Visiting Austria in snow-clad times both up hill and down dale offers much for the non-skier! I may want to experience all that the world has to offer, but as an accident prone girl who can tear her Achilles just by tripping up on uneven ground, I have an even more remarkable sense of self-preservation so downhill skiing is a no-no! Mind you so is cross country skiing after my disastrous attempt at this against my better judgement back in 2011 where I fractured my coccyx and spent the following 6 months perched on a cushion with a well positioned hole in it. Still at the forefront of my memory is the incredibly uncomfortable plane journey back to England, so any snow sports are definitely off the agenda.
My regular trips to Austria came into being once my Uncle and Aunt moved to live in Zell am See in 2008 and this is where I base myself for these trips. I always fly to Munich however as there is a direct flight from Manchester all year round and I prefer to do the 3 hour drive in Germany and Austria than from Manchester to Stanstead to fly to Saltzburg. In the winter the driving route from Munich to Zell am See is truly magical and unlike driving in snowy England, it’s a pleasurable experience. The headlights unearth an ethereal winter wonderland.
Zell am See is a beautiful place to stay and ideally central for exploring Saltzburger land, the Austrian Tyrol and Alps. Situated on Lake Zell, it is a popular ski resort, with the Schmittenhöhe mountain overlooking the town of Zell am See with numerous cable cars and ski lifts taking skiers and non-skiers up to the top and various stages en route! As a non-skier the best cable car to the top in one ride is the Schmittenhöhebahn. I visited in May when the mountain is largely free of snow. Take in a glass of Glühwein at 2,000m (1,965m to be exact) to accompany some apple strudel and take a wander to the Elisabeth Chapel from where you can see the opposite direction from the lake and the myriad of cross country routes along the mountain range beyond.
The Elisabeth Chapel was built in the early 1900’s as a memorial chapel to Empress Elisabeth who visited Zell am See in 1885 and as an avid mountaineer hiked up to the summit of the Schmittenhöhe to view the glorious sunrise. It became part of the hotel portfolio on the Schmitten until it was sold to the Agricultural Association and Zell Forest Association in 1984.
Take in some of the art on the mountain while you’re up the Schmittenhöhe. There’s over 30 large sculptures placed at strategic points on the ski and hiking trails so many are available to be viewed without the aid of skis in winter. Or take part in a yodelling workshop which will take place on a number of dates in the 2017 ski season, (5th and 19th January, 9th and 23rd February, 9th and 23rd March.)
There are also unrivalled views across to the Kitzsteinhorn Mountain and Glacier, the other popular ski resort in the area above the neighbouring resort of Kaprun and just a 20 minute drive from Zell am See. There’s a variety of ticket prices depending on what you want to do.
The Kitzsteinhorn is a spectacular mountain and THE number 1 itinerary must for this area of Austria, not to mention a major highlight of the Alps in general. Three very different cable cars take non-skiers to the top at 3029 metres flying you across the highest lift support pylon in the world which brings a lump to the throat.
At each stage there are shops and restaurants for Après Ski, not to mention the unavoidable and slightly unnerving icy routes across the start and end of ski runs. It’s a case of find a gap, dodge the skier and get a move on – a sure fire way to get the heart pumping. Make sure to wear study footwear, preferably walking boots or something with decent grips. The views are amazing and at the top station you feel like you’re on top of the world!
The frozen Lake Zell is a tiny indent amongst range after range of snow clad mountains: a tremendous view! Take advantage of the camera at the top viewing platform to get a piccie of your whole group, note down the website link and time of photograph and access your photos online to download free from later on that day. It’s nice to see this is a free service and not charged in addition to the attraction fee like many other similar services I’ve seen across the world from photos at the top of the Rockerfeller centre in New York, to the Montparnasse Tower and Seine cruises in Paris.
There’s a cinema screen showing film of the mountain and the most recent attraction is an atmospherically lit walk ‘through the mountain’ to a further viewing platform jutting out over the snow with a see through floor. Walking at this elevation causes shortness of breath, so take it easy particularly on the return as it’s uphill. Take regular rests if needed at one of the many museum exhibits en route, all of which come with seats. Exhibits provide insight into the world of the Hohe Tauern National Park and the formation of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier.
The restaurant at the top of the Kitzsteinhorn is excellent, with a varied menu and an impressive view. I can highly recommend the Wiener Schnitzel and Vanilla sauce. (though not together)
To ascend the Kitzsteinhorn, an adult cable car ticket will set you back EUR 40.00 but it’s worth it and taken at a leisurely pace forms a full day out.
For accommodation I recommend Apartments Julia in Zellermoos situated half way between Zell am See and Kaprun. Both of the two well equipped comfortable apartments have stunning views across the valley to the Kitzsteinhorn and Kaprun. There’s a number of luxurious touches at the apartments including fresh bread deliveries every morning, and access to an onsite games room, gym equipment, laundry and sauna, the latter perfect for revival after a day out in the cold.