Deep snow fun by torchlight

Snowshoe tour Thuringian Forest with Stefan Fölsch

Twice the plastic clicks, then the shoe sits firmly. Twice more and the second snowshoe is also directly connected to the winter shoe. "Well, it's easy," says Stefan Fölsch of FUN Oberhof (Fit-Urlaub-Natur), laughing. Because while untrained people need a little moment to understand the principle of snowshoes, it's child's play for the 58-year-old. Almost every day in winter he goes on snowshoe tours through the Thuringian Forest and thus shows tourists and locals the beauties off the hiking trails and cross-country skiing tracks on the guided torchlight hikes.



As soon as the snowshoes are in place - they are made of a special cold-resistant plastic and are available in two sizes - Stefan gives a short introduction. He says there's not much you can do wrong: "Just walk forward and watch where you step. Snowshoeing is a whole-body workout that's easy on the joints." The highlight of the shoes: they offer enough contact surface to be able to walk quite comfortably even over deep snow and thus not be bound to the trampled ground of the forest paths. Otherwise it does not need much for a snow shoe migration: Winter-suited footwear, gloves and warming winter (sport) clothes are sufficient for the still quite new moving trend.

No sooner has the busy tour guide instructed you in the correct hand or foot handling of the shoes than off you go. The first meters of the route are characterized above all by their considerable background noise. The plastic shoes scrape loudly over the gravel-strewn road above Wagner's Sporthotel Oberhof, where the tours traditionally start. Once the road is crossed, however, what Stefan calls the "intoxication of silence" begins: the almost silent progress through the high snow of the Thuringian Forest.

View as far as Erfurt

After only a few hundred meters, the route leads to an elevated tank, the group stops. The view is clear and Stefan points into the distance. The view to the north reveals a mountain peak, "the Brocken," says Local Stefan. The lights of Erfurt-Weimar Airport, a good 60 kilometers away, can also be seen from here, and in the other direction the tower of the Schneekopf peeks out of the forest.



Stefan has been offering snowshoe hikes in the Rennsteig Active Region for more than ten years. His company FUN Oberhof has been in the active region for 20 years. And since the very beginning, the experienced Stefan has been showing his guests from all over the German-speaking world how beautiful his homeland is with offers for biathlon shooting, ski courses and mountain bike tours in the summer. "You don't have to be snow-crazy to do this, but it helps immensely," laughs the energetic guide as he shoulders his backpack and glides down from the lookout. At the bottom, half of the 18 snowshoe hikers receive a torch. They shine brightly as the group makes its way through a narrow gap between two conifers and into the forest's undergrowth. Here, nature is untouched and snow is deep. Shortly behind the fir gate, various animal tracks run crisscross through each other. Stefan stops and points to them, looks at them and tells of the great diversity of species that the Thuringian Forest offers. Deer and stags are likely to have passed the spot, and the tracks of a wild boar are also clearly visible.

Nature experience winter forest

"I always talk about the forest and the game on the way, report on Oberhof and how it has developed." Numerous athletes have shaped this development and he knows many of them personally, such as Erik Lesser, Kati Wilhelm or Frank Ulrich; in the Thuringian Forest, people just meet each other quickly. And Stefan himself is also part of this development. The native of Zella-Mehlis is a passionate winter sportsman and a tour guide by conviction: "We really have a lot to offer here. The Rennsteig Active Region is worth a visit in summer as well as in winter - and of course it can be explored even better on a snowshoe tour." After some time, the group - the participants all know each other from volleyball training and already did a torchlight hike together last winter - reaches the refuge at the Dietzel-Geba-Stein.



Where a wooden "R" indicates the direct proximity to the Rennsteig, a break is taken. The still glowing stumps of the burned torches are stuck into the snow in a circle. With visible joy Stefan pulls three large thermos flasks out of his backpack. In them: red and white mulled wine, tea as a non-alcoholic alternative. Each of his snowshoe tours also includes the obligatory mulled wine or tea time. "This is always a good way to get into conversation with each other and take a break from everyday life deep in the winter forest," says Stefan, while he is already lighting new torches for the way back. At the request of the guests, he also offers a campfire in the forest for the hiking break, then gladly with sausage from the local butcher.

Once again, it's a whole stretch through deep snow. Apart from the quiet shuffling of the snowshoes and their own breathing, it is completely silent as the group makes its way through the forest. With its silvery glow, the moon shines brightly from the sky, making the white snow glisten and the torches look quite small with their warm light. After an hour and a half, the snowshoe runners reach the starting point at the hotel again. And although snowshoeing does not require any special physical condition, the volleyball player has visibly warmed up. The brisk walk on the wide plastic pads is unusual and requires the cooperation of many different muscle groups. After all, the big steps want to be balanced. "That was the smaller round," says Stefan, measuring the tour through the forest at about three kilometers. The larger circuit is about twice as long and leads even deeper into the Thuringian Forest. 
Arrived at the hotel, the snowshoes click once again, while the tourers take them off and sink the remaining remains of their wax torches in the specially lit fire bowl. Here the tour comes to an end in a cozy atmosphere with Stefan's stories from the winter forest and a second round of mulled wine.


More info and booking: