Cross-country skiing in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains)

The Ore mountains on the German-Czech border are home to a large area of interconnected skiing trails and are hugely popular due to their proximity to Dresden (45 minutes) and Prague (1h15 minutes). From Berlin it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to reach them, which is close enough for a great weekend getaway. There are also downhill ski slopes in the region, but at the end of January we headed off for another weekend of cross-country skiing, which allows you to take a nice tour of the surroundings.

We stayed just outside of Zinnwald (Cínovec on the Czech side of the border) in Jugendherberge Zinnwald-Altenberg and our trip started with a night hike through a very snowy forest to reach the centre of Zinnwald for dinner. It was the kind of snow where every now and then while walking your foot would suddenly break through the brittle top layer into a cavern beneath and you’d sink down up to your knee. It was also extremely cold – I had one hand up a sleeve but the other one had to hold my phone for a torch, and afterwards the knuckles of this hand were quite red and dry. We only realized afterwards it was -10, or -15 with wind chill factor! Sorry, hands!

We had dinner at a pension in the village. The food was just basic fried stuff but the DDR-style decor and an unexpected singing/guitar performance by the Russian waiter/manager/owner made it an evening to remember. The special Russian mint tea was also very tasty. After dinner we trekked back through the forest over the hill.

Saturday: Zinnwald to Moldava

We discovered that yet another one of our friends is a loud snorer, so sleep was very intermittent. At youth hostels, breakfast is relatively early (8-9 in this case), so we managed to set off relatively early for cross country skiing. Unfortunately we had to climb over the same snowy hill through the woods to Zinnwald, this time carrying cross country skis, to get to the trail we were heading for. That was a good workout. Once in Zinnwald we crossed snowy fields (it was a golf course) to get to the beginning of the trail. We noticed there was some kind of race on, as some skiiers had devices pegged onto them to measure their time. We joined the magistrále, the main skiing trail, where a mix of Germans and Czechs were skiing. It was a mix of all levels of skiing and a bit more relaxed than the Jizera mountain trails we’d been on.

Skiing on the driving range

On the Magistrale

After taking the main trail for a while, we couldn’t resist taking the trail less travelled that appeared to our right, which was a bit less busy and headed through a snowy forest. I loved the first part of this trail, which was a long, gentle downhill through the woods – you couldn’t get much more enjoyable skiing. Although, while enjoying it I did remember that what goes down must come up…

And come down we eventually had to…

Soon the adventures started. First there was a very steep downhill with lots of turns and a tree at each bend. Next came a bit of uphill, and the tracks were a bit icy so the skis were slipping a bit, which made it more effort. Then there was a flat part in between which was ok. We came to a fork after a while and I was hoping we would take the path straight ahead, which was also flat, but instead the path we wanted (to Moldava) was the rugged looking snowy downhill off to the side, where a first tree lay across the path. Needless to say I ended up getting a bit stuck in said fir tree, and it was not the last one by far.

The forest boot camp

The whole next section of the route had fallen trees at regular intervals, making it a cross country ski bootcamp/obstacle course. There was a German couple behind us, and the husband was having as much trouble as I was getting around/over all the trees. The easiest were actually those we could go underneath in a sort of limbo skiing style. At one point I got fed up of getting stuck in trees and took off my skis to walk till the trail was a bit clearer, but walking in such deep snow was just as exhausting, if not even more so. At the end of the tree obstacle course came the steep uphill we’d been expecting. Finally the path evened out for the last 2km or so, but when we arrived in Moldava there was a howling wind that blasted  ice crystals at us, and the only open restaurant was full. We wandered in a circle for a while looking for another one, finally returning to the same one and luckily getting a spot.

Moldava lies near the Czech-German border, and before the EU days when there was a border post, there were a number of shops selling duty-free stuff, but now the town looks a bit like a ghost town. They should probably re-brand it as a cross country skiing destination, as it is well-located on the trails. The restaurant we ate at was also a pension, and fully booked out, but the other places all seemed to be closed.

