Zell am See ski resort is a charming and lively lakeside town close to Austria’s Hohe Tauern National Park; it’s a popular year-round resort and has plenty of amenities and attractions for winter-sports visitors of all ages and abilities and caters well for any non skiers within your party. Zell is definitely a contender for the title of ‘most beautiful setting’ in Austria. Nestled at the foot of the forested slopes of its own ski mountain on the shore of a large freshwater lake, it has the glacial peak of the Kitzsteinhorn and the surrounding Hohe Tauern range as a backdrop. The town itself is a charmer, with an attractive and atmospheric old town quarter at its heart, centred around a historic Gothic church and filled with tempting shops, good restaurants and lively bars.
This region is also known as the Europa Sport Region, and boasts that it can offer a different sport or activity for all 365 days of the year: it has the lake and rivers for watersports, an airfield for airborne adventures, a championship golf course, plus the mountains for all manner of Alpine activities and, of course, snowsports. The area also covers the nearby snow sure resort of Kaprun, 6km away and accessible via the free shuttle bus system, which includes the family-friendly Maiskogel mountain and the snow-sure Kitzsteinhorn glacier ski area, which together with Zell am See’s own adjacent Schmittenhöhe ski area, offers a total of 138km of pistes across a great variety of terrain.
Kaprun ski resort is the closest village to Austria’s fabulous Kitzsteinhorn glacier ski area, offering guaranteed snow and year-round snow sports. This likeable laid-back village also has its own local family-friendly ski hill, the Maiskogel. Access from Kaprun village to the glacier slopes above was transformed in 2019/20 with the opening of the new K-onnection gondola, linking the local Maiskogel pistes to the snowsure glacier runs above. So no more driving up the valley to the base of the glacier access lift. You can even ski back to your Kaprun accommodation. Kaprun is a sizeable and pleasant riverside valley village, watched over by a picturesque, spired church and a classic 13th century castle, with plenty of traditional-style buildings and a relaxed and friendly air about it. Yet it somehow feels more like a small suburban town than a ski resort.
The Kitzsteinhorn is one of the most popular freeride areas in the Alps. With 100 percent snow reliability in 3.000m terrain, you enjoy sensational conditions for freeriding and off-piste skiing. From powder lines, cliff jumps and natural pipes – freeriders find all their Christmasses have come at once. Moreover, an informative Freeride XXL signposting system make the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier ski resort in Zell am See-Kaprun one of the best ski resorts for off-piste skiing anywhere in Austria, if not the Alps. Stunning views too.
For any ski tourers, in Thumersbach opposite Zell am See, there is an entire mountain just for those – the Ronachkopf. Where the chairlift used to take skiers to the Thumersbach ski resort, there is now a groomed uphill track and a beautiful downhill piste for winter mountaineers. There are also two marked ski-touring circuits on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier – the Schneekönigin and the Eisbrecher tour – and the ski-tour to the Tristkogel. Mountain guides are essential and many top-qualified mountain guides operate in the Zell am See-Kaprun region.
However only recently the whole area was enhanced by a new lift link connecting Zell am See to Viehofen, which now means the full area lift pass, the Ski Alpin Card, covers three premium ski regions: the glacier ski area Kitzsteinhorn Kaprun, the Schmittenhöhe in Zell am See, as well as the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn. So once you ski down to Viehofen then at the bottom there is a free and frequent shuttle to take you the 2km to the Saalbach lift but on your return no shuttle is needed as you can ski all the way back down from Saalnbach to Viehofen and then back up the lift to Zell am See. Add them all together and this means you get access to 408 km of pistes on just one ski pass PLUS you can also add in Kitzbuhel for a small extra amount and accessible by the train from Zell am See, adding a further 180km if you prefer.
