Skiing in Salzburgerland
Salzburgerland takes its name from the region’s capital city, Salzburg. It’s the most northerly region in Austria – on the map it looks as though it’s prodding into Germany. Its main ski resorts lie to the South, however, in the high mountain ranges that separate Salzburgerland from Tyrol, Carinthia and Steiermark.
Salzburgerland is home to a wide variety of main ski resorts and numerous smaller ski areas, collectively marketed as Ski Amadé and offering two multi-area lift passes: the Ski Amadé lift pass covers over 20 resorts across several regions, although it’s hub is Salzburgland, and the Salzburg Super Ski Card covers the whole region and some ski areas over the state border such as Schladming in Steiermark and Kitzbuhel and Zillertal in the Tirol.
Alpendorf, or St. Johann Alpendorf to give it its full name, forms an interconnected area with Wagrain and Flachau, with over 100km of pistes between them. On the map, it’s a sizeable area with a wide variety of slopes, and skiers get a real sensation of travel as they cross the various valleys and ridges. But it’s not a very high one – all the skiing is below 2000m. The main town of St Johann, across the valley from Alpendorf, has it’s own ski area but is not connected to the main area, and also lack height.
Bad Gastein (Gastein Valley)
Bad Gastein is the main resort in the heavily wooded Gastein valley – the others being Bad Hofgastein and Dorfgastein which are lower down the valley, and Sportgastein which is higher up. Another ski resort, Grossarltal is not actually in the Gastein valley, but it’s linked to it, via its shared lifts with Dorfgastein. This is one of four separate ski areas. The largest is the Stubnerkogel-Angertal-Schlossalm circuit that connects Bad Gastein with Bad Hofgastein. On the other side of Bad Gastein is the Graukogel sector, with its famous world cup run. Above Sportsgastein is the highest area, Kreuzkogel, where lifts ascend to nearly 2700m. Across all four areas, there are about 200km of slopes and 50 lifts. There is also a good variety of places to stay: Bad Gastein and Bad Hofgastein are both former spa towns, whilst Dorfgastein is an unspoilt quiet village and Sportgastein offers modern slope-side accommodation. Although the valley floor is low (Bad Hofgastein is only 860m high) the area has invested heavily in artificial snow making and this, plus the high altitude slopes above Sportgastein, usually ensure a long season.
Hochkönig is a ski area mostly aimed at families that connects Maria Alm, Dienten and Mühlbach. The highlight of the area for more confident skiers is the Königs’ ski tour which is over 30km long and involves ascending (by lift) five different summits and skiing down. There is also a separate but nearby ski area across the valley from Muhlbach at Hochkeil, and another one at Hinterreit. In total there are 33 lifts and about 150 kilometres of trails, mostly composed of blue and red runs, but there some blacks and off-piste possibilities. The only thing lacking is height: all the skiing is below 2000m.
Obertauen is different from most other Salzburgerland ski areas. Rather than being an old village or former spa town, this is a modern purpose-built ski resort. It’s not ugly but there is no real centre to it and it definitely puts convenience ahead of charm – most of the accommodation is close to the piste. The lifts fan out from Obertauen in all directions, and the pistes form a connected circuit of runs (the “Tauernrunde”). Most importantly of all, Obertauen has a good snow record. It’s a naturally snowy area, and the resort itself is high at around 1700m. From this base level the lifts ascend to 2335m. That’s not a very large vertical so the runs tend to be quite short, but there’s no shortage of them – in total there are 120km of pistes (including some excellent nursery slopes and gentle runs for beginners) serviced by 26 lifts.
The resorts of Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang, Fieberbrunn and Vorderglemm are linked to form a large connected ski area which is called the Skicircus. Saalbach and Hinterglemm are at its heart, and as they are less than 3km apart, they are sometimes referred to as a single resort – Saalbach-Hinterglemm. They are both attractive if rather large villages and both have a very lively apres-ski scene. Slightly surprisingly given this party atmosphere, the whole Skicircus also has a reputation for good teaching and is a popular choice for school groups. There are over 200km of pistes in total, ranging from beginners’ slopes and gentle blues to black world championship runs and ungroomed trails, although experts seeking steep challenges should probably choose another destination, particularly if they want to stay sober all week and don’t want to stop for lunch (there are 60 mountain restaurants in the Skicircus, which is a lot, even by Austrian standards). For intermediates the one problem is the area’s lack of height: almost all the skiing is below 2000m, and as one side of the Saalbach-Hinterglemm valley faces south, this places a heavy reliance on the artificial snow-making facilities.
Zell am See-Kaprun (Europa Sportregion)
The ‘best of both worlds’ appeal of the Europa Sportregion ski area is easy to understand: just combine a beautiful lakeside resort ringed by snow topped mountains (Zell am See) with snow-sure skiing on a 3000m glacier (Kaprun). The main two ski areas – the Schmittenhöhe or “Schmitten” above Zell am See and its neighbouring resort Schuttdorf, and the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun – have some interesting runs; there are a few genuine blacks and ungroomed trails as well as plenty of reds and blues. There is also a third and much smaller ski area – Maiskogel – which is reached by lift from Kaprun. All in all, it’s a decent medium sized area with about 130km of runs that is open nearly all year round so even in summer it’s possible to ski in the morning then spend the afternoon on the lake. The main disadvantages are that you have to commute between the various areas by bus; and in winter when snow is thin on the ground, people from miles around will all head towards the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, so get there early or face very long queues.
Getting to Salzburgerland
The obvious and usually best gateway is Salzburg itself. Salzburg airport – the second largest international airport in Austria – is a popular destination for low cost airlines and charter flights from all over Europe. Munich is served more frequently by many more airlines and is not much farther from many of Salzburgeland’s ski resorts. Innsbruck airport is also worth considering.