Ever since the first snowfall in November, I couldn’t wait for the day that enough snow had fallen for the first cross-country trails to open. After last weekend, I was hopeful and recruited two friends to follow me for the day. Then I figured that the warm ground had melted quite some of the falling snow. Effectively, we were left with two places we could go to and one of them didn’t promise much. We decided for the other one: the Hemmersuppenalm.
The Hemmersuppenalm is a mid-altitude Alpine meadow in the Southeast of Germany, between Ruhpolding and Reit im Winkl. Adjacent to it you find the Winklmoosalm. It’s operated by the famous Mittermaier family (Rosi Mittermaier won Olympic Gold for Germany in Alpine skiing in the 1970s. Since we’re not Austrians, that doesn’t happen too often, so it’s a big thing. Her husband and son were/are professional as well.) At the Winklmoosalm, there are two more cross-country trails accessible by lift. Ruhpolding hosts one of two German biathlon World Cups and a stunningly strange New Year’s tradition, the run of the Krampus. (People dress up like monsters from the forests that look much like drunk farmers in the 1800s mixed up monsters with their own cattle.)
The Hemmersuppenalm trail
The trail sort of starts at the Hindenburghütte. The first 300m is a steep climb. Many less advanced skiers prefer to walk up their ski to avoid the effort. Going down this very slope at the end of the trail, you should know how to steer. This is by far the most challenging bit of this trail. At the end of this little climb, there’s a little crossing. A winter hike starts here. Straight ahead, the trail continues, while it returns from the left. Formally, it’s a one-way loop, so please go straight and run it counter-clockwise.
The early part of the trail is mostly flat. It takes just a kilometer to another crossing. If you take the rightmost option, you cut the route by one kilometer. The leftmost option makes a little flat loop that takes about 8 to 10 minutes at relaxed speed. Then you proceed and reach the first two short hills and their downhills. This is all easy to control and only tests the courage, but not really the skills of beginners. The character changes only once you reach a little chapel.
To the left, and you get back to the crossing above the Hindenburghütte in less than 30 minutes. (This small loop takes in total 5km.) That would involve two steep, but straight descents and two moderate climbs. It’s not super easy due to the speed that you can get, but a nice opportunity to advance for beginners. To the right, you face the longest, most fun and most technical downhill of the Hemmersuppenalm. It’s 500m with a sharp 90° left-turner at the very end. With less experience or with icy conditions, I recommend to not use the classic track, because you’ll have little space to break before the turn. One awesome aspect of this downhill is the fantastic panorama.
Of course, it’s a loop, so after the downhill you need to get back up. The first climbs are just some little barriers to get you warm and will bring you back down. The long climb follows a long curve, so you basically see how you switch back over the meadows. With lots of snow, give yourself the pleasure to enjoy all the thick snow crust over the bushes and the bumpy terrain. This is definitely where you find it appropriate to use the much-used cliche label of winter wonder land.
After that long climb (it’s a bit more than a kilometer in total), you reach the point where the small loop and the big loop merge. The remainder is easy: two little hills and one kilometer till the crossing above the Hindenburghütte.
In total, we measured the long loop at 8km (with about 150m of climbing), even though supposedly it’s 10km starting from the Hindenburghütte. The short loop took 5km (with about 75m of climbing). Consider that the first ramp from the Hindenburghütte to the crossing already accounts for 30m of climbing.
How to get there easy and how to get away with an extra physical challenge
In order to access the Hemmersuppenalm, the most common way is the bus shuttle operating from Reit im Winkl’s tourism office. It takes an intermediate stop at the Blindau car park, but with only 12 seats per vehicle, make sure to arrive on time during peak hours. The bus drives up a narrow road which also serves as a sleigh downhill. No private cars are allowed. Neither are hikers and skiers going up or down. This makes it a bit difficult, but the experience is absolutely worth it.
Alternatively, you can take a long 6km ascent from the Seegatterl car park at the lift station of the Winklmoosalm. Be prepared: this adds 400m of climbing to your day. The first 2km are very steep, followed by another 2km of continuous climbing. The final 2km go over rolling hills without effective further altitude gain. This easily takes the better part of an hour, if not even more. I needed one hour and twenty in 2013.
We took this way in the opposite direction, coming down from the Hemmersuppenalm. Our thought was to take the bus from Seegatterl back to Reit im Winkl. (More on this later.) I have mixed feeling about this. It’s the second time I made this descent. The first time, I felt it easy until the snow vanished and had me to walk down the final 2km. This time, my speed was faster. It was not trivial to navigate others’ lanes in the snow. Still, that was the fun part that I’d classify as intermediate. Then we had to cross a little meadow to reach the Nattersbergalm hut. It was just 300m, but those were treacherous. Falling or not falling involves a little bit of luck, as hikers have made the ground very uneven and difficult to control. From the Nattersbergalm, the slope of the descending road increases. The surface is more solid, but actually more icy, and the first 300m through the forest were hell. I basically kept breaking, knowing that I wouldn’t stop anyways even if I wanted. Add another 700m of equally steep, but less icy trail and then a final kilometer which now feels easy, but still isn’t. Don’t be embarrassed taking the ski and walking down for the final 2km.
Fill your belly and fill a trumpet
On the Hemmersuppenalm, the Hindenburghütte is the one place for you to get food. It’s the most convenient location at the end of each loop. This is also where the shuttle buses arrive and where the long trail down to Seegatterl starts. The place has all the charm that you expect from a skiing break: rustic atmosphere, not pretentious. Expect to share the table with strangers, as they are mostly designed for parties of 8.
Dishes are simple and feature a good flavor composition. I found the vanilla sauce of our Germknödel a little bit on the liquid side, but I very much liked the potato salad that came with the Leberkas. Portion sizes are good. It’s no XXL place, fortunately. You leave satisfied, but not drowsy and overeaten.
The toilets are the quirky highlight of this place. I’ve seen many variations on the male pissoir, but this was a first. Male guests have the unique pleasure of peeing into a tuba. It’s less out of the blue than it seems. The owner of the Hindenburghütte plays in a Bavarian folk band. These bands traditionally use wind instruments. No orchestra sound follows from two people using the two pissoirs at the same time.
Left behind by the bus, rescued by Antonia
I mentioned earlier that we didn’t take the shuttle bus back to Reit im Winkl. We used the trail to Seegatterl. For us, that was a bad decision. Not only was it more challenging than we had anticipated, but we also got stuck at Seegatterl. We arrived there at 16:15. By that time, we had missed the regular bus to Reit im Winkl by almost half an hour. However, this bus only runs every two hours. (We didn’t check that before leaving for the day and then had little to no internet reception in the mountains. Two kilometers over the border in Austria, it would have been perfect. But it’s Germany and bad mobile internet reception is what we are known for.)
We needed to be back at the ski rental of Reit im Winkl by 17:30. No problem, we thought, there should be the ski shuttle bus running as well. We found the other stop, looked at the schedule and figured the bus would go at 17:00. Next to the stop was another shop of the ski rental. They had a lounge which we used to warm up a bit. Now that the sun had gone down, the temperatures dropped rapidly. We kept an eye on the bus so as not to miss it would it arrive early. By 16:45, I was permanently outside together with an old man and his son and grandchildren. At 17:00, there was no bus.
The ski rental next to the stop started to close at that time. With ten minutes, delay of the bus, I asked them to call their colleagues and let them know that we’d be late. I checked the schedule again and found a detail. Meanwhile I’m confident I’m reading this right: shuttle buses departing at 17:00 and 17:35 only run as of 1st of April 2019. That’s a great April fool’s prank, because at that time of the year, skiing season is over. Actually, they also run at 17:00 between 25th of December and 31st of March, according to the schedule that we had found on Reit im Winkl’s own website. We didn’t notice the small print on either schedule that limited the duration of validity. (Speaking of user experience design.) So confusing. In any case, while everybody including the staff at the ski rental expected a bus at 17:00, there was none. We were too late.
At 17:15 we realized we would have to wait for the next regular bus at 17:50. We went back into the ski rental and tried to find a solution. They already took the ski and left us a number of one of their team members, so we could meet with him to give back also the shoes once the next 17:50 bus would bring us down to Reit im Winkl. Already at that point, we were very happy and thankful for their level of service and assistance.
It didn’t end here. We had just reached the bus stop (the regular bus departs from a different place than the shuttle, about 70m away), when a girl from the ski rental stopped with her car next to us. She offered us a lift. Her colleague offered to pick up the grandfather and his family. I found this extraordinarily human. With her help, we were back to Reit im Winkl at 17:35 and reached the shop at 17:40, returned the shoes, expressed our heartfelt thanks, and took off to Munich.