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About an hour and a half southwest of Munich the Bavarian Alps fire up from the Loisach Valley, surrounding Garmisch-Partenkirchen on three sides. Towering gray and white walls of glacier-sharpened stone boasting Germany’s highest peak (the 9,724-foot Zugspitze), rise above town as suddenly as an orchestral crescendo by Richard Strauss, the famous composer who spent much of his life in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
Once two villages, Garmisch and Partenkirchen were joined by Hitler’s decree in order to host the 1936 Winter Olympics. For simplicity’s sake, most people call the twin town of 27,000 residents Garmisch (much to the annoyance of the Partenkircheners). Partenkirchen is on the eastern side of the Partnach River. Genteel and upscale, it dates back to 15 B.C. and is defined by pastel stuccoed buildings. The two towns are joined via a bridge, with Garmisch serving as the business center.
Four resorts await you in “G-P,” each offering a unique ski experience. The high Zugspitzplatt is southwest of town and can be reached by bus, train or car. The Hausberg/Alpspitz is the biggest and most popular area because of its location just above Garmisch. The easiest way to reach it is via the local bus (free with lift ticket). The limited Wank and Eckbauer slopes are also on the edge of town and easily reached by bus or car. The Zugspitzplatt features the Schneeferner Glacier (guaranteeing snow all season), surrounded by ragged purple peaks laced with above-timberline runs. For a rollicking charge down the high end of the beautiful Weisse Tal (White Valley), try the new 2,700-vertical-foot Super G trail. At Hausberg/Alpspitz, test your speed skills on the Kandahar, one of the toughest downhill courses on the men’s World Cup tour. For dramatic scenery, head to Osterfelderkopf summit, where smooth, intermediate slopes wend their way through stone canyons under the sheer, ice-veined face of the 8,622-foot Alpspitz. Bump-meisters will want to yo-yo the black-rated Horn run. Eckbauer, just across the scenic Partnach Gorge from Hausberg, was the site of the Olympic ski-jumping competitions and is crowned by the awesome 120-meter ski-flying hill. The Olympic ski stadium, located at the foot of the jumps, is worth a visit, too. Here you can watch jumpers soar more than the length of a football field.
For après-ski, hit the Alpina Bistro Bar for a quick snack and schnapps, or relax in the big Alpspitz Wellenbad wave-pool. After a dinner of nouvelle Bavarian cuisine at fashionable Reindl’s Restaurant, you could take in the London stage version of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Kongresshaus, or stop by the Spielbank Casino for a little roulette. No matter where you end up you’ll feel welcome, because more Americans frequent G-P than any other foreign visitors.