Snowboarding, skiing opportunities abundant for beginners, experts

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff and Senior Airmen Benjamin Wilson and Clay Murray
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The mountains of Europe are well-known across the globe in the world of downhill winter sports. While stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base, servicemembers would be committing what some may consider a disservice if they overlooked the neighboring attraction during their entire tour.

To take advantage of the nearby mountains, here are a few tips to enhance the experiences of new and practiced winter-sports seekers alike.

Gearing up to trek down

For those new to outdoor winter sports, it may be intimidating to watch experienced skiers speed downhill, weave through slaloms and screech to a halt at the bottom of a run. Newcomers should not worry, as resorts offer slopes of all difficulties and heights. Many of the larger, international parks not only have what Americans consider black and double black diamonds, but also offer runs comparable to easier green circles and blue squares. It is important to keep in mind that the most difficult run at a small park in West Virginia could be less difficult than that of a park in Switzerland.

"I find that the Alps are difficult to learn on - Feldberg is an ideal location for beginners," said Jeffrey Heagerty, Spangdahlem Outdoor Recreation director who began skiing in his youth and has been a snowboarding instructor for more than eight years now. "It doesn't have the jaw-dropping, intimidating, appearance that the others have, and the beginners' area is right at the base."

Before attempting to head down a hill for the first time, it's important to gear up. Used equipment, end of season sales or rentals are recommended for those looking to save money. Secondhand equipment can sometimes be found for much less than the new equivalent at no sacrifice to quality.

Another option is to track down equipment from previous seasons. As new and improved items arrive every year, shops have to move older merchandise off of the shelves. Some online venues offer packages of last season's gear including skis, bindings, boots and poles for less than $500.

"Getting started with the sport can be a little tricky depending on how involved you would like to be," he said. "Renting equipment and paying for an entire weekend of downhill sports including lodging, lift tickets and meals for two can run anywhere in the neighborhood of $400-600. Buying your own gear would turn a $25 rental into about $400."

The beginning sportsman will need only a few basic items to stay warm during runs and lift lines. Waterproof shells for the upper and lower body are essential, and act as a shield from the harsh inevitable elements synonymous with winter, mountainous weather.

Warm fingers and toes are a must to enjoy the slopes. Next to a high-speed collision causing a rift in consciousness, numb extremities are an easy means to a miserable trip. Spend the extra buck on quality gloves or carry along spare inserts. Find some heavy wool or lined socks when using thin boots. With a pair of well-insulated ski or snowboard boots, regular tube socks should suffice.

Falling isn't failure

If there's one thing to remember the first time on the slopes, it's this: Don't be discouraged. It is only natural for beginners to fall down. Chances are, every expert on the mountain spent a lot of time sliding on their backside and face at some point, as well.

To minimize the likelihood of tumbling down the hill, start out on the easier slopes with low-grade declines. Get a feel for new resorts by skiing or snowboarding down an easy run at the beginning of the day and progressing within reason. Remember, the ski trail difficulty ratings vary from country to country, but green-labeled trails are typically a safe bet.

Even on simple passes, tackling the slopes for the first time should not be done alone.

Having an experienced and knowledgeable guide is recommended to assist novice skiers in trekking down hills unscathed their first few times.

"(For newcomers) I definitely recommend a lesson - it's good to take lessons as a group, but private lessons are even better," Mr. Heagerty said. "Set yourself up for success. If you try without knowing the fundamentals, you can run into some serious problems like an injury or wasted money. Familiarize yourself with your gear, so you can know what you're paying for or renting."

Base resources

Using local resources is highly recommended for expensive hobbies including skiing or snowboarding. The Euro isn't at its strongest, but it's more than just a nose ahead of the dollar. From skiers who can barely stand on two skis, to the snowboarder who tears the half-pipe crowd to pieces, Outdoor Recreation has several different services for everyone.

Ski and snowboard equipment can be rented for $25 a day. On the weekends, rates are even better; the entire weekend counts as a single day if the gear is turned in by 5 p.m. Monday. This applies to holiday weekends as well.

