Do you ever just close your eyes and imagine escaping your day-to-day surroundings? Wishing you could travel to some far-flung destination? All of us do this at some point and especially of you are a lover of the white stuff when winter comes around. Well, we have a destination for you. With its awe-inspiring mountains, expansive lakes, powdery snow and perfect vistas, the Austrian ski resort of Zell am See-Kaprun can certainly the answer to that dream.
Around an hour and 20 minutes by cay from Salzburg Airport, and about twice that from Munich, the picturesque town of Zell perches on the edge of the beautiful Lake Zell, with the snow-covered majesty of the 1,965m-high Schmittenhöhe mountain reflected in its serene waters. Get your hands on the multi-resort Ski Alpin Card (available at alpincard.at and other outlets) and you’ll have access to the slopes of the Schmittenhöhe as well as two neighboring ski areas, making it your pass to a huge snow-covered playground with 408km of the very best pistes in Austria.
Zell am See-Kaprun is a snow-sure resort, largely thanks to the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier above Kaprun which is open for skiing from early October to the middle of July. The Kitzsteinhorn is the dominant mountain in Zell am See-Kaprun. It’s also the only glacial ski resort in Salzburg, but it’s super accessible. A cable car from Maiskogel to Kitzsteinhorn provides ski-in, ski-out access to the glacier right from Kaprun town centre.
The Gipfelwelt 3000 Top of Salzburg panorama platform, which is situated 3,209 above sea level, looks out across the pristine wilderness of the Hohe Tauern National Park, to the south, you can see the 3,798m-tall Großglockner – the highest mountain in Austria – while to the west is the glaciated peak of the Großvenediger. Its name translates to English as ‘Great Venetian’, believed by some to be a reference to the Venetian merchant who once travelled along this route.
The range of skiing on offer in Zell am See-Kaprun is so vast that, whatever your preferred style, you’ll have no problem finding it. The terrain is ideal for beginners and intermediates, with the runs in Zell primarily blue and reds Schmittenhöhe is great for intermediate cruising, and the long red run to the zellamseeXpress cable-car station is particularly fun to weave down.
There are also a handful of black runs that are especially good to ride in the morning, and the 1km-long Black Mamba on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier is so-named because it winds from the Kitzsteinhorn valley station to Langwiedboden like the eponymous snake. It’s also by far the steepest piste on the glacier, with a gradient of 63 per cent – and once you’re on it, there’s no way of getting off except by riding it out, so be sure to go in with confidence.
If off-piste is more your thing, there are marked freeride routes and information points on Kitzsteinhorn, and as well as the huge panoramas on the Schmittenhöhe you’ll find the tremendous Trass ride – a 4km route dropping 1,100m in altitude and bringing you back to Zell am See. If you’re around for long enough, the Ski Alpin Card also opens up the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn, with an additional 270km of pistes, a short bus ride away. And there’s a natural snow piste from Saalbach down to the zellamseeXpress, which will bring you to the Schmittenhöhe ski area.
Back in Zell, the architecture may be traditional – the area has been continuously populated since at least Roman times – but this is a town that certainly isn’t stuck in the past. Zell’s weekly winter programme makes it easy to join in on winter yoga classes, torchlit walks under starry skies, and guided snowshoe hikes.
And, if you are lucky, Lake Zell might even freeze over, giving you the cue to pull on a pair of skates and weave and wind your way across the frozen water against a heavenly backdrop.