A quaint charming Austrian village with tempting cuisine, steaming spas and exhilarating glaciers. Jill Nash explores Zell am See-Kaprun for the perfect ski weekend.
If you are short on time and in need of a ski fix, then Zell am See-Kaprun is the perfect destination. A quick flight to Salzburg or Munich from Manchester airport, and only one-hour transfer time, and you can be happily on the slopes by lunch. It’s fuss-free and yet there are some exciting ski runs in the region for both the beginner and the intermediate.
The ski season typically runs from October until April, and you can experience Salzburg’s earliest start to the season at Kitzsteinhorn Glacier ski resort, where you can access open glacier slopes through pristine powder snow.
The Schmittenhöhe is one of the most popular ski resorts in the Salzburger land because diversity is unbeatable. Beginners can enjoy flat family pistes and experienced skiers can carve across the many challenging tracks, with cosy huts, sunny terraces and plenty of live music to complete the ski experience.
The Zell am See ski area has a low base of just 760m but rises to a lofty 2,000m on Schmittenhöhe. One can take at least five different thigh-burning ways down the entire 1,240m vertical on the ‘front side’, plus a 1,000m+ descent on the ‘back side’ toward Saalbach.
The main base area for the ski resort is at 945m elevation and has three major cable cars and gondolas emanating from it. One of them, the Schmittenhöhe cable car, goes all the way to the top of Schmittenhöhe (1,050m vertical climb). Cutting laps from this lift will very quickly render your legs jelly. The Porsche-designed lifts total 25 and include two cable cars, six gondolas, nine chairlifts and eight surface lifts. There’s also the new zellamseeXpress gondola, serving a 700m vertical of north-facing terrain. Another gondola situated below this is expected to be completed for season 2018/19, opening the way for better links with Skicircus Saalbach-Hinterglemm.
The piste terrain is mainly east facing and quite varied. Unusually for a lot of the resorts in the region, Zell am See includes some very long advanced (black) runs. The range of beginner and intermediate trails will satisfy most skiers for several days. Lifted terrain has expanded with the new zellamseeXpress gondola serving some extremely long and tasty intermediate terrain.
Off-piste terrain is only limited by your imagination. For the adventurous when the snow is deep, there are some quite lusty alpine bowls and literally kilometres of great, challenging tree skiing possibilities. A three-day weekend ski pass will set you back about 174 Euros. For more information, visit zellamsee-kaprun.com/en
Once your ski day is over, or if you are taking an afternoon break, then head to the nearby Tauern Spa, where you can access 25 different pools, spas and saunas. Built a few years ago, this thermal spring and wellness resort is pretty unique, with outdoor tubs and views over the stunning Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Not to be missed are the special spa infusions, which are carried out at regular intervalsusing a range of oils and other natural ingredients to stimulate the circulation of blood to the skin. Special infusions include everything from salt and vitamin infusions to beauty infusions and even sauna sessions set to music. A three-hour spa world pass will cost you 23 Euros. For more information, visit tauernspakaprun.com
Excellent family houses, chalets and spa hotels litter Zell am See-Kaprun, and most are traditionally Austrian styled and offer excellent value for money. Many are within walking distance of the small ski area in Kaprun itself, which makes it convenient for those wanting to make the most of a ski weekend.
Once in Kaprun, you can put the car away, as you can walk or take a bus everywhere you need to go. Although there are only a handful of real ski-in, ski-out accommodation options in Kaprun, all on the side of Maiskogel, it’s not far to the nearest lift and there are many buses operating regular services. If you are looking for a full Austrian mountain experience, spending a try a few nights in nearby Zell am See or in a ‘berghotel’ on Schmittenhöhe proves a fantastic experience.
Offering panoramic views of the impressive mountains, the chalet-style four-star Alpine Superior Hotel Barbarahof is a wonderful choice and has the bonus of being very close to the centre of Kaprun. The spacious rooms, all with fabulous mountain views, are gorgeously decorated. They all have outside terraces or balconies too, allowing you to soak up the sunshine and to breathe the fresh mountain air, if you haven’t had enough on the slopes.
Hotel Barbarahof has an impressive and extensive Roman-style spa area with an indoor pool and a variety of spa facilities. You can book for a massage and the rates are quite reasonable, however, they only have one treatment room, so best to book ahead. There is also a gym, complete with stunning views, for those who need that extra workout.
Food wise, you can’t go wrong. The delectable buffet-style breakfast, afternoon tea, home-made cakes (served around 4pm) and generous evening meals ensure you won’t be left hungry. The restaurant is small and cosy, and the service is attentive, warm and friendly. Room rates start from about £160 per night for a double room. For more information and current availability, visit hotel-barbarahof.at/en
Drink & dine
Kaprun, with its population of around 3,000 people, has a full range of services, shops, bars and restaurants, including ski shops to hire ski or snowboard equipment. It’s pretty easy to navigate your way around and grab an après ski drink after a day on the slopes. Austrians take après ski seriously and it’s ski etiquette to keep your skiwear on until this highly sociable gathering has finished. The Pavillon Kaprunis a popular après ski bar, busting out Austrian tunes and serving tankers of beers until the last person is standing.
If you have managed to get the early ski lift up to the glazier summit at Kitzsteinhorn, then help yourself to an Austrian breakfast or brunch at the Gipfel Restaurant.This is Salzburg’s highest restaurant, standing proudly at 3,029m, and here you can enjoy breath-taking views over Austria’s highest peaks. This restaurant serves lunches too, including generous Austrian dishes like braised beef cheeks and meat platters, and has been highly awarded for its exquisite wine and cuisine. Here at the summit station, you can also enjoy an informative gallery tour or cinema experience on an eight-metre-wide screen. Skiers and non-skiers alike can head up to the Gipfelwelt 3000. The spectacular lifts and a 360m-tunnel walk provide an exciting experience and glorious views (cloudy or not) across to Austria’s highest peak Großglockner and the entire Hohe Tauern National Park.
Skiing down the Kitzsteinhorn, you cannot miss the ICE CAMP. This is a unique world of ice and snow, including three giant igloos. Open from January until mid-April, you can enjoy a cool drink and music inside an igloo. There’s a pretty incredible ambiance, it’s free, and there’s also has a sun deck for those wanting a rest beneath the rays. They serve Pure Glacier vodka tasters and lots of cocktails. Non-skiers can access the camp via a regular guided snow shoe walk. Visit kitzsteinhorn.at/en/culinary/ice-camp
For more information on the region, visit:
Zell am See-Kaprun Tourist Board zellamsee-kaprun.com/en
Hotel Barbarahof hotel-barbarahof.at/en
Austrian National Tourist Office:austria.info/uk