Boy are we good at picking weekends with lots of snow. Last year we ended up visiting Spitzensee in Bavaria on a long weekend where it snowed so much that the bus stop disappeared and the avalanche level across the border in Austria rose to a maximum of 5. A few weekends ago we spent a similarly snowy weekend in Bedřichov, a popular destination for winter sports in the Jizera mountains of the Czech Republic. It snowed so much on Saturday night that on Sunday morning there were many fallen branches and trees strewn across the track we’d been on just the day before.
But let me start at the beginning. Following our cross-country skiing trip to Hejnice (also in the Jizera mountains), we were keen to go back for more. This time we booked accommodation in Bedřichov, which has both cross-country trails and downhill skiing slopes. Bedřichov is approximately 3.5 hours from Berlin, though it took us about 4 hours because of some snowy roads. Unable to drive up the last road to our guest apartment because of the thick snow, we parked at the restaurant La Pasta, ate some pizza, and then proceeded to try and get the snowchains on the car wheels.
Our German friend the driver had practiced in her garage in Berlin beforehand, and she got the first one on in no time. We only had to put them on the two front wheels, but the second one that my husband was working on proved trickier. The thing about snowchains is, they are metal and get very cold, and to handle them properly you normally need to take off your gloves. Of course, it’s often dark and/or cold and/or snowy when you want to put them on. That’s why it’s a good idea to practice beforehand somewhere where it’s light and warm. My husband managed to pull one piece apart, but luckily La Pasta lent us some pliers to put it back together again.
Eventually, snow chains on, we headed up to our guesthouse, Apartmany 294. My feet were frozen and it was a joy to discover upon taking off my boots that there was underfloor heating.
Part 1: Cross-country skiing
The next morning we headed down to the village to pick up some cross-country skis for our beginner friend who didn’t have any. He’d ordered some but they hadn’t arrived in time, so he had shoes but no skis. Unfortunately none of the shops we went to had fish-scale skis that matched his shoes, so he ended up renting skis that require wax. This didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, because my husband also has skis that require wax. However, there are many kinds of wax, as this photo taken in the ski shop shoes, each for different conditions.
And as the wax-o-meter in the next photo shows, the conditions were pretty much on the border between red and purple.
The first wax we’d bought, a blue one, didn’t work at all, and our beginner kept slipping. So we bought another wax, this time purple. For my husband the purple one worked fine, but for the beginner it was still trickier than the fish-scale skis he’d used last time, and he really battled. He wanted to put more and more wax on, but then the skis started accumulating snow, so he kept sticking to the spot. In the end he gave up and decided he’d quit skiing for the day. We agreed to meet up at lunchtime.
For my husband, the skis worked ok going uphill, but later in the day going downhill he was also sticking too much. Applying gliding wax to the ski tips helped, but not completely. Meanwhile my German friend and I with our scale skis didn’t have trouble. I could feel the snow was slipperier than the week before, so going uphill sometimes I’d get off the classical parallel tracks and walk up duck-style. Going down was no problem at all. Generally, scale skis are pretty reliable and so good for beginners or intermediate skiers, whereas wax skis are the choice for professionals who want to go faster. There’s also another type of skis, skin skis, which are good in icy conditions. My husband in fact has backcountry skis, which are slightly wider and have metal edges, meaning it’s easier to turn like with downhill skis.
As we’d started off with a beginner, and he was having trouble with the skis, we had chosen a 5km training trail that was much less crowded than the main route. After our beginner left before the 1km mark, we carried on with this trail, with the idea that we’d do one loop and meet our friend for lunch. It was a really fun route with lots of ups, downs and corners. After having lunch with our friend it was fairly late (we’d used a lot of time looking for rental skis and trying out different waxes), so we decided to do the same loop again, both because it was convenient and because we’d enjoyed it so much. Then we raced off to the ski shop, as our plan was to rent sleds for the evening, and it closed at 5. My husband was considering renting a snowboard as there is night skiing in Bedřichov (the downhill skiing slopes are lit up and the ski lift runs), but in the end he decided to join us on the sleds.
Part 2: Sledding and snow angels
I grew up in a place with no snow, as did one of the others on the trip, who comes from India. As a result, not only did we not learn to ski as kids, we had also never experienced many other wintertime activities like sledding, making a snowman, snowball fights, and making snow angels. I was super excited to rent a sled as a result – my husband hadn’t even realized that I’d never been on a sled before! Our group rented two different kinds of sled: one of the classical, sturdy wooden ones and a lighter faster plastic one, and my husband had also bought a plastic disc thingie the day before at Decathlon.