After lunch it was time to head back to Zinnwald. Don’t think our adventures were over yet. Most of the way back was uphill, and the trail was not fresh, with the tracks being a bit icy and heaps of uneven, sticky snow all around them. The trail followed a river valley. I think this was the part I found least enjoyable because I was tired and the going was difficult, but one of my friends liked it the best because of the views. I was glad when we got to paths that had pressed snow again (they were actually country roads) and we could glide nicely. By this time the light was fading, and the last section over the deep snow of the golf course and back down to Zinnwald was through thick snow in dim light. Crossing over the bridge over the highway, we found that because of the deep snow the railing was not very high at all, so we were very careful here not to go too fast lest we fall over the edge and end up on the road!

After all of this, and falling a few times in thick, uneven snow on the fields due to the dim light, we then still had to cross the snowy hill and our usual forest. Once we got to the forest we took off our skis since that part was way too uneven to ski. It was a relief to arrive back at the hostel, since we’d certainly had a full day of exercise. We could take nice hot showers and get into dry clothes.

But guess where we’d booked dinner – back in Zinnwald. We decided to skip the forested hill this time and walk on the road. We hadn’t realised it was uphill all the way, but at least that meant it was downhill on the way back. The restaurant, Diana, was pretty nice and worth the walk. Walking back with the huge walls of snow on either side of us was also fun. Back at the youth hostel, we sat in the dining room and played a few rounds of Saboteur while drinking the red fruit tea provided by the hostel (our friends said this red tea is typical of German youth hostels and reminded them of their childhood). Finally we crawled into bed to enjoy a well earned rest – despite the thunderous snoring of one of our roomates.

The different layers of snow are quite visible here

Sunday: Zinnwald to Altenberg

The hostel was a bit manic in the morning and we had to dodge kids playing handball right outside our room every time we opened our door. After checking out, we drove a short while to a parking lot and started our route from there. Today we would ski in the Altenberg area. After the obstacle course of the day before I was a bit wary what to expect, but today the trail was nicely pressed and there were no trees to climb over.

Forest views

We came to a fork and chose to go right, which in hindsight was a mistake because there was only a track on our left which people coming in the other direction had right of way to, meaning we had to get off when people came along, and as lots did, in the end we stayed mostly off-track. Anyway, eventually we came to the uphill section, and now the tracks were on our side. My husband had a bit of trouble going up that day, as temperatures were around zero and he didn’t have the right kind of wax, so he was slipping a bit. The rest of us had scale skis so it was ok, just a little slippy.

Subsequently he added red wax to his collection

Once we were up the hill, we came to a region of Altenberg that I liked a lot, with lots of short intersecting trails, joining at intersections. It was relatively busy but everyone seemed relaxed, except for one or two skiers who were doing some kind of timed race.

One of many intersecting trails through the woods

We skied around on these trails for a while before looking for a spot to have lunch. We ended up at the Beerenhütte, where there was some space in a satellite hut outside. The wooden hut had a fireplace in the middle, and it was wonderfully cosy inside. A friendly elderly lady from Dresden started chatting with us. Our German friend said that people from Saxony are quite chatty, in contrast to the people in Bremen, where she is from. It was nice to get to chat to a local for a little bit.

After sitting in the cosy hut for a while, we headed back out to the snow. We found that a mist had come up, and you couldn’t see very far ahead. It was a whiteout. I tend to enjoy these extreme weathers as it all adds to the experience – at least in the area we were in there were no steep cliffs we could accidentally ski off.


Into the mist

The visibility improved once we were off the top of the hill. We skied down a trail for a bit and then back up, then it was time to head back. On the way we stopped at a restaurant at the Golf Club Teplice for a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate there was thick and delicious, definitely worth the visit! We also found a very nice snowman around the corner, complete with a carrot for the nose.

Hot chocolate

After the restaurant, for the second time we had to ski down the part with the thick snow, which involved some falling, and over the bridge near the highway, but apparently that was the way back. This time we took the road through the village instead of going through the forest. The huge walls of snow at the side of the road were quite something. It was a shame to leave the snow behind and head back to Berlin. Luckily it’s not far away and hopefully we’ll go back another time, although the sudden rise of temperatures in February makes one wonder if the snow season is over for this year…



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