6 (4 draglifts)
Total lift vert:
It's not often you get to stand on the highest point of a country, and this is a chance to ride up to the top of Germany, 2962 metres high on the craggy and dramatic Zugspitze. Note that you can't actually ski right at the very top, you have to take a cable car from the summit down to the ski area, but it's still spectacularly high.
Note that there are two ski areas on this mountain - the so-called "classic area" lower down, accessible from the Hausberg and Kreuzeck lifts closer to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and the real Zugspitze itself a bit further west. Here we're just looking at the Zugspitze area as they're not connected.
On the Zugspitze area it's all glacier, so this means two things - firstly it's not terribly steep or difficult skiiing, but rather blues and reds. And secondly, due to the difficulty of mounting chairlift machinery on a moving glacier, it's all T-bar draglifts apart from one solitary chairlift.
For a zoomable, scrollable map of the area, see this online map using Openstreetmap or Opencyclemap.
There are two ways up - either cogtrain or cable car. From Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the easiest way is probably by cogtrain, which trundles up to Eibsee and RiffelRiß and then through an impressive 5 km tunnel to pop out in the ski area. A more spectacular way to arrive is to drive to Eibsee and then get the cable car up the sheer rock face to the very summit of the Zugspitze, and then after having enjoyed the panoramic views from the open terrasse on the top, get another cable car down the other side to the ski lifts.
A day pass currently (2013) costs EUR 40, increased from EUR 36, with no reduction for afternoon tickets. It's expensive considering the small number of lifts here and the preponderance of draglifts, but I guess it has to cover the difficulties of getting people up to the area and back down again.
showing the main area and the home run
In the main ski area there are only five lifts available, and four of them are T-bar draglifts. So this is definitely not somewhere to come if you don't like T-bars. There's also a single, bonus red run from the train station at Riffelriß down to Eibsee, which may or may not be open depending on the snow levels.
Most of the slopes are very similar, fairly wide and straight, with no trees in sight. Only occasionally do they get particularly steep, most of them are like steep blues or shallow reds. There is plenty of opportunity for off-piste between the runs where you can see where it goes, but as with all glacier areas you should be careful about crevasses and observe all warning signs.
Highlights on this trip were the soft underneath the closed T-bar at the top-right of the resort, the "Super-G" run down to the lowest point at Brunntal, and the surprising bonus of the Riffelriß to Eibsee run (apart from the end). Hence it's possible to treat this cogtrain as a sixth "lift" but most people save it for the last run.
They try to make a big deal in the piste map about their world-famous jump park, but at the time of writing most of it is closed. There is only a small area with 6 or 7 metal rails available, which is certainly nothing to get excited about. There is a larger area higher up with some large ramps built up, but they're not finished and the whole area is closed off.
Signposting in the area is practically non-existent and the lifts aren't obviously named, but it's very difficult to get lost as you can always get your bearings from the Zugspitze summit and the chairlift.
Almost all the lifts are T-bar drag lifts here, so it's very difficult to avoid them. Fortunately, they're all friendly apart from one. That one is the lowest one from Brunntal up to the base of the chairlift, and that has two awkward sections where it goes briefly downhill. With the current snow conditions the second of them tries quite hard to throw you off and is occasionally successful, meaning the only option is to go back down and try again.
There aren't any nasty flat spots in the main area, you just have to be a bit careful when coming from the upper-righthand drag lift to the main restaurant and train station. If you go too far left, you'll have a short climb to get up to the main building, but if you keep right at the top then it's ok. The only other flat part is the last few hundred metres of the Riffelriß run to Eibsee, which requires walking, but it would be a shame to miss that lovely fast red just because of that.
As mentioned above, you can either come down from the mountain by cogtrain or by cable car. For the cable car descent, you first have to get the cable car back up to the summit, and then the second cable car down to Eibsee. The bonus of getting the train down, apart from seeing the impressive tunnel entrance disappearing into the mountain, is the opportunity to get out at Riffelriß and have one last run down to Eibsee. This is a super run, wide and steep and very enjoyable, except that it flattens out at the end requiring a walk of a few hundred metres.
Once down at Eibsee, you can either get back in the train again to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (make sure you don't miss it!) or just collect your car from the car park.
17 March 2009 - Snow in very good condition, all lifts except one of the drags running, and barely any queues at all. Home run from Riffelriß to Eibsee open.
You can see an interactive flash map of both this Zugspitze area and the larger "classic" area lower down at intermaps.com.