We joined the kids on the hill pulling our sleds up and racing down. Woohoo! At first I was actually a bit scared to go down on the sled, because I thought maybe it would go too fast and be difficult to control. However after going down twice together with my husband on the bigger wooden sled, I realized that it was pretty easy to stop with the feet. The plastic circle one on the other hand was impossible to control – we all ended up going backwards down the hill screaming! I realized pretty soon that sledding is actually great exercise, because for a short ride down you have to hike up the hill over and over again. The views from the hill were spectacular: opposite the slopes you could see Bedřichov glittering with lights, the church of St Anthony of Padua standing out on the hill. It looked like a fairytale town. Next to us, the downhill ski slope was lit up for night skiing, and you could watch people going on T-bars up the hill, and others skiing down.
We sledded until we were too tired to walk up the hill anymore, and then we pulled the sleds back to our apartment to freshen up for dinner. We’d reserved the restaurant U Smutných mostly because it was near to our accommodation, but we were in luck because the food was amazing – French-style flavours with Czech-style portions!
It had started snowing before dinner, and when we left the restaurant we found the world coated in fresh powder snow, the footprints and tire marks we’d passed on the way there now covered. It was a silent, beautiful white world, with the snow still falling gently down. We walked back to the apartment quietly, enjoying the winter world, and when we got to the front door, I wasn’t ready to leave this world and go inside. “Should we walk to the church?” I suggested, as we’d noticed the beautiful church further down the road in the morning, and admired it from the hill opposite. There was unanimous agreement, so off we went down the thickly-coated road, huge walls of snow on either side of us.
There are stations of the cross leading up a hill from near the road to where the church of St Anthony of Padua is situated. The crosses were half buried in snow, and we had to make our own path through knee-deep snow up the hill, which was quite an adventure.
Walking in thick, untrodden, fresh snow is amazing. The church looked even more beautiful from close up, coated in snow, and with a tall, illuminated Christmas tree next to it.
The church is near a forest and all around was beautiful, thick snow, so we made a few snow angels, because every church needs some angels!
Finally, all elated from this magical place, we headed slowly back to our guesthouse to play a board game before heading to bed. We left all of our things drying for the next morning.
Part 3: Snow-shoeing
We awoke the next morning to a gigantic pile of snow outside our window.
As one of our party had had such trouble with the skis on Saturday, for Sunday we decided to go snow-shoeing instead of cross-country skiing. With so much snow around, it seemed like ideal conditions. After breakfast we went to rent shoes and then headed to the start of a hiking trail marked on Mapy.cz (also visible on the tourist map). I think the first section of the trail was the most beautiful, as there were many different kinds of trees, their branches all laden with glistening snow.
The path headed up for quite a while before leveling out in an area with a few wooden houses. At the end there was a huge, steep wall of snow to climb over. I tried to walk around one of the houses instead but that was also hard-going, since the snow was so deep. Nonetheless, we made it to the road on the other side, which unexpectedly led to a parking lot near a cross-country skiing trail.
We were even more surprised later to find that we were in the forests next to the 5km trail we’d skied the day before! Another surprise lay in store too – the trail that had been pristine the day before was now littered with fallen branches and even whole trees, brought down by the weight of the snow and perhaps some wind the night before. The tracks were gone, thick snow covered them. As a result there were not many skiers out that day. With heavy snow and/or wind, you should be careful in a forest. It was still now, and hadn’t snowed for some time, so we hoped that those branches that were going to come down had come down the night before.
The trail was quite varied; there were parts where we were walking through forest, parts where it joined up with cross-country ski trails (we kept to the side in this case), and stretches where we had to walk on snow-covered country roads. There was also a short downhill we had to slide, and getting up out of deep snow took quite a lot of effort! At one point we had an expansive view over a snow-covered lake, and we also found a big wooden hut in which we could have a hot lunch.
Finally it was time to leave. As we arrived back in Bedřichov to drop off our equipment, it unexpectedly started to rain quite heavily. No doubt this would melt some snow, but higher up in the hills where it’s colder, the precipitation could be snow instead of rain.
The weather forecast for the next week was snow, snow, snow. The news reports were full of videos of snow-ploughs riding through towns and people getting rid of snow on roofs. There was also a clip of a long queue of cars waiting to come into Bedřichov, which we totally missed by driving there on Friday and staying for the weekend. If you like snow sports, the Jizera mountains are definitely worth a visit, and Bedřichov has options to suit almost anybody.
Bedřichov is about 3.5 to 4 hours from Berlin (it took us 4 hours because of the snow). You can also get there by bus from Liberec, which lots of daytrippers seem to do.
For some tips on visiting the ski regions of the Czech republic, you can check my previous post here, and if you are interested to learn how it was to learn cross-country skiing for the first time (classical style), you can read about it here.