A local’s guide to Saalbach

Q: How do you make one of the best resorts in Austria even better? A: Build a new gondola, link it to the snowiest valley in the region and pray for a storm!

Saalbach is one of those ski resorts that’s been hovering just below the ‘world-class’ benchmark for a while. The skiing is extensive, the villages charming, the après just the right side of rowdy and the prices decent. But there has always been one thing missing, something so crucial to us Fall-Liner’s that we’ve had a tendency to overlook it: freeride. That was until last year, when a new 10-seater gondola linked Saalbach, Hinterglemm and Leogang with little Fieberbrunn.

Saalbach has it all – excellent skiing, fun freeride, awesome après and great eats |Peterlintner.de

The 35km of skiing it added to the piste map might not look like much compared to the valley-sprawling, peak-topping network on the Saalbach-Hinterglemm side, but it’s the bits between the piste poles that have got us excited. A well-established stop on the Freeride World Tour, Fieberbrunn is a labyrinth of ski routes, tree runs, couloirs and powdery meadows that will leave you whooping and hollering first lift to last. It also means that Saalbach can (briefly) claim the biggest linked ski area in Austria with 270km — it’ll be overtaken this winter by the Arlberg.

Saalbach isn’t resting on its laurels, though. Down the road lies yet another ski resort, Zell am See, and a link to its Schmittenhöhe mountain is slowly being put into action, with the first part of a two-stage gondola opening this winter. By 2018, the connection should be complete, reaffirming its position as the biggest resort in the country. Until then, we reckon you’ll enjoy the winning mix of speedy lifts, grin-inducing pistes and gnarly-as-you-like freeride.

Meet the local

Verena Mayr has been living in Saalbach-Hinterglemm since 1994, where she works as an administrative assistant. She can’t decide what she loves most about the place, the people or the mountains.

Best run for a warm-up

Catch the Bernkogel gondola when it opens at 8.30am. You’ll be able to watch the sun come up between the mountains in front of you – stunning! From the top of the Bernkogel you can choose between wide, cruisey blues that take you back down to Saalbach, or head on to Hinterglemm or down to Fieberbrunn.

A fast lift system awaits you in Saalbach | Christian Woeckinger

On a powder day…

Gun it straight over to Fieberbrunn. The swanky new Tirol S gondola opened up last season giving us a quick connection to this cult freeride resort, a land of steeps, glades and bowls.

It’s one of the snowiest spots in all of Austria, and when a storm comes from the right direction (north/northwest) there’s a good chance you’ll be skiing waist-deep powder all day long. It boasts some of Austria’s gnarliest backcountry terrain – all accessible from the lifts.

The best thing about living in Saalbach is…

Waking up every morning in a place where other people spend their holidays – and spend the rest of the year dreaming about. Everyone I meet here is just having so much fun!

“I get to wake up every morning in a place where other people spend their holidays”

The biggest misconception about Saalbach is…

Saalbach is often seen as a very expensive destination. The quality of skiing, food and accommodation is high here, but it’s still very affordable (a hearty mountain lunch and a beer shouldn’t set you back more than €15 per person). There’s no need to break the bank.

Saalbach’s best kept secret is…

The local Bartl Enn Schnapps, distilled right here in Hinterglemm. It’s low in volume (so ideal for a midday pick-me-up) but high in quality, widely regarded as some of the best schnapps in Europe. Prost!

For mountain bites

The Pfefferalm, on 32a, is always worth a visit for its laid-back atmosphere, friendly staff and flavour-packed dishes. Order the Kasnock’n – a cheesy pasta dish – they make the best on the whole mountain!

Powder-filled lines await you |Mirja Geh

For dinner in town

If you’re after a relaxed, wallet-friendly dinner then the Thomsn-Rock Hotel bar is a great choice, with a mix of local and international dishes – or you can tuck into a pizza or burger cooked up on the grill on the new sun deck terrace. For something a bit more special, head to the Schwarzacher. It overlooks Hinterglemm, and the fondue is a real crowd-pleaser.

For drinks and dancing

Finish your day at Bauer’s Skialm in Saalbach for spontaneous ski boot dancing. If you want a wild night out then Goaßstall, at the bottom of the slopes, is the place to go – things really kick off after 9.30pm. The Stamperl is one of the smallest bars in town, but it also has a really cool vibe and great music.