Sledding is a big part of Bavarian culture, and most kids here grow up with memories of sledding with their parents. This is not backyard sledding like we did as kids on those rare, magical snow days in America. It is so much more.
There are the sleds. Think of those "old-fashioned" sleds that we saw in the movies as kids. They're wooden, with metal runners, and if you ever had the chance to use one, you probably would have thought, "meh, what is up with these sleds. We've clearly evolved now that we are in the 21st century and have high-tech plastic discs and giant tubes." But that's a different type of sledding, and I just never knew until I moved here... Because I did find one of those sleds once. When I was a kid, we moved to a new house and one of those sleds was left behind in the shed out back. I remember being fascinated by it, and definitely thinking it was so cool and vintage (kind of like those old Radio Flyer wagons). But the one time I tried to take it out for a ride... it barely moved. Ok, the runners were a bit rusty and that was part of the problem, but it also didn't float down on top of the heavy snow like the red plastic disc sleds that were our chosen sleds. There wasn't the rush of spinning around backwards on the disc and not seeing the jump at the bottom of the slope and then flying off it and landing in a heap in the snow (this gives you the vision of the type of kid I was... I loved crashing at high speeds on sleds, skis, anything, because it usually meant that I got better "air").
But that slope wasn't built for a runner sled. Runner sleds are meant for long tracks of hard-packed snow, and these need to be maintained, similar to a ski slope. And they should be looooong - the longer the better.
I go to the Wallbergbahn. About an hour outside Munich, it is a 6.5 kilometer long sledding track near Tegernsee that takes around 30 minutes to ride down (depending on your speed of course, and how many breaks you take along the way). And like I said, this is more than our childhood backyard sledding. The track is on an access road down the mountain with an 825 meter descent. You take a cable car ride to the hut at the top (or if you really want to torture yourself, you can hike and drag your sled behind you. I've done this and it took over 3 hours). The top portion of the track is scenic, with beautiful views of the mountains and lake, and a steep drop off on one side that gives the ride a rather harrowing feeling as you pick up speed and realize that there is nothing to keep you from going over the edge.... and then you enter into the forest and you have steep pitches with hairpin turns which require you to screech to a stop at the bottom of each turn before pitching down the next one. And from there, the track goes into a gentle downward slope where you can just let the sled run at top speed, whizzing around curves and flying off bumps... it's super fun. Here's a short video that Jules managed to make during one of the flatter sections (it would have been way too dangerous to try to do it on other parts of the ride - for that you really need a Go-Pro! I post this video mostly because it's fun to witness Jules' sound effects as the sled hits some small ruts in the trail, and it gives you a bit of a feel for the experience):
So now that I've made this sound death-defying and adventurous, it doesn't have to be... because there are also "stops" along the sledding track where you can get a Glühwein or a beer or hot chocolate, or even a good Bavarian lunch. And of course you can take it is as slow as you want. There are plenty of other dawdlers on the track, and lots of adventurous parents with small children on their laps (this would never in a million years happen in America, and maybe that's partially why I love it. "At your own risk" is interpreted literally here), and the worst that you have to risk when taking it slow is that someone like me will come up behind you and yell at you to get out of the way. And you can be thankful that I can now say with some certainty that I now actually know how to stop the sled...
If you do find yourselves in these parts on a winter day, and think you are up to the sledding challenge, here are my tips for you:
1. Go early. Plan to be at the mountains by 10 or 11am because sledding is more fun when it's not crowded and when the track is still smooth. Much like skiing, the track develops big ruts and bumps as the day wears on. And then you are guaranteed to go home with a bruised bum.
2. For maximum speed, steering control, and less bruising sit toward the back of your sled and lean back. You will also get a really good ab workout with this technique.
3. Use your feet to steer, but be gentle when dragging your feet in the curves in order to not over-steer.
4. I recommend at least two rides down the mountain. The first to get used to the sled and the track and have a less crowded, fun ride. The second to practice your new techniques, and stop off for a Glühwein on your ride down the mountain.
5. Do NOT ever walk up the sledding track. I don't know why people do this - it creates a huge hazard for everyone involved. Also, it's good to warn people that you will pass them on the left or right, and before you let yourself go at top speed, practice stopping. Trust me on that one.
6. Wear ski gloves (knit gloves are not good enough), warm clothes, and ski goggles or sunglasses. Expect snow to spray up around you and pile up on the sled in your lap as you rush down the mountain.
7. Check the snow conditions before going!
Now, go grab a sled and some friends, and happy sledding :-)
Accessible by the Bayerisches Oberlandbahn (BOB) to Tegernsee, and then a short bus transfer.
A good destination for the Bayern Ticket.