Working in the ski industry we have a lot of chats with people who describe some of the lesser-known resorts as hidden gems or national treasures. Hidden gems is pretty obvious, but what is a national treasure? Stephen Fry? The Beatles? The Crown Jewels? Obviously we looked to Google to translate for us:
Ruhpolding is a pretty village in the foothills of Germany’s Chiemgau Alps – Bavaria’s winter wonderland. There are a few local slopes, as well as access to the great Winklmoos-Steinplatte ski area which spreads into Austria. There’s so much to do in Ruhpolding, yet so many people have never heard of it.
Let’s find out why it’s a national treasure.
The history of Ruhpolding
The Ruhpolding valley, known as “Miesenbacher Tal”, was formed in the ice age 15,000 years ago from the ice of the Inn and Saalach rivers, as well as from the glacier of the Rauschberg, Unternberg and Hochfelln Mountain – but that’s all ancient history.
In the 19th century, a forest ranger called Eduard Hauenstein decided he’d had enough traipsing through heavy snow. It was tiring, cold and wet. In 1897, after a little jaunt to Lapland (which, shockingly, was even colder and wetter than Ruhpolding) Eduard came back holding aloft two bizarre looking planks of wood. From then on, all the locals decided to strap these skis to their feet to get about a little quicker. To this day, cross country skiing is massive in the area, pretty much all thanks to Eduard.
In 1922, the first chartered train from a Berlin travel company created by Dr. Carl Degener arrived in Ruhpolding. Since that date, more and more tourists have ventured to the area, to explore the Bavarian countryside in the summer and bask in the wonderland-esque winter landscapes. Dr Degener eventually settled in Ruhpolding after the Second World War, founding the tour company TOUROPA, which later went on to become TUI – now the largest travel company in the world
In 1964 the first cross country ski tracks of Bavaria were opened in Ruhpolding. By this time, cross-country skiing was already massive in the town, for locals and tourists. In fact, a skiing company from the town called Plenk invented the first mass market cross country skis.
What makes Ruhpolding unique?
Bavarian culture is a lot of what makes Ruhpolding great. A friendly, fun-loving and big beer drinking area, it’s very different to the UK, but strangely feels a bit like a home away from home. The food is also great – though you have to like potatoes, dumplings and pork. Oh, and they love having a cheeky pint at breakfast with sausages. The combo of Weissbeer, Weisswurst and Weisswurstsenf (sweet mustard) has to be tasted to be believed.
Tradition is very important to the people of Ruhpolding. In the town there are two Trachtenvereine – which is a club that celebrates the traditional dress of the region, which is of course Lederhosen for the men and the Dirndl for the women. These clubs are full of all ages and they’re a part of the biggest Trachtenvereine in the whole of Bavaria. This is all part of a culture called Heimatliebe – which is all about passing on the traditional dress, food, festivals and lifestyle onto their children.
In the 1960s, when cross country skiing became more and more popular, the Biathlon sport began to reach national prominence. Biathlon is the combination of cross country skiing with shooting at targets. The German National Biathlon team used Ruhpolding as their training centre in the 60s and it popularised the area. In 1979 the first World Championships took place in the Chiemgau Arena. Three more world championships took place in 1985, 1996 and 2012 . Up to 20,000 spectators visit the competitions each day and for a village with 6,900 inhabitants, it’s quite a squeeze. Biathlon is the most popular winter sport on German Television (even more popular than football – imagine that?) , and Ruhpolding is a big part of the sport.
What would be a perfect day in Ruhpolding?
- Start with breakfast at the hotel, tucking into the a traditional Central European breakfast – bread, butter, eggs, cold meat, homemade jam etc.
- Then head out for a day on skis – to hit the mountain, head to the ski area Winklmoosalm/Steinplatte and for cross country skiers, start at Ruhpolding and head to the stunning 3-lakes region. Of course a great Bavarian “Brotzeit” (plate with different cold meat and cheese, bread etc.) will keep you going if you start feeling peckish.
- In the afternoon give the classic Bavarian curling a go. Then have tea/coffee and cake at the famous Windbeutelgräfin. These Windbeutel (cream puffs) are famous, delicious and absolutely massive. You can have them with different fruits (cherries, blueberries, strawberries) and whipped cream or ice cream, or even with salmon or mozzarella. You’d be absolutely mental to choose those over ice cream though, obviously. Munching on these puffs is an absolute must if you’re in the area though, they’re a big part of Ruhpolding life.
- By now, you’ll be pretty knackered – and full. To wind down, the Vita Alpina “fun and wellness” swimming pool hits the spot. It has loads of different saunas, an outdoor pool with hot saltwater, a water playground and a huge slide for the kids and the main event – the “Alpine Wave” – a wave machine. You can always just enjoy the Spa area at your hotel…but we love waves. Really love them.
- For dinner, there are so many different places in the village to try real Bavarian food or you can visit one of the “Hüttenabende” (hut evenings) at the Raffner Alm, enjoying Bavarian food, music and a live show (“Schuhplattler”). Cracking.
Sum up Ruhpolding in a sentence
Traditional winter wonderland offers the best of Germany.