With the Christmas holiday just around the corner, most of us are looking for some good times to spend our free days. And what better to spend it in the snow! Who doesn’t dream of a white Christmas? So, snow lovers pay attention, because I’m going to share with you one magical secret of North Rhine-Westphalia.
Just two hours drive from Düsseldorf, or three hours with public transportation, there is the little winter sports hotspot called Winterberg – what is in a name right! The village Winterberg is located in the east of NRW, located in the district of High Sauerland. Together with its neighbouring villages, Winterberg forms the largest ski resort North of the Alps; called Wintersport Arena Sauerland. The area is special not in the least because it gets ridiculous amounts of snow every winter. This has to do with its geographical location; Winterberg is basically the starting point (from Düsseldorf perspective) of the German low mountain range. The German low mountain range is all hills/mountains between 500m and 1500m and starts in the East of NRW and crosses all the way to the Elbe Sandstone Mountains in Saxony and reaches as far south as the Black Forest and basically borders around Nuremberg. The geographical area from Nuremberg towards the borders with Austria is considered high mountains range.
We, in Düsseldorf, are located in the low country and are relatively close to wetlands like the Rhein river and the North Sea. All this moist accumulates in the air (yes we have lots of rainy days) and in winter the warm moist air gets up high in the atmosphere. When this air is pushed by Westerly winds it reaches the beginning of the low mountain range, it accumulates and breaks above all those tiny villages around the foot of the low mountains. The precipitation falls from a great height and has enough time to freeze and together with low temperatures during winter on the ground, the snow stays, and before you know it, Winterberg is a true winter wonderland.
And these days, where there is snow, there is a business. Snow is not seldom called white gold for the winter sports fans. Winterberg has a long history of winter sports, introduced by Oberförster Hagemann, who used the first skis in 1889. But the actual winter sports tourism was really starting to kick off when in 1906 Winterberg was connected to the railway network. The same year the first ski community was grounded and during the years ‘Wintersport Arena Sauerland’ with more than 100 ski lifts was created. If you would like to know more about the history of skiing in West Germany, do pay a visit to the local ski museum. It opened its doors in 1998 and has 250m2 of well-documented materials about the development of winter sports in the region. Definitely worth your time if you are a true winter sports fan.
Wintersport Arena Sauerland includes, besides Winterberg, also other ski villages such as Willingen, Züschen and Niedersfeld. However, Winterberg probably has most lifts (60), chairlifts (15) and snow canons (460) round the clock available. Besides, because of its railway connection, Winterberg has very good accessibility also for visitors without a car. This makes the place sometimes a bit more crowdy than the other areas, but if you know your way and go on the right times (on weekdays outside the school holidays of Germany and the Netherlands) it is definitely doable. The main organisation for most of the ski lift systems and slopes is Skiliftkarrussel Winterberg, they own 26 lift systems including chairlifts, toboggan lift, T-bars and travelators. Lift passes will give you access to all and is valid from 9:00 to 16:30 when the lifts close. You can buy a day lift pass at almost any lift in the area and cost you €35,-. In order to avoid precious waiting time for your ski pass purchase, you can also order your tickets online.
Winterberg is the ideal ski resort for the beginner. Because of its low altitude (lowest point 450m, highest point 842m), it has many relatively mellow slopes, excellent to get your techniques under control without gaining to much speed. From the 21km of slopes available, the far majority (10km) is considered easy (green and blue), 9km is labelled as intermediate slopes (red) and only 1.5 km of them are difficult slopes (black). But that doesn’t break the fun for the more advanced skier, the area has more to offer and has overall good services. Several restaurants are located alongside the slopes often accompanied by rental places. Of course with lots of tourism the prices are a little inflated; do expect to pay around €7,- for a currywurst with fries and around €4,- for a hot chocolate. For a quick recharge it is not the worst, but if you are thinking of having a big dinner after a long ski day, I would turn your back to the slopes and head into the village for cheaper options. Winterberg is overflown with ski rental places and it’s just a matter of where you are parked or where your heading to in order to pick one. The prices don’t vary that much and are still pretty affordable; around €17,- for a full carving ski set or snowboard (this is excluding the helmet!). Some ski rental places don’t rent out goggles anymore and want you to buy them, check their websites what equipment they rent before making your choice. The two bigger ski rental places are located by the ski lift called Rauher Busch (Skicenter Walther and Ski Klante). Ski Klante has also lockers that you can rent for €1,- a day.
Winterberg is the perfect place to go for the winter loving expat (and non-expat) living in Düsseldorf because it’s a fun day trip. However, if you are interested in staying multiple days and looking for accommodation, it is very important to book this way in advance as it can get very crowdy especially when fresh snow is forecasted. Airbnb offers many places to stay, but prices for one night can go sky high when booking last minute.
Although its faster (and maybe more comfortable) to visit Winterberg by car, there is a fairly good train connection from Düsseldorf as well. For a full day of ski fun, the best connection is the RE10103 at 6:21 from Düsseldorf to Dortmund and from there you can catch the direct connection RE10751 to Winterberg(Westf) at 7:41 (goes once every hour). Arriving at 9:24 in Winterberg; the closets ski lift (Rauher Busch) from the main station is approximately a 15min walk. The area here also has ski rental centres with lockers, a restaurant and you can buy your day pass at the lift.
Generally, a day of skiing, including transport, will cost you around; €93,- (including day train ticket of €30,-, €35,- lift pass, €17,- renting gear and €11,- lunch). If you think its too much, count your expenses after a night out in the club ;).
Overall positive aspects of Winterberg are; slopes are snow guaranteed during ski season from Mid-December till mid-March with help of their numerous snow canons.
Easy accessible with public transportation.
Overall high quality of services and much choice in both restaurants (free toilet use) and rental places (not too expensive).
Because of the many tourists, services are multilingual (German, Dutch and English no problem).
Chairlifts are fast and efficient and are able to keep lines short during peak hours.
Closest natural snow ski area to Düsseldorf, perfect for a day of fun!
Negative aspect and how to avoid them: Winterberg is known for getting very crowdy, which can cause traffic jams if you come by car and waiting for lines at the rental places. Way to avoid this is to come very early in the morning, most traffic comes from the Netherlands, and the Dutch border is at least an hour further away, you can make full use of this advantage by getting on the road before they do. The same counts for the rental places, some even have the option to reserve your equipment in advance online.
Although there is snow guarantee throughout the season, the powder days with perfect natural-snow coverage are not a regularity. Just keep an eye on the weather forecast and plan accordingly. If you are not planning to stay overnight, you can decide last minute whether to go or not. Definitely, go when temperatures don’t go over freezing point and when the days before was snowing a lot (powder days!).
Some of the restaurants (like Schneewittchenhaus) are overcrowded during lunch hours, avoid the crowd by simply have an early or late lunch, or ask strangers nicely if they wouldn’t mind sharing a table.
Do you love snow, do you love winter sports, but you can’t go all the way to the Alps? Winterberg and the Sauerland area are perfect getaways for during the Christmas holidays. Get those skis under your feet and have fun!