Value for Money 80%
The Tiroler Zugspitz Arena is an alliance of six separate villages, and one high-altitude ski area, close to the border with Germany. Gentle pistes, good ski schools and reasonable prices make it a canny choice for a mid-winter family trip. Anyone who values comfort as highly as skiing – but doesn’t want to pay the earth for it – should consider it too.
Martin Bürger is the head of the ski school in Berwang – one of the seven ski areas which make up the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena. “My hobbies are skiing, biking, climbing and hiking,” he says. Which means he’s living in exactly the right place…
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Tucked away in the northern Tirol, hard up against the German border, the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena is a collection of cute ski villages, ringed by jagged mountain peaks, which is popular with canny ski families. They come from Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and Denmark for the combination of gentle pistes, well-organised ski schools and a relaxed atmosphere: and, if they’re feeling flush, they book into some of the most family-friendly hotels in the Alps.
Of course, they’re not the only skiers in town. In part, that’s because of the very reasonable prices. Here, a hearty lunch of Tiroler Grostl in a rustic mountain restaurant costs less than €10. Chic little guesthouses are the same price as bog-standard self-catering apartments in the big French resorts. And a night in a Relais & Chateau hotel with a gastronomic kitchen and a huge spa costs about the same as an ordinary three-star property in Meribel.
Add in the broad, ego-boosting pistes and gob-smacking scenery, and you can see why it’s also popular with couples and groups of adults who want a relaxing holiday in spectacular scenery, as much as a sporting experience.
What the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena can’t supply, however, is a seamless network of lifts and pistes to rival the likes of the Skiwelt or the Three Valleys. Most of the skiing is provided by six separate, pocket-sized ski areas, ranged around a central plain called the Lermooser Moos. They’re all linked by a free shuttle bus, and receive high praise from the German ski community for their facilities, and their standards of piste-grooming. But none offers more than 36km of pistes on its own.
What’s more, the skiing in this central core of skiing, no lift rises higher than 2,100m. Yes, there’s a seventh ski area, which is higher. Called the Zugspitezplatt, it sits in a mountain bowl beneath Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze, and offers skiing up to 2,700m. Thanks to the dramatic setting, skiing there is a magnificent experience, but it is of limited extent.
Recent alliances with Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Grainau and Mittenwald in neighbouring Germany have also boosted the overal extent of skiing offered by the lift pass, from 139km to 214km. But this doesn’t alter the fact that the skiing comes in bite-sized chunks, and most of it is below 2000m.
As a result, this is best considered as a mid-winter, January-and-February destination, when the pistes are at their softest and coldest. At this time of year, under a fresh blanket of snow, the combination of forested slopes, immaculately-groomed pistes and picture-postcard setting is utterly enchanting. It’s no wonder many of its fans come back year after year.
A short guide to the skiing in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
Berwang: Gorgeous scenery and easy skiing make it a family favourite
Village altitiude 1340m; Top lift 1740m; 36km of piste
Berwang is the highest of the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena villages. A cute collection of traditional hotels, wooded slopes and pocket-sized pyramid mountain peaks, it’s the kind of place non-skiers picture when they imagine what a ski resort looks like. Its pistes are generally wide and gentle, and there’s a big, well-organised area of nursery slopes on the edge of the village that’s set at 1340m. It offers some of the most reliable snow in the Arena for first time skiers.
The ski school reckons it can get most first timers off the nursery slopes and onto the easy-skiing pistes in a couple of days. Wobbly intermediates will also be very happy here. However, many of the key pistes get a lot of sun, which means the quality of the cover can suffer in a thaw.
For more assured and athletic skiers, the backside of the ski area – which drops from the 1610m Hochalm, down to Bichlbach at 1075m – is the place to be. The pistes face either north or east and hold their snow well, given the modest altitude. There are a few steeper pistes under the north-facing Panoramabahn lift, too.
