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.
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 Altstadt (old town) quarter at its heart, centred around a historic Gothic church and filled with tempting shops, good restaurants and lively bars.
The lake is 68 metres deep at its deepest point, shallow enough to freeze over during the coldest winter months, with way-marked ice-path crossings and skating circuits a regular feature.
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.
Zell am See is a big and popular year-round resort, so although its tourist infrastructure is first rate, the scale of the town does mean that a lot of accommodation is located some distance away from the slopes and ski lifts, requiring long-ish walks and/or bus journeys at the start and end of each day.
The region also covers the nearby resort of Kaprun, 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.
Zell am See - Ski Map & Pistes:
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. Most good intermediates will be able to tick off all the slopes here within a day or two, but the full area lift pass, the Ski Alpin Card, now covers three premium ski regions: the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn, the Schmittenhöhe in Zell am See as well as the glacier ski area Kitzsteinhorn Kaprun, offering you 408 km of pistes on just one ski pass.
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Zell am See - Off-Piste, Backcountry & Ski Touring:
Not too shabby at all. In fact, 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.
Ski tourers can't complain either. In Thumersbach, opposite Zell am See, there is an entire mountain just for ski tourers - 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
Zell am See - Restaurants, Bars & The Town:
Away from the ski slopes, 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.
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 for more of the same. In town the Off Piste bar and Villa Crazy Daisy 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 too.
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Zell am See - Ski Hire:
There are around 15 recommended outlets for ski hire in Zell am See, including Intersport Scholz, Bründl Sports and Sport Achleitner.
Zell am See - Ski School:
For ski schools in Zell am See, check out the Ski School Zell am See, one of the biggest ski schools in Austria with over 120 instructors. Alternatively, there is the Sport Alpin Ski School and Outdo ski school, both of which offer a full spectrum of skiing lessons in Zell am See.
// HIGHLIGHTS //
Salzburg (1hr 25)
Zell am See