In the Austrian Alps, altitude drops are measured in kilometers, the number of pistes in hundreds, and the quantity of pork ribs in buckets


The primary advantage of the Land Salzburg is its diversity: after settling in a town of your choice, you can go skiing on completely different arenas every day. For example, although getting to the two large resorts of Zell am See – Kaprun and Gastein from the Salzburg Airport takes the same time (and both are also quite close from Munich – just a two-hour drive), in fact, it does seem like they are on different mountain ranges of the planet.

Zell am See is a classic alpine town: it features a lake shrouded in ice and well-kept neat houses with weather vanes on the roof, pots with geraniums on window sills and thick candles in smoky bottles at the entrances. On the medieval cobblestones of the pavements, lodgers of numerous “adlers” and “albergs” are moonwalking – from here to the summit of Schmitten, half a dozen high-speed lifts soar, deftly cutting the mountain in triangles, which resemble pieces of pizza. The most delicious part is in the middle – picturesque forest pistes, mostly black.

If the local toponymy seems too difficult to an ear unfamiliar with German names, suffice it to know that the name of a lift almost always ends in -bahn, while that of the mountain with -kogel. Kapellenbahn actually has a small chapel that was built in 1905 in honor of Duchess Elisabeth of Bavaria (the very same Empress Sissy, adored by all). It is interesting that the chapel is trimmed with thin wooden plates, silvered by time. This wooden shingle, popular in the Alps, is akin to the shingle that can be seen on the finest examples of Russian northern architecture.

Under the Transхpress lift there is a black piste where you can feel like a real racer. The starting pavilion, a black disk clearly visible in the snow, has the simple designation “Trasse” and does not even include a number (look for No. 14 on the map). The four-thousand-meter long black “Trasse” reaches a slope of 70%. On a cool, dry day, it presents an excellent test and an occasion for pride (if you want to have proof, then you can rent a GoPro for free using your current ski pass).

More gentle slopes can be found under the lifts of Sonnkogelbahn (note the -kogel, and -bahn here) and Hochmaisbahn. At a restaurant on Sonnkogel, you can order a traditional broth with cheese toast floating in it and learn how to do yodeling. This is actually quite a tough thing to do. Although Thomas, the instructor in a checkered shirt and leather shorts, would certainly cheer you up and diligently teach you the “rudly-doody-ola!” chorus, you are unlikely going to be able to master even the classical duet “Fritz and Franz”. Not to worry, Thomas still generously hands out awards.

For those of you who want to jump rather than ride, there is a 1,300-meter long funslope running from Sonnkogel. There is also the zellamseeXpress – a new 10-seater gondola ropeway that descends to the back of the mountain. It boasts a working WLAN. If you are lucky enough to get into one of the six jukeBoxx gondolas, you can take lots of pictures and share your joy on social media. This lift is the first stage in the plans for the integration of the Schmitten ski area with the Saalbach-Hinterglemm circus. On the recently-laid red ski route, you can go down to Viehhofen, although from there you’d have to take a bus No. 680 (half an hour to the lower station of the cityxpress lift). At the moment, only indefatigable daredevils and passionate freeriders ski here. However, next season, you will already be able to embark on a ski safari from here, and the number of passengers on zellamseeXpress will increase.

If anything can upset you in the mountains above Zell am See, it is the fact that the weather here is too good. The entire skiing area is concentrated between elevations of 2,000 and 1,000 meters above sea level, so that, on the sunny days, the trails are broken up to the condition of a well heated clay by noon; because of the sound with which the snow flies off from under the edges, local instructors here aptly call such slopes “slushes”.

On such days, it is better to move your skis in the direction of Kitzsteinhorn, where skiing on glacier is open almost all year round. The most interesting route over Kaprun is also named No. 14 and has a self-explanatory title “Black Mamba”. It is available from any of the main cable cars, but if the wind is too strong, the slope becomes unusually stiff, which, at a gradient of 63%, transforms it into a serious exercise.

Непосредственно над Гастайном и Бад-Хофгастайном находится лыжная арена Ангерталь. Тут есть три обязательных пункта программы. Первый – маршрут по северному склону Hohe Scharte с максимальным перепадом высот в восточной части Альп: 1400 м, преимущественно красные склоны (на карте – трассы H1+H2+H2a). Второй – подвесной мост на Штубнеркогеле. И третий – спуск по трассе №20 «Бюргервальд» в самую что ни на есть традиционную хижину Hirschenhütte.

