Welcome to Zell am See: the picture-perfect Austrian lakeside town with a high-altitude, powdery, gnarly trick up its elegant sleeve
Perched at the edge of a crystal blue lake with a backdrop of mountains and tree-lined slopes, Zell am See is about as cliché as ski resorts come. A wintery paradise of horse-drawn sleigh rides and natural ice rinks, rustic mountain restaurants and cobbled streets.
It’s the kind of place you’d take your grandma for afternoon tea (with a slice of strudel, of course). Almost more of a winter holiday resort than a ski town…
Hang on! What the hell is this doing in Fall-Line? This is a mag for hardcore riders, not for hot-chocolate-supping, toboggan-loving holiday makers! Don’t worry, we haven’t lost our powder-seeking inner compass.
Yes the 130km of pistes are a calling for intermediates, but it turns out they cater for the thrill-loving end of the market as well. Just up the road is Kaprun, with its snowsure glacier, the Kitzsteinhorn, behind it, providing prime snow from autumn to early summer. And, because most of the people visiting are indeed hot-chocolate-supping tourists, no one else is touching the four dedicated freeride routes.
It’s even home of the X-Over Ride, a 3-star Freeride World Tour qualifier that draws in up-and-coming riders from around the Alps. And it has a world-class park, complete with Austria’s largest superpipe. Bingo.
Zell’s local mountain, the Schmittenhöhe, has a good sprinkling of blacks, and when the snow is on form the trees at the back are yours for the taking. Plus its cruisey reds and blues make for good recovery runs after four days of hard riding on the glacier.
OK, so it’s no Chamonix and the runs lurk dangerously below the 2000m mark, but who cares when there’s an oft-powdery glacier up the road and views that will feed your Instagram account for the next year?
Meet the Guide
Marina Latina grew up in Zell am See but left to study in Salzburg. She missed the mountains and lake so much that she returned as soon as she graduated, and now works for the local tourist office.
BEST RUN FOR A WARM-UP
Take the cable car up from Zell to the Schmittenhöhe. The runs off the back catch the first light of the day so the piste is soft and forgiving even first thing in the morning.
ON A POWDER DAY…
…drop everything and head to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. A freeride route called Ice Age runs from the top and is my favourite powder run. There are four more ski routes at the bottom of the glacier that are also worth a little visit. If you prefer touring, there are dedicated info points and two suggested touring routes from the Langwiedboden. For anything further afield, get a guide who will be able to show you the best, and safest, spots.
THE BEST THING ABOUT LIVING HERE IS…
There’s so much to do all year round. The glacier means our ski season lasts seven months, and I never get bored of the terrain across the two ski areas. Plus, in the summer there’s swimming, hiking and biking on the doorstep.
DON’T LEAVE WITHOUT…
…doing any of the following: Heading to the viewing platform ‘Top of Salzburg’, one of the highest points in the region; eating local speciality Kassnocken (cheese dumplings); or taking the Porsche-designed gondola up to the famous Sissi chapel on the Schmittenhöhe.
THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT ZELL AM SEE IS…
That we lack adventurous skiing… A day with a local guide will show even the most thrill-seeking of skiers an awesome time.
FOR MOUNTAIN BITES
On the Schmittenhöhe try the Areit Alm, which sources its produce from local farms. If you’re skiing the glacier try the Gipfel Restaurant. At 3029m it’s the highest in Salzburg and offers up everything from venison burger to spinach dumplings.
FOR CHEAP EATS IN TOWN
It has to be the Kupferkessel for the best pizzas in the whole of Zell am See.
FOR A SPLASH-OUT DINNER
In winter Steiner Genusswerk offers warming meals such as gnocchi with local mushrooms.
FOR AN APRÈS-SKI TIPPLE
Finish off the day skiing the Schmittenhöhe at the Schnaps Hans-Alm. I guess the clue is in the name: they have a great range of drinks, it’s a traditional old hut made from Stadl wood and, if the weather is good, the terrace has fabulous views. FL