Lermoos: the pick of the region’s intermediate pistes
Village altitude 1,000m; top lift 2,100m; 27km of pistes
The Lermoos ski area covers the north-eastern slope of the Grubigstein mountain, and serves up sensational views of the Zugspitze’s spiky crown, on the other side of the valley. The piste skiing is pretty good too: especially on the top half of the mountain, where swooping reds and the odd black will get the blood pumping, and there’s the chance of some freeriding above the treeline after fresh snow. Because of the north-eastern aspect, the pistes hold their snow well: but the ski area has an extensive snow-making system in case Mother Nature doesn’t deliver the goods.
This video clip, above, gives a good impression of the pistes on the top half of the ski area.
Every Thursday the ski area runs a first tracks programme too. The cost is €52pp, and you need to register at one of the lift ticket offices no later than a day before the outing. It kicks off at 7.15am the Grubigstein gondola.
Lower down, the pitch is gentler. There are nursery slopes both at the bottom of the slopes, and half-way up the mountain, and some long easy blues to progress to. These are also covered by snowmaking, but they are quite low, and the snow quality suffers in a thaw (in which case, expect it to be slushy in the afternoon and icy first thing in the morning).
Fortunately, there’s also a long blue on the top half of the ski area, where the snow is almost always in better nick. It’s up here, at altitude, that intermediates need to start their skiing at the beginning of the holiday – where the softer, grippier snow will boost their confidence.
Biberwier: the last word in ego-boosting blues
Village altitude 1,000m; top lift 1,820m; 12km of piste
Next stop along the edge of the Lermooser Moos is the Marienberg ski area, above the village of Biberwier. Essentially, it’s a single narrow strip of pistes under a central spine chairlifts: but any intermediate worth his or her parallel turns should visit it at least once, because it’s north-facing, and offers some lovely fall-line skiing. The top is steeper than the bottom, but as you’ll see from the video, above, it’s the bottom half that’s really exceptional: a long, broad, gente descent, straight down the mountain. It’s hard to think of a more enticing slope in the Alps for the less confident kind of intermediate, who needs times and space to build a rhythm and start link his/her turns fluently.
It’s just a shame it’s not 500m higher. There are snow cannons here to supplement the natural cover. But as is the case on the lower slopes at Lermoos, the snow will suffer here in a thaw. Be ready to adopt spring-skiing tactics, even in mid-winter, if the weather’s mild.
Ehrwald: two separate ski areas, with the best snowparks and freeriding in the Arena
The Ehrwalder Alm is the more exciting of the two – offering one tasty top-to-bottom descent on broad blue pistes which drops through 812 vertical metres, several more ego-boosting blues, and the best snow park in the Zugspitz Arena – home to easy, moderate and difficult lines. Meanwhile, at the top of the area, on the Issentalkopf, you’ll find the best freeriding in the region.
The Wetterstein is home to several cruisey blues, a couple of tougher pistes (the black Wettersteinabfahrt is treat when the snow’s good) as well as a smaller terrain park – all of which are below the treeline. Bear in mind, however, that both areas face west, and despite good snowmaking, should be skied in midwinter for the best chance of soft, grippy snow.
Zugspitzeplatte: broad, easy pistes, and reliable snow
Top lift 2,720m; 17km of piste; Piste map
The villages of the Zugspitz Arena share this high-altitude area with Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and in fact all its pistes are on the German side of the border.
It’s a memorable place to go skiing, but not because of the pistes. They’re nice enough: high, snowsure and during the winter season usually coated in soft, grippy snow. But they’re also short and a touch bland.
What makes the experience fantastic is the setting. You ride a cable car up to the top of Germany’s highest mountain (the 2,962m Zugspitze), and gaze over one of the great views in the Alps. Half of Bavaria seems to stretch before you, and a good chunk of Austria too. Then you drop down into a big mountain bowl, carved by a glacier which has now all but disappeared – ski beneath a ridge of shattered rock. It’s quite a change from the pretty tree-lined slopes elsewhere in the Zugspitz Arena.
