I’ve experienced it up-close. The alpine feeling in the Harz mountains. With the gondola you go from Braunlage to the almost 1000 meters high Wurmberg. From there you have a wonderful view on the opposite Brocken, that once was the longing destination of many poets and thinkers. The bizarre, snow-covered and icy spruces on the Wurmberg summit, the clear mountain air at 10 degrees below zero, excellently prepared sunlit slopes. “Skier heart, what more do you want?”
For Northern Germans who only want to ski for a few days it is not worth a long journey to the Alps. That’s why on the Wurmberg’s 13 kilometres of slopes you don’t only meet Wolfenbüttelers, Braunschweigers and Quedlinburgers from the Harz foothills, but also a lot of Berliners, Hamburgers, even Leipzigers (travel time: 2 hours) come to Braunlage to enjoy alpine skiing.
“The Harz Mountains – a winter dream”
In the first half of February it was just like Goethe must have experienced the Harz Mountains, a winter dream. “I stood at noon overlooking endless snow” he wrote. I had a similar experience on the hilltop of the Wurmberg, which I like much better than the plateau of the Brocken, where Goethe stood.
I feel the Wurmberg, Lower Saxony’s highest, in its upper part much more cosy, more natural than its counterpart. The mountain station with the mountain hut on the opposite – does not appear oversized, so that no amusement park atmosphere develops. The hut’s name “Gipfelstürmer” could – to be honest – have been chosen more imaginatively.
Snow-covered spruces of all sizes, which repeatedly reveal a view on the miniature-looking Braunlage. And In good visibility you can even identify Braunschweig in the distance. “It’s actually much too nice to ski” someone next to me says and pulls out his mobile phone to take a picture.
“An almost alpine dimension”
I was completely surprised by the unexpectedly almost alpine dimension of the ski area with its 15 descents of all levels of difficulty. It is said to be the largest and highest ski area in northern Germany and with 4.7 kilometres the longest German descent north of the Alps. For occasional skiers like me, in particular the “blue” generously wide slopes have the ideal calibre to control the speed perfectly and avoid falls. Of course, there are also highly demanding routes such as the “Hexenritt” descent, which recalls the mystical side of the Harz Mountains and its intriguing world of legends.
“Why is skiing so attractive?”
The praise of mindfulness, i.e. full concentration on a single matter, is on everyone’s lips today. When skiing, mindfulness is the basic prerequisite for not falling on your bottom. Skiing and snowboarding require body control and fun in movement, but at the same time they are also an experience of nature. All this makes the sport so attractive for many.
“And what about après-ski?”
It’s true that the après-ski programme of Braunlage could be better. But it’s also true that many 30- to 50-year-olds come to the Harz mountains to leave stress at work behind for a few days and to recharge their batteries with clear mountain air and plenty of exercise. For example, Stefanie (28) and Sebastian (35) from Potsdam, who ski in the morning and enjoy the wellness program of the Relaxa Hotel in Braunlage in the afternoon. “We don’t like disco. We’re already out of age” says the couple, that are in the Harz for the first time, adding: “We really like it here. We are completely satisfied.” The Harz is ideal for a spontaneous short vacation.
“Image transfer through lighthouse projects.”
Not least due to new projects such as the Alpine Skiing Centre at the Wurmberg , the Harz loses the image of boredom and the smugness, I learn from three talkative Bad Harzburgers in the lift, who are excellently informed about recent developments. They refer to other lighthouse projects such as the Torfhaus Resort. In addition, the so-called Ettershaus will open in Bad Harzburg in June. A noble hotel on a large area with a variety of offers such as a separate steakhouse and inventive tree houses for the “adventure family holiday”.
“The Story of the Ski Jump”
One of my ski-lift talks was about the meanwhile dismantled ski jump of the Wurmberg. The scaffolding with the platform was left standing. In the past, the viewing platform of the ski jump was exactly 1000 metres above sea level, while the Wurmberg reached 971 metres.
In GDR times the usage of the ski jump was not without problems, I learn. Since it was dangerously close to the former zone border, rubber ropes had to be used to prevent the ski jumpers from coming to a standstill on GDR territory after touching down.
“Secret tip: get to the gondola on time”
The check-in at the gondola works perfectly if you don’t catch days when people are crowding the Wurmberg. Then it can happen that you have to wait for two hours. In order to avoid such adversities, one should be at the counter on time for the opening of the cable car at 8.45 o’clock. On the other hand, waiting times are sometimes also a problem in renowned ski resorts in the Alps.
“Internet presence in need of improvement”
The presentation of the Wurmberg Ski Resort on the Internet still leaves room for improvement, according to the opinion of numerous, especially younger, conversation partners. The ambience and the dimension would hardly be visually clear, i.e. as far as the visual language is concerned.
During the winter holidays, Ski enthusiasts and their children from the nearby East German states come to the Wurmberg in large numbers. A week later Danish and Dutch dominate the slopes – because of the winter holidays in these countries – and much to the delight of hoteliers and pension owners. Braunlage needs winter tourism.
Soup at “Puppe”
The three people from Bad Harzburg have a special tip for me at the end. They have bought a 4-hour ticket and are about to return to Harzburg at noon. Before that, they intend to enjoy one of the legendary soups of the delicatessen shop “Puppe” in Braunlage. “You have to try them,” they told me. Others point out that “Puppe” is said to offer well-known sausage specialities from deer and wild boar.
“More ski-lift conversations”
- Of course, a skiing area like the Wurmberg is extremely dependent on the snow conditions. And the more than 100 snow-making systems – fed by a so-called “Schnei-See” – can only start operating from minus 4 degrees Celsius and below. The entire complex, in which around 12 million euros were invested in 2013, is therefore heavily dependent on the weather conditions in winter. The company only writes black numbers after 34 days of operation with enough snow, a lift neighbour knows to report.
- What is pleasantly noticeable in comparison to many ski resorts in the Alps is the fact that there is no loud music on the mountain huts.
- The operator does always provide new attractions. In this winter, skiing under floodlight is possible for the first time.
- And what happened to the idea of a ski swing into the neighbouring Schierke? “The project isn’t off the table yet” says another lift companion. This is also confirmed by Dirk Nüsse. The operator of the Wurmberg cable car would very much appreciate it if there were a real ski swing and not just a single descent.
I’ve grown fond of the Wurmberg this winter. The memory reservoirs are full to bursting. And I’m already looking forward to discover his green spring side.
Text, photos and design: Michael Hotop, Jochen Hotop