Outdoor recreation also sells new gear and provides services to keep equipment up to par. The specialty shop can wax, sharpen edges, install bindings, redrill and remount bindings and even stress-test bindings through a computer system.

Recommended locations

Feeling squirrelly or under the weather from a case of cabin fever? Organizing a ski or snowboard trip and learning about the destination can be stressful. Instead, consider a trip with Outdoor Recreation.

Trips to several locations are sponsored by Outdoor Recreation, including Zell am See, Austria; The Black Forest; Grindelwald, Switzerland; and Vogesen, France.

"I have spent time in Grindelwald, Switzerland; Feldberg, Germany; Garish, Germany, as well as several other spots in the Alps," said Mr. Heagerty. "(My favorite park is) Feldberg. It's a great location, and the skiing there is fantastic. It's cheaper, and although the runs aren't as long as those in the Alps, they are just as good, if not better, in quality."

There are three remaining trips this season sponsored by Outdoor Recreation - day trips on Feb. 13 for senior airmen and below and Feb. 20 for anyone interested to Vogues and March 4-8 to Zell am See.

"For experts and advanced skiers or snowboarders, the Jungfrau range in Grindelwald is great; it's steep, with about 50 or 60 runs and has three different peaks," Mr. Heagerty added.

Ski weeks offered in Garmisch and Berchtesgaden, Austria in the Alps and countless recreation center tours and trips make for excellent trips, but if time and money are limited after the holidays, there are other alternatives.

Believe it or not there are slopes - not exactly the Alps, but slopes - in the Hunsrueck Mountains and Schneifel area where one can enjoy the sport without driving too far from home or breaking the bank.

Erbeskopf, the highest spot in the Hunsrueck mountains at 816 meters or 2,677 feet, has nice wide slopes and is an excellent place to learn. The area offers ski runs, cross-country tracks, several lifts, toboggan runs, lit areas, a restaurant and a ski hut.

To reach Erbeskopf, drive through Herforst toward Trier and Schweich. Take the A 1 out of Schweich toward Saarbruecken/Kaiserslautern, exiting at Reinsfeld. Follow B-327 north toward Morbach. After approximately 19 kilometers there will be a sign for Erbeskopf. For information about Erbeskopf, call the Morbach information office at 06533-71117.

Currently, snow conditions are decent for downhill skiing, however, the cross country trails are closed until more snow is expected, according to resort officials.

Idarkopf is also in the Hunsrueck Mountains. The slopes, measuring 764 meter of 2,447 feet, are near the town of Stipshausen and about 20 minutes from former Hahn AB. It has two lifts and a sled run. The ski area often remains lit late at night for night skiing.

The resort also offers lessons but no equipment rental. For information, call the Morbach information office at 06533-71117.

About one hour northwest of Spangdahlem near Pruem there are two more ski resorts - Schwarzer Mann and Wolfsschlucht. Schwarzer Mann, located about 14 kilometers northwest of Pruem, Germany, offers runs 700 and 800 meters long, two lifts, a toboggan run for sleds and one 5-kilometer cross country ski track. Both resorts offer downhill skiing lessons; have a ski hut to get food or refreshments; and a spot to warm up. Prices for rentals are much lower at these resorts than at the bigger places in the Alps.

For more information about the weather and slope conditions at Schwarzer Mann or ski rentals, call 06551-4422 or 06551-3252. There is a cottage and restaurant located at the Schwarzer Mann. Parking is also available.

Wolfsschlucht has two downhill slopes, a lift, hills for tobogganers and an 8.5 kilometer cross-country trail. It is about three kilometers northwest of Pruem. For more information about Wolfschlucht, call 06551-505 or 06551-4545. For ski, boot and sled rentals call 06551-256.

The Pruem tourist information office can also be contacted at 06551-505 for additional information.

Prices for single lift tickets are 1 or 2 Euro for adults and half of the price for children. The resorts offer multiple ticket packages at reduced prices.

Presently the slopes are open and skiing conditions are good. However, the cross country trails are closed and will open after a heavier snowfall.