News from the snow
Kaprun is the best-known partner of Zell am See. But Zell has had a reputation for being a large, traditional ski centre from the early days of winter sports tourism, and thus with a somewhat aged lift system. Kaprun, however, has the image of a hi-tec, high altitude, glacier resort, with year round skiing above 3000m, accessed by a state of the art gondola and six seater chairs. In fact neither reputation is quite correct! Zell am See's ski area has invested heavily in new lifts and snow making whilst Kaprun has managed to retain its pleasant Tyrolean village atmosphere and is actually at only a slightly higher elevation than Zell am See, 5km (3 miles) away. It has its own small ski area on the Maiskogel, but to reach the high altitude skiing of the Kitzsteinhorn you first need to drive or take a bus (15 minutes) to the base of the funicular or gondola. They will lift you high up to the ski area and its networks of gondolas, chairs, funiculars and drags. Kaprun is an ancient village, first mentioned in documents of 931 AD (February 9th to be precise!) when it had a slightly more wordy title: 'Chataprunnin in Pisoncia'. A castle was built there during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and remained in the control of two wealthy families for over 500 years. The Napoleonic Wars saw defeat for the area and the castle passing to Bavarian control. In 1812 a local forester bought the castle and it changed ownership a dozen times before being purchased by the Gildemeister family in 1921. Currently it is owned by a private association who use it for a variety of events. Kaprun's reputation changed from that of a run-of-the-mill farming community to a centre for climbers and mountaineers about a century ago. More fame developed in 1955 when two huge beautiful reservoirs were completed above the village higher in the Pinzgau valley. These great feats of engineering still attract many visitors today. Another, in 1965, the Gletscherbahn underground railway up to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, made Kaprun's name as one of the first year-round winter sports centres, bringing more international fame. Kaprun now attracts more than 700,000 guests annually, a sizable chunk of the two million plus visitors to the Europa Sport Region as a whole. Although tourism is obviously the main industry, farming continues quietly in the background.
Part of the Europa Sport region with Zell am See but not quite lift linked. A regular ski bus links the high altitude skiing on the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier where there are powder bowls. The toboggan runs care illuminated for night sledging.
The Maiskogel ski area is served by a cable car (tram) from the edge of the village, or a modern quad chair, and there's another quad and a drag lift at the top of the cable car serving largely easy blue runs through the woods, with a single red. Lower slopes are on a wide open sunny meadow. This area is a complete contrast, almost the antithesis of the nearby high altitude glacier skiing where there is of course not a tree to be seen. The one next to the resort is good for beginners serving nursery slopes on either side, with snow making covering both. The higher drag following on serves an intermediate red. Either side provides a good half day's skiing for the intermediate skier.
The Kitzsteinhorn is a large sunny bowl criss-crossed by a network of more than 20 lifts, including a cable car (tram) in addition to the access gondola from the valley, which take you on up to the highest point at 3029m. In addition, there are two quads and a six seater chair lift, plus a network of drags. This is the area formerly served by the underground funicular railway that was destroyed and many people killed in the infamous tragedy.
For cross country skiers the 3km Höhen Loipe is open all year at a height of 2800m above sea level. a second loipe around Kap[run itself is floodlit at night. It is also 4km long and part of 18km of cross country trails in the area.
Most of the trails on the mountain are graded easy or intermediate (red). Unfortunately, although the area is up to 2450 metres above Kaprun and the valley base station, it is not possible to ski all the way back down on-piste, because of the formation of the terrain. Instead you need to take the gondola back down from the base of the glacier ski area, which covers a vertical approaching 1000m. Queues at this point to go down, and indeed to come up, can be bad especially at busy times and when snow cover is thin at less snow sure destinations.
The Kitzsteinhorn management, not content with having a glacier, have added snow making to the glacier's lower slopes to ensure superb conditions.
Zell am See's 75km (47miles) of trails make up around three fifths of the Europa Sport Region and are largely located on the Schmittenhöhe mountain behind the town. More than 50km (31 miles) of the terrain is graded red and blue, including an 8km (5 miles) trail, the Schutt, descending the full 1200 metre vertical back down to the resort.
Advanced skiers have several long medium-steep blacks descending through the forest back down to the resort to enjoy, several usually mogulled, and Zell has a reputation for good off-piste powder when conditions are right. Zell am See's sunny slopes do have good snow-making cover on nearly two thirds of the piste.
Cross country skiers have up to 200km (125 miles) of trails around the valley, including a 10km (six miles) track on frozen Lake Zell and a six kilometre illuminated track at Kapun.
Family weeks are offered every season, they offer free accommodation, meals, lift tickets and entrance to the leisure pool for up to two children aged under 12 sharing their parents room. Enquire at the tourist office for this year's details. Otherwise children to age six are free in the parent's room, children six to 16 sharing their parents room pay a reduced rate.
All in all Kaprun is a very child friendly place and the unintimidating local skiing, beautiful setting and facilities like the leisure pool make it a rather good choice for families.
There is plenty to do besides party in Kaprun - bowling, toboggan run, sleigh ride, swimming, skating and a host of other opportunities. Then you can always go on down to Zell am See.
Chairlifts take over to serve the rideable terrain itself, the highlight of which is the Langwied sector which has natural half pipes and bumps. Professional 'boarders train here and summer 'boarding camps are organised.
The park features 23 jumps, rails, and boxes on nearly 30,000 square metres of glacier snow. Intersport Bründl at the main lift station offers rentals, sales and service on the glacier itself. The ski school also have 'boarding divisions.
In winter, at neighbouring Zell am See, there's an additional half pipe at the Glocknerwiese and there's plenty of surfing and cruising terrain all around the Region. A test centre provides demo boards on the slopes here.