Ski Schools in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
Five of the villages have their own ski schools – Ehrwald, Lermoos, Biberwier, Berwang and Bichlbach. Ehrwald and Lermoos both have three schools, and Biberwier, Berwang and Bichlbach all have one each. (Click here for a full listing.Tiroler Skischule runs an area of nursery slopes near several key hotels, with four magic-carpet lifts and the Confetti Alm centre for kids, which has a playroom, a climbing wall and pool table.
Most schools offer both morning-only (2hr) and morning-and-afternoon (4hr) group lessons for children and adults – and prices for a course of 2hr lessons aren’t much lower than for the 4hr ones. Expect a mix of nationalities in each group, as this is a popular area with the Dutch as well as the Germans, and there are sometimes Danes, Italians and Brits mixed in too. English is widely spoken by the instructors, who are very used to switching between languages as they teach.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that prices for private tuition are fairly low. The Skischule Berwang currently charges €80 for a one-hour lunchtime session, and €130 for two hours in the afternoon. These can be really useful technique boosters for kids – and adults – even if they’re already doing group lessons.
Where to stay in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
Pretty villages and high standards of hotel-keeping are the rule in the Zugspitz arena: so it’s no wonder it attracts skiers who value comfort as highly as bombing about on the snow. Just be sure you pick the right base, using our guide to skiing, above. All the villages are connected by regular bus services – which are free if you have a Zugspitz Arena lift pass: but you don’t want to be in Berwang, for example, if steeper pistes are your thing (in which case Lermoos is the place).
Singer Sporthotel & Spa
Great food and highly-rated staff
The Singer Sporthotel is a four-star superior Relais & Chateau, next to the key Sonnalmbahn lift, which links to the north and east-facing slopes above Bichlbach. Facilities include a big 1,800m2 spa over three floors, as well as indoor and outdoor heated pools, and the food is excellent – it currently has 14 points and a toque from Gault Millau. The staff get rave reviews. “I have to take my hat off of the Singer Sporthotel for getting the most amazing people. This is across the board, reception, housekeeping, restaurant and bar…” said a recent guest.
Prices are about the same as you’d pay for very ordinary three-star hotel in Meribel.
Children are very welcome here – and the hotel runs a shuttle service to and from ski school’s nursery slopes in all but the quietest weeks. However, there’s no nursery or kids’ clubs, so this isn’t the place to bring babies and toddlers if you plan to ski yourself.
Bergpension The Ski Lounge
Boutique family-friendly hotel
Chic rooms, good food, and a relaxed, friendly atmosphere are the draws at the small and stylish Dutch-run Ski Lounge. It’s a child-friendly place, too – five of the eight rooms have bunkbeds or are family suites, and there’s a shuttle bus to the nursery slopes.
Bear in mind that in high-season, half-board prices are lower than you’d pay for a bog-standard self-catering apartment in Avoriaz. So if you’re not looking for a vast ski area, and comfort is a priority, it’s just the ticket.
Click here for more Berwang accommodation options, follow this link.
Family Hotel & Resort Alpenrose
Impressive and well-run base for families
Childcare, a nursery, pools, water slides, a soft play area, a pirate ship in the paddling pool, indoor go-karting… You name it, the Alpenrose has got it – as well as a daily drop-off and pick-up service from ski school.
The hotel comes plastered with praise from happy families – from all over Europe: “The most family-friendly place over” was one recent comment. Mums and Dads feel well-served here, too, thanks to the good food and top-notch spa. Much of the accommodation is in family apartments – and high prices reflect its popularity. You’ll need to book months in advance to be sure of a room, too.
