Fun in the snow can be had close to home

Fun in the snow can be had close to home

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

Disclaimer: Check your local command guidance before traveling, particularly before crossing any international borders, and expect any facilities such as lifts, restaurants and cafes to be shut tight for the foreseeable future.

Dreaming of winter vacation days spent playing in the snow? While in past years you might have gone to the Alps for those dreamy scenes resembling a snow globe, any overnight stays for tourists are firmly off the table until further notice. So what is there to do? An afternoon out playing in the frozen white stuff might be closer than you think! While many cities are drab and dreary throughout much of the winter, sometimes a moderate increase in elevation is all that’s needed to be carried away to a winter wonderland!

If you’ve heeded our advice to get your winter tires on,  here are some places not far from military communities where you just might be able to roll a snowman or get into a snowball fight with the kids. For an idea of just how likely you are find those snowy vistas you seek, be sure to check the weather cams.

BELGIUM

The Ardennes

With its vast forests, rugged hills, swift rivers and deep valleys, the Ardennes region in southeast Belgium often wears a blanket of white. L'Ardenne inspirante recommends 4 places to enjoy the snow in the Ardennes: the High Fens, with cross -country skiing and hiking trails; Val de Wanne, with the longest alpine ski slope in Belgium; Vielsalm for horseback riding on snowy trails; and Saint-Hubert, with snowshoeing, tobogganing and even ski joëring, in which a draft horse pulls a rider on skis. The region is just over a one hour's drive from Spangdahlem or Bitburg, and about twice that for the SHAPE community.

Weather cam: https://www.meteobelgique.be/observations/temps-reel/webcam

GERMANY

Taunus

This region in southern Hesse, Germany can lay claim to the state’s highest mountain, the Großer Feldberg. Coming in at a height of 2,890 feet, its days draped in snow are numbered, but with a road leading straight to the top, it’s an easy afternoon outing for those based in Wiesbaden. Beginning skiers will find a modest rope tow located by the Youth Hostel in Oberreifenberg.

Weather cam: https://taunus.info/webcams/

Ochsenkopf

This mountain in the Fichtel range rises 3,360 feet above sea level. Cable cars leading to the summit of Ochsenkopf run from the villages of Bischofsgrün in the north and Fleckl in the south. The area offers facilities for both cross-country and downhill skiing, a floodlit slope for sledging and a network of hiking trails. Since 2015, an all-weather Alpine Coaster has operated year round. Ochsenkopf is a one-hour drive north from Grafenwoehr.

Weather cam: https://www.ochsenkopf.info/en/webcams/

Erbeskopf

At 2,677 feet, this mountain in the Hunsrück range is Rhineland-Pfalz’s tallest mountain and the highest point in all Germany located west of the Rhine. As part of the Saar-Hunsrück Nature Park, recreational possibilities abound, from skiing and snowboarding to cross-country skiing and tobogganing on groomed slopes. Experienced winter hikers with the proper gear can take an intoxicating hike along the “Gipfelrauschen” trail, a four-mile loop through a forest of firs passing a summit topped by a futuristic wooden sculpture. To see what you’re in for, enjoy Lebedraussen’s video. The heart of the action is based in the Wintersportzentrum Erbeskopf, less than an hour’s drive northwest from Landstuhl and about a half-hour away from Baumholder.

Weather cam: https://www.hunsrueckhaus.de/webcam-erbeskopf.html

Schwarzer Mann

This mountain in the western part of the Eifel range offers modest ski facilities in the form of two tow lifts, a toboggan run, cross country ski trails and a three mile, signposted and cleared hiking trail. The Winter Sport Center is located 10 miles northwest of Prüm and is a 45-minute drive north from Bitburg.

Weather cam: https://www.eifelverein-pruem.de/index.php/startseite/startseite-2/477-webcams-pruem

Pfälzerwald

The Palatinate Forest is no downhill skier’s dream destination, but this natural paradise in the doorstep of the KMC is recognized as the largest contiguous forest area in all Germany. Around 70% of its forest cover consists of conifers, whose branches make a pretty sight all draped in a mantle of white. Some of the more likely places to spot snow here include Johanniskreuz, Leimen and Hermersbergerhof. To discover the Pfälzerwald’s highest elevations to which it’s possible to drive, consult Wanderportal-pfalz.de’s map. These places are marked in red. For a stunning 360-degree view you don’t need to work hard for, ascend the Luitpoldturm, a sandstone tower in Merzalben.

Weather cam: https://www.wetteronline.de/webcam/pfaelzer-wald

Belchen

Forgo the crowds of Feldberg, the highest peak of the Black Forest, in favor of this mountain that’s only slightly lower but catches its fair share of the white stuff. In addition to lifts and groomed slopes for skiers and snowboarders, there’s a great view from the summit, accessible by cable car. Properly equipped winter hikers have numerous marked trails from which to choose. A club of climbers prepares a rock near Utzenfeld for the thrilling sport of ice climbing – best observed, not partaken in, for the inexperienced! The ice-bound rock is found along the hiking trail to the Michelrütte.

ITALY

Piancavallo

This winter playground in the Dolomites offers slopes for skiers, snowboarders and toboggan riders, an alpine coaster and climbing forest, along with something really amazing—a view that on a clear day stretches as far as the Adriatic. The Passeggiata Delle Malghe is a marked trail from which to soak up panoramic views across the plain. This little slice of paradise is found 10 miles northwest of Aviano.

Roccaraso

Central Italy’s largest ski area is based around the peaks surrounding the 7,490-foot Monte Greco in the Apennine mountain range of the Abruzzo region. With 100 miles of downhill slopes and 36 lifts, skiers are spoiled for choice, while hikers and Nordic walkers are also faced with tough decisions when it comes to choosing the best trails. Other ways to experience the stunning scenery are on fat-wheeled mountain bikes or on snowshoes. There’s also an Italian version of the Transiberian railroad, an 80 mile stretch of stunning scenery between Sulmona and Isernia; read a description of the journey in Italy Travel and Life. The drive north from Naples to Roccaraso takes just under two hours.

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