The weather had been glorious my first couple of days snowboarding at Zell am See, with plenty of sunshine and still some untracked powder, albeit with a fast-decreasing snowpack.
On the third day, however, the weather closed in. It was around -10˚C and only getting colder on the mountain, with biting winds and snow falling at a prodigious rate. I dropped into the ski shop at the top of Schmittenhöhe, one of the three mountains in the Zell am See-Kaprun ski area, and bought a balaclava. That was a first in over 15 years of snowboarding.
While most locals had decided it was time to head home or hit one of the bars or restaurants on the slopes, I was having a ball. On the pistes there was enough fresh powder to bury your boots, and off-piste conditions were getting better by the minute. I snowboarded until my legs turned to jelly.
According to the guys at Sport Achleitner, the excellent family-owned ski shop I’d rented my board, binding and boots from, just metres from our apartment in Zell am See, that would not have been possible in early December last year at Schmittenhöhe. It wasn’t until just before Christmas that the weather really delivered. Such is the fickle nature of winter sports these days when you undertake them before you’re done clinking glasses or kissing strangers on New Year’s Eve.
But Zell am See-Kaprun has a back-up plan – Kaprun, where the glacier skiing area of Kitzsteinhorn, at an altitude of 3,029 metres, is snow sure. While the half hour bus ride there can get tedious, the Kaprun area has lots of wide open spaces with plenty of off-piste, although locals tell me it gets really crowded during peak season, particularly if it hasn’t been a great season for snow and a lot of the lower altitude runs haven’t opened on the other mountains.
Thankfully, back in Zell, as I sipped my morning coffee watching the snow fall outside the window on what was to be my third day snowboarding, I saw the the cityExpress lift, about 100 meters from our apartment, crank into life. No more ski buses for me.
Each day, after a couple of hours of runs, I’d refuel at one of the mountain restaurants. I found much of the food on offer on the mountains to be hearty, but humble. However, on my last day, when many areas closed due to high winds and limited visibility, I had a glass of wine at the Schüttdorf area at Areitalm where there is an excellent wine bar called Vinothek. It was lovely. It’s just a shame the Austrians haven’t banned smoking in bars as I don’t do winter sports to go home stinking of cigarettes and cheap cigars.
Overall, the ski area of Zell am See-Kaprun is well worth a visit, particularly if you’re an intermediate skier or snowboarder looking to improve although those lacking confidence should be careful of the runs back to town which are steep and icy in places. Like most Austrian resorts I’ve been to, everything is ran efficiently and professionally. It’s also exceptionally good for families, as the ski schools for children have an enviable reputation.
My only gripe is that the mountains in the area aren’t linked together by runs and lifts, though with Kitzsteinhorn a short bus ride away, for early season snow Zell am See is a pretty good bet.
Zell am See-Kaprun
Schmitten, Zell am See
Kitzsteinhorn, Zell am See-Kaprun
Postplatz 2, Zell am See
0043 (0) 6542 73581
www.snowell.com (equipment rental bookings)