"What are our plans for tomorrow?" The skiing possibilities are endless in Zell am See and the question is surely the most asked at dinner, just after "Zu trinken?" Often, the weather forecast can help to decide whether the next day's skiing will take place on frosty glacier slopes, cozy forest slopes or the secret place with infinite space?
Read more about the secret place further down in the text…
The popularity of the place is due to the stunningly beautiful location by the picturesque lake, the cozy and international atmosphere and good and classic skiing. But it is also the contrast between the safe and the wild, which seems alluring. Zell am See is the gateway to Austria's tallest and wildest mountains. When driving to Zell, you will pass low-lying valleys with lower, round mountains. But just behind the city Glocknerstrasse begins, which is open only in summer. It rises to 2400 meters, close to Austria's highest mountain Gross Glockner (3800m).
The contrast is also seen in the ski slopes where Schmittenhöhe and Maiskogel are mountains full of trees in pleasant surroundings, while the skiing at Kitzsteinhorn is in a high alpine setting without trees, with raw cliffs and glaciers.
The city itself is a bit the same way. The idyllic town with old houses and the famous casino on the lake bank, which in the morning is quiet, but in the afternoon it transforms into wild afterski by the many skiers coming down from the slopes. The afterski will for many continue until late into the night at the cool bars and nightclubs, which the city is also known for.
It is the many different possibilities that make Zell am See a unique ski destination. Roughly speaking, you can divide the ski into four areas: Schmittenhöhe within walking distance of Hotel Pinzgauerhof, Kitzsteinhorn, which is easily reached by ski bus or own car, Maiskogel halfway to Kitzstein and "Everything else" (read more further down).
The name refers to the mountain just west of Zell am See. It is located almost as half a circle around the city and there is lift access from three valley stations: With the Areitbahn in Schüttdorf, with City Express directly from the city center or from the valley just above the center, where all three lifts go up to the mountain crest, in either direction.
All around the mountain crest, you can get on board some great slopes and chairlifts without having to go down to the valley again. The mountain crest almost seem like a large plateau, where it is easy to get around, also for beginners. Here you will find a small snowpark, several “safe” offpiste areas, slalom with timing and a fun slope for the kids.
Especially the southern end of the mountain crest is suitable for beginners. Here there are very wide blue slopes, which certainly give new skiers a lot of self-confidence and joy. You get caught in the skiing net and suddenly you go from being an ordinary person to becoming a skier, just like many others have experienced it.
If you belong to those who have a lot of energy, there are a few really cool black slopes starting at the top, going all the way down to the city. Eg. no. 13 that makes your legs work like they have never worked before, especially if you take the whole way in one stretch. Around the terrain there are plenty of cozy dining places where you can have your lunch or a refreshment. Especially the terrace of Blaickner´s above the old cabin lift, Sonnenalmbahn, is fantastic in the sunshine.
Skiing in 3000m altitude, wide and well-prepared slopes, one of Austria´s best snowparks, fantastic marked offpiste routes and one of Austria´s steepest slopes, black mamba. The skiing at Kitzstein has it all and then a bit more.
Every year the ski tourists and the world elite join in the unique area. The ski tourists come here because of the great skiing conditions far in the spring, where the slush snow has taken over in most other areas. The elite come here because of the freestyle- and freeride competition and because the training conditions are at its very best most of the year. Kitzstein only closes for skiing a couple of months in late summer. The rest of the year the lifts are open.
The Kitzstein lifts are top modern. So although the parking lots can be filled when the weather is good or in weekends in spring, there is very little waiting time in the lift queue. The restaurants are also top notch and there is a big ski center Big Apple with a ski shop and restaurant. In the whole area there is free WiFi so you can upload the amazing experiences directly on social media.
The little “Secret” place. Even in the high season when the Alps are invaded by happy skiers, there is still plenty of space on the Maiskogel slopes. The area is, unlike Schmitten, easiest down in the area and hardest when you get higher up. It is really good for groups with mixed levels, just as it seems less scary for beginners to start at the bottom of the area, rather than having to go to the top of the mountain with the feeling that it´s very far down.
A good advice on busy days is to make a stop for a couple of hours in the morning at Maiskogel before moving on to Kitzstein. When you reach the valley station at Kitz, the worst morning traffic is over and you get up quickly.
When you buy a ski pass to the Zell am See area, you have unlimited skiing at Schmitten, Kitz and Maiskogel plus a day in the Saalbach giant Ski Circus. You can always ask at the reception how you get to Saalbach.
Zell am See´s location is also interesting if you buy a Salzburgerland Super Ski Card. Within half an hour you can, besides Ski Circus, reach Gasteinertal, Kitzbühl area, Wagrain area, Maria Alm-Dienten area and several smaller places. It gives almost 1000 km of piste within half an hour´s drive.
Kitzsteinhorn is a real hot spot when it comes to off-piste. Here are a wealth of marked routes and the high-altitude ski area often gets new snow, so there are many possibilities for skiing in loose snow.
If the weather is gray, the visibility on the glacier can be non-existing. On such days you can try off-piste between the trees on Schmittenhöhe. There are some marked, secured routes and with the new lift, Zell am See Express, the area on the back has become available.
Remember, safety above all before moving outside the slopes.
The snow park on Kitzsteinhorn is gigantic. It draws park-enthusiasts from most of Europe, almost all year around. Here, even the most skilled can be challenged.
In addition, there is a small park on Maiskogel and one on Schmittenhöhe. Both are somewhat more manageable and you can easily let your teenagers go, with fearing that something will go wrong.
The Zell am See area has 107 km cross country ski tracks, with both classic- and skate tracks. The slopes are spread out in the valley. Among others, there is a track at the castle in Kaprun, which is great for beginners, with amazing views to the castle, Kitzstein and Hohe Tauern.
For the more experienced, there is a tough trail along the lower part of the winter-closed Glocknerstrasse. Many German and Austrian cross country skiers go to Zell am See for their cross country holiday. Besides the good tracks, you also get the atmosphere in the city, it is unique in many ways.
The center of Zell am See is without it´s equal. Small cozy pedestrian streets serving side by side with the finest concept stores and beautiful buildings. The city has been a tourist town for hundreds of years and sums of life both summer and winter. Especially in the end of the season the street life is at its peak. The afternoon temperatures can rise so that you can go for a walk through the city or along the lake promenade in just a t-shirt and end up with a beer at afterski.
There are really good restaurants in Zell am See and some of them date back to the 16th century with lots of ski shops, restaurants, afterski venues, cafés etc. The atmosphere is peaceful, genuine Austrian and there is a great hospitality. Along the streets of the village and inside the cozy courtyards there are many fun shops, cafes, restaurants and bars to discover.
For those who want to relax and enjoy a little extra, a visit to the newly built Tauern Spa is a must. The highlight is the warm, outdoor saltwater swimming pool with view to the glacier.
Do not miss afterski at Dorfschenke in Schüttdorf. The atmosphere is in top when all residents and tourists of all ages party with song and foaming beer in true Austrian style.