access is from Dresden, which helps make a strong case for coming here. The rebuilt city has a gruelling but interesting history, great architecture, opera and art galleries, and a superb location on the banks of the river Elbe. Plus the brand new, ground-breaking Military History Museum.