The Bavarian Alps are both a winter wonderland and a summer playground. The Alpine and cross-country skiing is the best in Germany, and among the best in all of Europe. A regular winter snowfall in January and February usually measures from 30 to 50 centimeters (12-20 in.), leaving about 2m (6 1/2 ft.) of snow in areas served by ski lifts. The Zugspitze, at 2,960m (9,700 ft.) above sea level, is the tallest mountain peak in Germany. You can reach this well-known ski district in spring or autumn by a rack railway; it is inaccessible in winter. Ski slopes begin at a height of 2,650m (8,700 ft.). Call the local "Snow-Telefon" (German only) at tel. 08652/967297 for current snow conditions.
Another great ski district in the Alps is Berchtesgadener Land, with Alpine skiing around Jenner, Rossfeld, Götschen, and Hochschwarzeck. Snow conditions are consistently good until March. You'll find a cross-country skiing center, many kilometers of tracks in first-class condition, natural toboggan runs, an artificial ice run for toboggan and skibob (or snow-bike) runs, and artificial ice-skating and curling rinks.
There's also skating between October and February at the world-class ice-skating rink in Berchtesgaden. Less reliable, but more picturesque, is skating on the surface of the Hintersee, once it's sufficiently frozen.
Alpine hiking is the major attraction in summer, when many visitors come just to hike through Berchtesgaden National Park, bordering the Austrian province of Salzburg. The 2,470m (8,100-ft.) Watzmann Mountain, the Königssee (Germany's cleanest, clearest lake), and parts of the Jenner -- the pride of Berchtesgaden's four ski areas -- are within the park, which has well-mapped trails through protected areas, leading the hiker through spectacular natural beauty. For more on hiking in the park, contact Nationalparkhaus, Franziskanerplatz 7, 83471 Berchtesgaden (tel. 08652/64343; www.nationalpark-berchtesgaden.bayern.de), open daily 9am to 5pm. Note: In 2012 the park's glistening new Haus der Berge will replace the Nationalparkhaus, at the site of the former Berchtesgadener Hof at Hanielstrasse 7.
Back to the southwest of Munich, one of the best areas in summer is the 1,240m (4,070-ft.) Eckbauer, lying on the southern fringe of Partenkirchen (the local tourist office will supply maps and details). From Garmisch-Partenkirchen, serious hikers can embark on full-day or overnight Alpine treks, following clearly marked footpaths and staying in isolated mountain huts. Some huts are staffed and serve meals. For truly remote unsupervised huts, you'll be provided with information on how to gain access. For information, ask at the local tourist office or write to the government-subsidized German Alpine Association, Am Franziskanerplatz 7, 83471 Berchtesgaden (tel. 08652/64343; www.alpenverein.de), which will also direct you to a privately owned tour operator, the Summit Club (www.summitclub.de), an outfit devoted to the organization of high-altitude expeditions throughout the world.
You can use the somewhat touristy facilities of Garmisch-Partenkirchen as a base for explorations of the rugged Zugspitze and Eckbauer areas. Stay at one of the inns in Mittenwald or Oberammergau and take advantage of a wide roster of outdoor diversions there. Any outfitter will provide directions and linkups with their sports programs from wherever you stay.
Berchtesgaden also makes a great base for its stunning backyard. Street maps of the town and its environs are usually available free from the Berchtesgaden-Königsee Tourist Office, Königsseer Strasse 2, Berchtesgaden (tel. 08652/9670; www.berchtesgadener-land.info); intricately detailed maps of the surrounding Alpine topography are available for a fee.
Weather permitting, another summer activity is ballooning, which can be arranged through Outdoor Club Berchtesgaden, Metzgerstrasse 7 (tel. 08652/97760; www.outdoor-club.de).
Anglers will find plenty of fishing opportunities (especially salmon, pikeperch, and trout) at Hintersee and the rivers Ramsauer Ache and Königsseer Ache. To acquire a fishing permit, contact the Berchtesgaden-Königsee Tourist Office at Berchtesgaden, which will direct you to any of four different authorities, based on where you want to fish. For fishing specifically within the Hintersee, contact tourist officials at the Kurverwaltung, ImTal 2 (tel. 08657/988920), at Ramsau, 12km (7 1/2 miles) from Berchtesgaden.
Despite the obvious dangers, hang gliding or paragliding from the vertiginous slopes of Mount Jenner can be thrilling. To arrange it, contact Summit Club .
Practice your kayaking or white-water rafting techniques on one of the area's many mountain rivers (called Ache in German), such as the Ramsauer, Königsseer, Bischofswiesener, and Berchtesgadener Aches. For information and options, contact the above-mentioned Outdoor Club Berchtesgaden.
If you would like to go swimming in an Alpine lake -- not to everyone's taste, due to frigid temperatures -- there are many tarns found in the Bavarian Forest.