Anything else Hoists from afar

Cross-country skiing: How resorts count loops twice to increase their advertised kilometers

Many resorts will promise you tracks in excess of 100km or even 200km. These claims are all bullshit. There is not even enough space for that. Here's how they trick you.

We’ve had a bit of snow already a few times this winter. Never it went beyond a couple centimeters and never it lasted more than a couple days. Finally, significant snow fell and now snow-melting warm-front should destroy the fun before the weekend comes. I’m getting ready for the first cross-country skiing of the season. I had a lot of fun last winter and wrote about my diverse experiences in South Tyrol. Now, you find myself looking at trail descriptions to pick a nice destination. I’m looking for a great panorama and an extensive network of trails. On Saturday, I don’t want to repeat the same loop over and over again. I want a nice long loop with as much change of scenery as possible. Here I read wonderful descriptions.


Cross-country skiing in Seefeld in Tyrol, in the Alps on the most beautiful mountain plateau […] More than 245 kilometres of immaculately prepared cross-country ski trails for all ability levels and for special requirements  (adaptive cross-country skiing, floodlit trails and dog-friendly trails)

That’s for Seefeld. The next one is for Bodenmais, a small village in the Bavarian Forest.

Distinguished as the most snow-safe cross-country ski area in Germany by the German Ski Association, as a Nordic Active Center, you will find everything a cross-country skier needs in Bodenmais. The cross-country ski tracks start at Bretterschachten, at an altitude of 1120 m, offering you an area of 114 km of classic cross-country tracks and 110 km of skating tracks that your skis are just waiting to try out.

Or how about St. Johann in Tirol, which is a cute location neighboring Kitzbühel?

The Kitzbüheler Alpen with St. Johann in Tirol, Oberndorf, Kirchdorf and Erpfendorf are a highlight for cross-country skiers. Each town has central access to the extensive slope network in the Kitzbüheler Alpen. Whether classic or skating – in the towns, there are over 250 km very well prepared pistes and cross-country slopes which have been awarded the Tirol slope seal of approval, in all difficulty levels. Head out on to the slopes – get set – go!

And then there is Alpe di Siusi, one of the most scenic cross-country skiing areas of them all.

The snow-covered high-alpine plateau Alpe di Siusi is a true paradise for cross-country skiers. The almost endless breadth of the slightly hilly and sun-spoiled landscape with lush forest islands and surrounded by the bizarre Dolomite rocks is always worth being discovered on skis. A total of 80 km of tracks of different levels of difficulty await cross-country skiers. The track lengths vary from 2 km for beginners to the “Jochloipe” track, which is the longest high-alpine track at Alpe di Siusi with a total length of 15 km. 

This all sounds awesome. That’s just four skiing areas and all together they promise me 800km of cross-country skiing trails. With that much space of opportunity, I’d be busy for five years even more.

There is just one catch to it. It’s not true.

Parallel loops are counted multiple times

Below is a screenshot of the Bretterschachten cross-country skiing center of Bodenmais. Remember the promise: 114km of classic cross-country tracks and 110km of skating tracks. If I sum up all of those listed, my total is 125 and 121km. In their snow report, the Alternativ trail is not regularly listed, while the Auerhahn-Eck trail is listed with 30km. Subtracting the former and adding 4km to the latter, I arrive at 114km. But that’s not the point.

List of all cross-country skiing trails in Bodenmais: the sum of them all corresponds to the promise of 114/110km

Next, this is the (old) map of Bodenmais’ Bretterschachten center. All the trails listed above are there. All of them. Do you recognize what’s going on?

Map of all cross-country skiing trails in Bodenmais: it’s just one big loop, not six separate loops

It’s actually not six loops (yellow, green, purple, blue, red, orange) that sum up to 64km. It’s just one big loop of 18km that you can cut short at five spots. Likewise with the two Auerhahn trails. It’s not two trails of 20km and 30km, but it’s one trail of 30km with one intermediate destination at Schareben after 20km. (Way and return you would use the same trail, which is how they calculate the 40/60km in the above map.) Note that those 20/30km start counting at the very beginning in Bodenmais and not at the end of the loop. Hence, if you want to go all the way to Eck, it’s 30km, but this includes 9km from the orange loop. Oh, and the separate 110km of skating tracks? They just run parallel to the classic tracks. Here is the honest description that Bodenmais should use:

We have a classic main loop of 18km, of which 14km also include a skating option. At various points, you can cut this loop short according to your skill level. On top of that, we offer a snow-secure long-distance trail at altitude to Schareben and Eck that adds 21km one-way. Hence, the longest loop you can do with us is 60km on classic ski.

18 plus 21km makes barely 40km of unique trails and that’s basically just one third of what they promise. Sure, nowhere they say that these are unique trails. You need to want to fool your customers if you ignore that it’s the implied message of: We have 114km of classic tracks and 110km of skating tracks.

Advertising with false loop distances is common practice

Typically, classic cross-country skiing trails will offer at least two track lines: one for general use and one for faster skiers and for passing maneuvers. I remember that some years ago, I saw a resort that counted both lines separate to increase its trail tally. You can’t get any lower in the battle for superiority.

I singled out Bodenmais above simply because its trail map makes the fraud so obvious. My intention is not to blame them individually. I’m writing against a common practice. Up in the intro, I quoted also Seefeld (245km), St. Johann (250km), and the Alpe di Siusi (80km). In reality, that’s much less as well.

Seefeld is a complex resort that includes Leutasch and reaches all the way to Mittenwald. In their snow report, they’ve broken up the entire network in some loops and some connecting trails. When I sum up all the kilometers in this list, I reach 123.7km. I reach roundabout 245km when I multiply this by two (classic plus skating). This also corresponds with their map. Unlike in Bodenmais, these 124km actually exist. Just note that many trails run almost parallel to each other or have little variation between going one way and the other.

List of all cross-country skiing trails in Seefeld: while it’s massive 124km, it’s definitely not 245km
Map of some cross-country skiing trails close to Seefeld: way and return are separate, but often close

Also St. Johann promised 250km in and around the village. Their snow report lists 19 trails. On their website, I looked up the distances for these trails. If I just sum them up, the total is 136km. That’s quite a lot, but it’s far from 250km. Often, not all of them will have skating lines. So let’s assume they double-counted only those that actually have skating lines and you’ll be at around 250km. Then I also looked again at the map details of some of them. And, ehm, do you see that many trails actually show multiple trail numbers when multiple trails share the same route? It’s a bit difficult to calculate the actual kilometers here, but it’s safe to say that it’s far away from 136km.

List of all cross-country skiing trails in St. Johann: 19 tracks which I can sum up to 136km
Map of all cross-country trails in St. Johann: several trails share part of their route – which is fine, but should not count for a higher total of trail kilometers

At Alpe di Siusi, the list entails approximately 80km of trails. Unlike other resorts, they don’t double this value to increase their total by means of counting twice those tracks that offer both classic and skating tracks. Yet, they apply the same trick as in Bodenmais to count multiple times one loop with various shortcuts. You figure it from the map. In fact, the map 12km Hartl trail also includes the Col del Lupo trail, the Möser trail, the Ritsch trail, and the Beginner’s loop, except for the shortcuts itself. Likewise, the 11km Panorama trail is also included in the 18km Joch trail. So let’s not count for a moment the tracks at Passo Pinei or the various link trails between Compatsch, Ritsch, and Saltria. The main center at Ritsch promised trails of up to 57km. Instead, it’s one 12km and one 18km trail, so just about half of that.

List of all cross-country skiing at Alpe di Siusi: there’s a promise of 80km, and this list seems to confirm it
Map of all cross-country skiing trails at Alpe di Siusi: promise broken, as trail 7 includes also trails 6, 5, 3, and 2, and trail 8 is just a part of trail 9

Every single resort promises more trails than they actually offer. This is a small selection, so I could cherry-pick my sample. Go ahead and try it yourself. My experience confirms that the kilometer promise virtually never holds. It’s too good to be true. Last winter, I’ve been to lots of places in South Tyrol, for instance, and didn’t find correct numbers anywhere.

You will find exceptions, of course. Out of the box, I can come up with the Obergoms cross-country resort. They promise 90km. It’s a bit more than 60km in the valley (in a simplified description: 30km one way on one side of the river and 30km back on the other side) and then some dispersed trails at other locations which are formally part of the resort. At the Silbersattel in Thüringen/Germany, they are semi-transparent. They indicate that 95km are prepared for cross-country and skating. A few sentences down, they state that the machines need to cover 35km of track to prepare all routes: That’s actually the distance that you can cover without repeating some bits.

Still: these massive claims of several hundred kilometers of tracks are common. Tyrol advertised for cross-country skiing in Kitzbühel with 700km in an unspecified area of surrounding resorts. Just look at the map. It’s in the mountains. There are villages, streets, cliffs, forests… there is not possibly enough space. Also, preparing the tracks costs money, but unlike Alpine skiers, cross-country athletes often don’t even have to pay. And even if they do pay, like in South Tyrol and Seefeld, and even if these are central hubs that attract relatively larger number of athletes: we are few. We can’t possibly cover the cost. On the other hand: there’s no need to lie to us.

Call to action: stop the fraud with a certificate of honesty

I understand why this is happening. There is a drive to continuously offer more. Sure, if they sell me 110km, I’m finding this a very attractive destination. If they tell me it’s actually just 18km and then 21km add-on, I’m certainly not feeling as thrilled; maybe not even for a day-trip. Then I’m looking at other resorts like Seefeld which offer me 30, 40, 50km. I go there.

Bodenmais reacts and invents its beautiful 110km fantasy. Their hope is that now I might decide for them next year. Unfortunately, this ignores competitive dynamics. Seefeld then multiplies their own routes to staggering 250km. Bodenmais is out again. Nothing has changed. The only thing that came on top are disappointed tourists that come and do not find all that diversity that they got promised.

There’s got to be a better way. Websites exist that run a business from testing skiing areas. Take Bergfex and snow-online.com. They also list the tracks and report snow conditions for these resorts. Often when you search for resort maps, they’ll be among the first links on your preferred search engine. They hold the power. They can actually dedicate some of their resources to certify how many unique trail kilometers each resort offers aside of the various loops which then share and re-use some of these kilometers. This would create a standardized number that I as a consumer can rely on. So I can better prepare myself when I go to Bodenmais again. I won’t expect that I spend all my week in Bodenmais, but my plans include the adjacent areas. There are many. They are beautiful. There’s no need to lie to me.

It must be possible. After all, it was possible when they all agreed on an international system of marking different levels of difficulty of individual trails. And all I want is just a full day of evolving spectacular scenery. That’s what it’s all about, no?

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