Skiing in Zell am See – We’ll Be Back!
This winter our son enrolled in the popular SIA ski instructor course. After being based in Kaprun and doing 6 weeks of training on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier (recently connected to Kaprun via the new K-onnection lift), he was lucky enough to be employed throughout the ski season by Ski School Zell am See CityXpress. In mid-January we paid him a visit, our first experience of skiing in Zell am See and the wider Ski Circus area of Saalbach-Hinterglemm-Leogang-Fieberbrunn.
Getting there could not be easier. From Salzburg airport it is just 80km (90 minutes’ drive) and from Innsbruck airport 148km (2 hours). We arrived in a snowstorm and the medieval village centre was idyllic with cobbled streets, painted buildings and its famous church.
The first thing that strikes you about skiing in Zell am See is its unique situation. How many European ski resorts do you know which sit at the side of a stunning lake at 770 metres altitude, with water so pure you can drink it? Not surprisingly this has made Zell a popular year-round destination with a population of 10,000, an important consideration for potential property buyers.
Access to the skiing areas is really convenient. The most central ski lift is the CityXpress gondola, right in the town centre, so while you won’t find much ski-in ski-out accommodation, it’s just a few minutes to walk from the hotels. If you are further out it is well-served by the ski buses. This lift serves the mid-station from where there is a chairlift option up to the Areitbahn III gondola close to the top of the Schmittenhöhe mountain station at 2000m.
Further up the hill from the centre of Zell are the lift stations with cable car and gondola options up the mountain or over to the Sonnkogelbahn station (1835m) and Hochmaisbahn station (1765m). This side of the mountain – facing the lake – has plenty of trees and the runs are perfect for white-out days or in the early morning when the mist rises off the lake before burning off. Experts will particularly enjoy Run 14, the “Trass”. It is 4km long with a 1000 metre height drop and 70% gradient. The sign at the top almost stopped us in our tracks – “Danger of Death”.
You can also access the mountain from Schüttdorf, the next town along the valley, via the AreitXpress lift. This is the sunny side of the mountain with plenty of gentle blues and reds, as well as one of the longest fun slopes in the world, at 1.3km. With a mixture of steep stages, tunnels, wave boxes and fun elements there’s something for everyone.
A few words about the lift system, which is fast, modern and efficient – all gondolas, cable cars and high-speed chairlifts. It was cold, so the heated seats were more than welcome. The infrastructure is impressive, among the best we’ve seen in the Alps. Austria is well ahead of the curve in this respect.
Let’s talk about lunch on the mountain – always eagerly anticipated, often an expensive anti-climax. Not here, at least not in our experience. A steaming bowl of Gröstl packs enough energy to get you through to the evening. The choice of mountain restaurants is genuinely impressive.
What about the wider ski area? On our last day we decided to ski as far as we could into the Ski Circus and back. This involved skiing to the ZellamseeXpress lift and taking the new gondola down to the Talstation at Viehhofen. Every 10 minutes a free ski bus takes you on short ride up the Glemm valley to Vorderglemm from where the Schönleitenbahn gondola takes you into the Leogang section.
We decided to carry on in the bus a little further to Saalbach from where you can head over to Hinterglemm at the end of the valley or over to the Fieberbrunn section. After a leisurely (with hindsight too leisurely) lunch at Saalbach’s Skyrest, with lovely views back down the valley towards Zell, we zig-zagged our way across the mountain to arrive back at Viehhofen and the brand-new lift station. Unfortunately, 10 minutes too late for the last lift back over to Zell at 16:30. You can wait up to 45 minutes for a bus so pay attention to the time!
To satisfy the data-hungry skier, or just those who are curious about their progress, by pressing your ski pass to one of the Ski Line screens at the lift stations you can see how many kilometres you have travelled, on how many lifts and how much vertical you have skied. Justification for the evening’s beers!
Zell has plenty of après ski bars and restaurants and there is a superb atmosphere in the town at night. If you haven’t had your fix of skiing, the Nightslope opens three nights a week with special events.
As you can tell we are big fans of Zell and will definitely return!
Facts & figures:
Zell am See – 77km of skiing. Including neighbouring Kaprun and the Kitzsteinhorn, 138km.
Ski Circus – Saalbach-Hinterglemm-Leogang-Fieberbrunn – a further 270km for a total of 408km served by 121 lifts.
All covered by the Ski Alpin Card which includes the local buses.
Alpine Property intelligence. March 2020