Stately all-suite hotel
The Post is the grandest hotel in Lermoos was rebuilt in 2006 as an all-suite property. The smallest room is 45m2 – which is about three times bigger than your average ski hotel. The views across the flat Lermooser Moos to the Zugspitze massif are stunning, and both food and service get the highest praise. You’re only three minutes’ walk from the nearest ski lift, and the nursery slopes are nearby too.
Mohr Life Resort
Chic Retreat with a vast spa
The Mohr is the most stylish hotel in town and comes with magnificent Zugspitze views, a 2,500m2 spa and a stripped-back but richly-textured aesthetic. Think clean lines, walls of battered beams and slate, and – if you fancy a change from skiing – a Tesla Model S green power to take for test drive. Just be sure to book one of the modern rooms: there is still some old-fashioned accommodation here, which comes as a crashing disappointment if you’ve set your heart on a sylish retreat.
Convenient, friendly and inexpensive
Looking for well-kept, no-nonsense accommodation near the lifts? Then the Gasthof Juchhof is the place – next to the Grubigsteinbahn, with a ski rental centre in the same building. For two people, a week, half-board, in high season is 50% cheaper than going self-catering to Flaine, and you don’t have to cook. The food here is regularly praised, as are the standards of cleanliness.
If you fancy a swim after swimming, bear in mind that non-guests can pay to swim in the pool at the Hotel Edelweiss in town.
Click here more Lermoos accommodation options.
Families on a budget take note – if your own hotel doesn’t have a pool, you can use the public one in Ehrwald, which has a good indoor climbing wall as well.
Family Wellnesshotel Tirolerhof
Close to the slopes
Self-catering apartments, suites and double rooms are all available, in a wide range of sizes. The best are the recently refurbished spa suites, which have their own mini-saunas or infrared cabins.
This isn’t as big and as all-consuming as the Alpenrose in Lermoos (see above): but it offers childcare, as well as an indoor pool, indoor bouncy castle and soft-play area. And it gets high praise from visiting British families. “It is a real one stop shop – arrive and they do all the rest for you!” was one recent comment.
Romantik Hotel Spielman
Ski-in, ski-out comfort
The Spielman sits on the eastern edge of town, next to the beginner slopes and ski school meeting point. As with many family-run hotels, refurbishment is an ongoing process, with some rooms old-fashioned, and others chic and lovely. The Zirbe rooms are the ones to go for: they make extensive use of stone pine, which has a delicious and soothing smell.
Haus Karl’s Ruh
Friendly and inexpensive
This British-run B&B is five minutes’ walk from the lifts and charges the kind of price you’d expect to pay in a Travelodge by a roundabout – not a guest house in the shadow of the Zugspitze. Rooms are well-kept and low key, and the owners, Evelyn and Gary Kitchen run it with warmth and enthusiasm. The nearest ski lifts are a five minute walk, the indoor pool and climbing wall is even closer, and with double rooms costing around €70 a night everyone’s smiling.
Click here for more Ehrwald accommodation options.
Where to eat in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
You can eat well here – especially if you like traditional Tirolean food. The emphasis on family skiing and easy-going holidays attracts an affluent clientele, and a good infrastructure of mountain huts and hotel restaurants has developed to cater for them. It’s never going to rival the gastronomic scene in Kitzbuhel: but there are some charming places to eat on the slopes, and some cracking restaurants for dinner, too.
There are 40 mountain huts scattered across the Zugpitz Arena’s slopes – so you’re never far from a good, hearty lunch – and if you pick the right dish (such as Tiroler Grostl), you can fill up for €10 or less.
It’s worth remembering, however, that many Austrian hotels lay on a big spread of soup, snacks and cakes for returning skiers in the middle of the afternoon. So you could probably get by with a bowl of soup at lunchtime…
In Berwang, the Kogele Hutte is a local’s favourite – set on the gentle, forested slopes above the Rinnen at the western end of the ski area. It serves delicious speckknödelsuppe (bacon-dumpling soup).
Meanwhile, on the Wetterstein, the Galmsalm is a lovely spot. Here too Tirolean specialities are the backbone of the menu, although they also do big plates of pasta: spag pol is €8.90. The restaurant is also open on Wednesday and Sunday evenings to ski tourers and tobogganers. Also worth checking out is the W1 Ski Lounge – built from scratch at the top of the Sonnenhang Sunracer lift in 2013.
In the Ehrwalder Alm ski area, the Tiroler Haus is the natural rallying point – and has both a table-service stube and self-service restaurant.
At the foot of the Marienberg ski area, above Biberwier, the Sunnalm is recommended. Moreish sweet dumplings with vanilla sauce – Germknödel – are a speciality. Above Lermoos, the Wolfratshauser Hutte serves a superb apple strudel.
Restaurants for Dinner
Of course, many people eat in their hotels each night, as part of a half-board package. But it’s worth venturing out for a night or two. There are treats in store.
Top spot for a gastronomic dinner is the Tiroler Stube restaurant at the Singer Sporthotel in Berwang. Its thoughtful combinations (duo of wild duck and quail with parsnip and calvados, beef with avocado and lentils) have won it 14 points and chef’s toque from the Gault Millau guide (which has a much more developed presence here than the Michelin Guide).
Another fine-dining destination in the district is the Hotel Post in Lermoos. One of the Post’s strongest points is its sensational wine list – but at the Alpenrose Hotel they take the grape seriously too. Here the chic Winelounge has more than 350 different wines to try, with the focus mainly on Austria. They do inventive, light, snacky food too: worth knowing if you need a break from the meatiness of Tirolean cooking. Meanwhile, the Roma is the local’s choice for pizza.
In Ehrwald, the Holzerstubn is the place. A long-standing favourite, this cosy, wood-panelled inn is full most nights (reservations are essential) and is the master of robust meat dishes – its lamb, steaks and Wiener Schnitzel are all delicious. Anyone feeling less carnivorous should try Al Castagno for its wood-fired pizza oven, risotto and pasta.
Finally, if anyone’s in the mood for a burger, it has to be WAS Cooking in Biberwier – a new, young enterprise, where the emphasis is on fast – but good – food: steak, jacket potatoes, wraps and gourmet burgers.
Apres-Ski in the Tiroler Zugspitz Arena
Given its family-friendly reputation – and the fact that the accommodation is divided between seven villages – it’s no wonder the Zugspitz Arena is not one of the party capitals of the Alps. As the lifts close, the atmosphere is generally jolly and good-natured, rather than raucous.
Thanks to its size, and its two snowparks, Ehrwald generates the busiest scene. At the Tiroler Haus in the Ehrwalder Alm ski area Saturday sees either a DJ or a live band on the sundeck, while in the Wetterstein area the W1 Ski Lounge on the Wetterstein the best place to grab a deckchair and kick back before you ski back into town. At the bottom of the slopes, the Schirmbar by the Hotel Sonnenspitze is a natural rallying point.
Lermoos has several small, but spirited bars too – including the Lahme Ente and Holz Stadl. Later on the Wine Lounge at the Alpenrose hotel is the place to go for a more laid-back kind of drink. Meanwhile, in Berwang, the H2Sepp and S’Berger Pub are the two essential bars.
And for families…
Lift-serviced and floodlit tobogganing is on offer on Tuesday and Friday nights on the Ehrwalder Alm sector of slopes and there’s night sledding (and skiing) each Thursday in Berwang too. Tobogganing aficionados will also want a crack at the 3.5km run above Lermoos – the longest in the Zugspitz arena. However, this is not floodlit, so you’ll have to take some time off skiing to try it.
Two of the ski schools – in Lermoos and Berwang – lay on impressive night-time ski shows, too: 8.30pm on Mondays in Lermoos and at the same time on Tuesday evening in Berwang.
Click here for a full list of evening activites – and don’t forget the indoor climbing wall and public pool at Ehrwald.