The Most Terrifying Ski Experience in Germany

The Most Terrifying Ski Experience in Germany

Richard Freitag of Germany competes on day four of the Four Hills Tournament Ski Jumping event at Olympia-Schanze on January 1, 2015, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

SourceAlexander Hassenstein/Getty
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Why you should care

Because there are other ways to go to new heights.

Trusting gravity not to kill me isn’t my idea of a good time. Yet our family adventures often center around skiing, particularly in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where I slowly wind my way down blue runs.

But last time, owing to a snow drought, the bunny hills were green, which I saw as a green light to enjoy a holiday of wilderness walks, glühwein, massages and local favorites, like the New Year’s ski jump. A tradition since 1922, the Neujahrsskispringen is a great excuse for attendees to continue their revelry while watching World Cup–class ski jumpers take flight for 120-plus meters before landing to thunderous applause.

Before I knew it, I was being hoisted, screaming, into the mists and frigid cold far above the ski stadium.

So on January 1, 2016, after waving off the family — who would meet me at the event after their morning of skiing — I set off on foot for the stadium once visited by Adolf Hitler, who demanded the two towns of Garmisch and Partenkirchen unite to host the 1936 Games. Trouble was, I didn’t meander slowly enough through the old town centers and arrived to the prospect of standing around alone in a stadium filled with tipsy Germans. Until, that is, an antique-looking cable car caught my eye.

The Eckbauerbahn’s ticketfrau was surprised to see anyone approach her on this foggy winter day, but she encouraged me to buy a beer and sold me a $14 ticket. Many use the cable car to get lifted atop Eckbauer mountain so that they can hike down, which press contact Karin Ostermair-Maurer says offers various routes, the favorite being Partnach Gorge, a two-hour walk. But visibility was poor, so I opted for the half-hour round-trip ticket — 14 minutes each way — with a vague plan to look around at the summit.

Once in the station, where I got my first real glimpse of the dangling contraptions, a man in overalls greeted me with a hearty hello. I’ve been on lots of cable cars for skiing and schlepping kids, but I’d never seen anything like this: an old-fashioned two-seater with narrow wooden and metal cars, open to the air from the seat upward, and sporting no glass. “Are you sure this is safe?” I asked. “Ja, ja,” he responded, and before I knew it, I was being hoisted, screaming, into the mists and frigid cold far above the ski stadium.

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Hikers ride in the open cable car.

Source Christof Stache/Getty

Turns out, I’m bolder about heights with glass windows — not open air at 25 meters, which looks even higher when treetops poke out at eye level through the fog. Add to that the creaks, shakes and jolts of this old system — and the fact that I was the only one on it — and you can see why I was glad I bought that beer. The views over the fog were stunning, and despite being scared out of my wits, it was a breathtaking way to take in the surroundings. But when I reached the top, I was too frightened to do anything other than continue back down.

Jumping off at the bottom, I told the operator that his death-defying — no one’s actually been injured — ride was “really scary,” to which he laughed: “Ja, I know.”

By the time the family joined me for the ski jumping, the stadium was packed with 25,000 spectators — half from within a 60-mile radius, the other half tourists from around the globe, says Heike Preiler, office manager for the Neujahrsskispringen. lt was great to feel like I was taking part in a local tradition for about $25 a ticket, and the crowd went wild for competitors from 15 nations every time one raced down the hill and into the air.

But their feats didn’t look nearly as spectacular to me. After all, I’d just braved a foggy solo ride on the Eckbauerbahn.