By the way, because of the wind, the cable cars over Kaprun sometimes close. However, you can always wait for the weather to get better at a panoramic restaurant at Gipfelwelt 3000. Here, they serve giant portions of lasagna, garlic soup and strudel the size of a log (Mont Blanc could be poured out from the added powdered sugar). You can use a rock tunnel to get to the Top of Salzburg panorama platform and view the delightful snow-capped landscapes. On your way back, you pass through the same tunnel, but this time, you are going upwards, and such an ascent at 3,000 meters is not easy to overcome. However, you can use the opportunity to look at how Mount Kitzsteinhorn stands: the rocks covered in moss, with the gold veins gleaming across ice-bound rocks.

Looking at how the mountain stands can be done not just from its peak, but also deep underground. To do this, you might want to get to Gastein, where a health resort was set up in the old radon galleries. Here all kinds of joint problems are treated, as well as problems with lungs and skin; while in the winter season, athletes are more interested in being able to find an opportunity to go for a stretch and get warm after a whole day of skiing. It is said that with regular visits to the tunnels the body begins adopting the same rescue mode that provides elevated temperatures and on the whole has a positive effect on the immune system. You don’t have to believe this. However, lying for half an hour in the shadows of the old tunnel at a depth of almost two kilometers is an adventure in itself, not to mention the underground train and ritual dressing in a bathrobe and back. Here, you feel a little like the hero of the movie The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “It’s a tough galaxy. If you want to survive out here, you’ve got to know where your towel is.”

Directly above Gastein and Bad Hofgastein is the Angertal ski arena. This place has three must-sees. The first one is the route along the northern slope of Hohe Scharte with the maximum difference in elevation in the eastern part of the Alps: 1,400 meters, predominantly red slopes (on the map these routes are marked H1+H2+H2a). The second is the suspension bridge at Stubnerkogel. The third is a descent on Route No. 20 “Burgerwald” into the most traditional cabin there is – Hirschenhütte. There, they will bring you a bucket, no kidding, of fried pork ribs and chicken legs, and on top of that they add a pot of baked potatoes, a trough of sauerkraut cabbage, with all this generously flavored with cowberry sauce). And some beer. At the end of such a meal, there is nothing left but to rely on the laws of physics and spineslessly slip into the resort along Schattbach Creek: after a heavy alpine lunch you’d better not mess with gravity.

Sportgastein is better be reserved for the final day of the ski vacation. To climb up to Kreuzkogel and have breakfast there at Panoramakugel (note, it’s kugel this time, that is, just a “ball” or “small ball”). A fantastic view opens from the panoramic windows of the metal sphere. Early in the morning, a mop-headed and long-nosed snowboarder (who is also a farmer’s son) arrives with cheese, some warm bread, thin slices of ham, jars of muesli, a box of fruit, a basket of eggs for an omelette and another bucket of dough, because he is going to bake the waffles right here on the mountain.

While visitors to Panoramakugel survey this high level of abundance, new riders of the cable car are literally blown away by the wind. A farmer in snowboard boots disappears for a while, then comes back, rubbing his hands, and reports that all his guests have ascended successfully, and now the lift is closing because of the wind, but if everyone is going to ski, then that’s fine – after breakfast, they can go down a completely deserted mountain.

A perfectly-groomed “corduroy” piste leads its way down with spectacular turns, during which skiers experience small jolts, while Kreuzkogel is completely lost in a snow vortex.

Here, we have to admit that it is difficult to take from the Salzburg province anything other than impressions. So, on your way back, don’t miss an opportunity to buy some “Mozart candies”, even if you have never visited the home city of the composer. The original Salzburg chocolates with marzipan are packed in silver-blue wrappers. And they are called “kugel” because they are round!

Three non-ski entertainments

  • The five-story Charisma souvenir shop disconnects you from everything rational: you can in easily catch yourself thinking: should I buy the chrome-plated deer head to hang my car keys and an umbrella on the horns? Pull yourself together: a weight clock with poises and some marmot fat for rubbing muscles are more than enough.
  • If you cannot bear life without some reindeer, you can take a walk into the forest and, sitting in a hut, watch through the glass how the huntsmen feed wild deer. These skip over the snowdrifts, not afraid of the noise of nearby tractors driving bales of hay. But cigarette smoke or extraneous noise scares them. So tune in for a meditation in the wild.
  • Kaprun hosts a number of aqua centers with water slides and other entertainment for families with children, as well as a complex of saunas and outdoor pools, where some serious steaming is awaiting those who set aside excess modesty along with swimming trunks. Here, you can spend a great half-day after skiing, or even stay at the Tauern SPA Kaprun.

Теxt: Maria Kuzmina

Published on: August 24, 2018