Zell am See’s local ski hill is the Schmittenhohe, a densely forested horseshoe-shaped mountain that rises directly behind the town and up from the lakeshore, its slopes sweeping down to a base area just a couple of streets away from the heart of the old town at one end and the railway station at the other. The CityXpress gondola provides the prime uplift from this area closest to town, linking with an onward chairlift at mid-altitude above, but the main base area is set deeper into the short Schmitten Valley to the west of Zell am See, in the lap of the surrounding mountain. This main base area at Schmitten has a small valley-level beginners’ zone plus three key lift terminals serving the core ski area above; further access is available via the three-stage Areitbahn gondola from Schuttdorf to the south.
The views from the upper slopes are fantastic, stretching over Lake Zell and the Saalach Valley and taking in more than thirty 3,000m high peaks in the surrounding region; and there are plenty of mountain bars and restaurants at altitude with panoramic terraces from which to enjoy the vistas. The Schmittenhöhe ski area is relatively limited, yet adequate enough for undemanding intermediates, offering a nice mix of runs: long tree-lined blue and red home-runs to Zell am See and Schuttdorf, a fair selection of shorter blue and red-classified slopes at altitude, plus a number of tough fall-line black runs and interesting ungroomed ‘ski route’ variants.
The short Hahnkopf spur off to the west, behind the summit sector, houses a small snowpark; and there’s a halfpipe and a children’s zone in the southern Glocknerbahn area. Kaprun’s local ski hill is the adjacent compact Maiskogel area, accessible via a chairlift from the north-western corner of the village or by a gondola lift based in the southernmost suburb. Maiskogel is operated as a ‘Family Mountain’ and is perfect for families with young children: with wide and gentle slopes dotted with animal statues, a kiddie-sized snowpark, canopied chairlifts, family-friendly mountain restaurants, plus the popular Maisiflitzer rollercoaster. The area is also the site of the local ski club training slopes, which is exciting for spectators of all ages.
For nightlife and pleasant strolls then Zell am See is the place to be. Zell am See’s principal attractions are its beautiful lakeside setting and its charming old-town, which offers a great choice of restaurants and café-bars and retail therapists; the resort is well-connected too, linked by railway with Salzburg and a number of other regional towns and resorts, including Kitzbuhel.Most of the central and lakeside areas are on level ground, ideal for strolling; the lakeside esplanade in particular is a very pleasant place for a walk.
The town has a modern leisure centre with a heated indoor swimming pool with diving boards, water slide, and children’s splash area, indoor & outdoor saunas and steam room, plus a full-sized ice rink. Après ski in the mountain bars and in the town is typically Austrian, often featuring live bands. Kick off at the SchnapsHans-Alm on the terrace of the Berghotel on the summit of the Schmittenhohe ; when you’re done there, a short ski down brings you to the Breiteckalm, or the Ginhaus for more of the same. In town the Off Piste Bar, Murrays Irish Bar and Crazy Daisy’s are well-established favourites. Nightlife is very lively too, with a wide choice of pubs, bars, and various late-night music venues, yet because this is such a sizeable resort town there are plenty of quieter corners and many more-sophisticated venues to chilax in.
Much of the amiable atmosphere in Kaprun is to be found within the village’s many self-contained sport-hotels, most of which have their own leisure facilities and in-house restaurants and bars, meaning that little in the way of resort ambiance develops out and around the streets of Kaprun village itself with the Skyline bar and cafe, Pavillion ski bar and the Baumbar the best. For dining then one of the best restaurants around Salzburg is actually here in the centre of Kaprun and atmospheric and traditionally Austrian Hilbergers would be a great choice for dinner in any resort and some go well out of their way to eat here, as well as Zucchini’s and the Freestyle bar and restaurant. With children or a small group of adults Palettis, the pizza bar is good fun here too.
Accommodation mainly centres around hotels and apartments for which there is an excellent choice of. There are also a few larger independent self-catered chalets with up to 10 bedrooms and a few of these chalets can be offered on a catered half board basis too and we are happy to help you find your ideal accommodation as well as organise transfers from Salzburg, the closest airport.