This year the Wandering Kiwi family chose to make our annual ski pilgrimage to the Zell am See-Kaprun ski area in Austria. I was determined to ski in Austria this year after our 2015 experience skiing in Italy.
Pila ski resort in Italy’s Aosta region was beautiful and certainly affordable but the ski school experience for our daughter was really disappointing. Austria is supposedly the place for skiing with kids, so this year it was Austria or bust!
How did our ski holiday in Austria work out?
Zell am See is a pretty mountain village, rather than an on-the-mountain ski resort. It is quite easy to get to from Salzburg airport, by bus or train or taxi depending on your arrival time and budget. Being a town also means there are plenty of accommodation options and I had no problem finding a good self-catering apartment within our family ski holiday budget. In fact our apartment was much nicer/bigger than the previous two years (skiing in France and Italy) for not much more money.
We stayed in Schuttdorf, which is a sort of suburb at the base of the Areitbahn I gondola station. It was close to the beautiful lake path that winds its way around Zell am See. There was a Lidl supermarket about 20 minutes’ walk from out apartment and a bakery for morning strudel purchases around the corner from home. It took between five and ten minutes to walk to a bus stop in the morning. The public buses are free during the day for ski pass holders.
At the Areitbahn station everything is well organised, from the ski pass desk to the ski hire shop and the lockers where you can store the ski gear so you don’t have to carry it back to the accommodation.
I would highly recommend booking your ski hire online ahead of arrival in Zell am See. Not only do you get a 15 per cent discount but there are no queues when you get there. There was a big scrum at the regular ski hire desk (despite airport-style check in kiosks) but only one person ahead of me at the online check in desk. All our equipment was ready and waiting. The ski passes are definitely more expensive than in Italy and even France but you get quality infrastructure for your money.
As a family who is restricted to skiing in the British school half term holiday the whole of the European Alps is busy in the week when we ski. So there is no avoiding the queues for us – big queues a lot of the time. After the first day we made sure to be at the gondola station before 9am. Otherwise you can expect a lot of uncomfortable time waiting in line for the gondola. Ski school starts at 10am so being early meant we had time to do a few warm up runs on the freshly-groomed slopes and eat our strudel.
Now we come to my favourite part about our ski holiday in Zell am See. My daughter came bouncing out of her first ski lesson grinning from ear to ear and saying: “Ski school is fun!” She couldn’t wait to get to her lessons and adored her teacher – a Zell am See native called Maria. They pretended to be mice, and elephants, and later came the train and seemingly endless different ways to help children learn to ski well without even realising they are learning.
There are a number of well-designed kids’ ski areas – slopes with little jumps and tunnels watched over by cartoon characters – for fun and learning. It wasn’t just my daughter’s skiing that improved during the week, her confidence in herself just sky-rocketed.
Zell am See ski area is quite a forested ski field and the trees covered in snow are super gorgeous, a real winter wonderland. The runs are fun and there are beautiful views down to the lake and surrounding mountains. There are only a few black runs so it is not the place to ski if you are looking for challenging terrain but it is an ideal family ski holiday place.
There a family restaurants at the gondola stations and number of authentic restaurants on the alm. My favourites were the Breitekalm and the Berghotel Restaurant. The food here is not as amazing as food I have had at French ski areas like Morzine but Austrian mountain food is very tasty (and better than the Italian version from last year).
From delicious concoctions of potatoes, bacon and beer cheese to Mr Wandering Kiwi’s favourite dish… ribs! All washed down with a radler beer or a gluwein; we were very happy skiers.
The history buff in me loved the rustic Elizabeth Chapel at the top of the ski area – built to commemorate the visit of Austria’s beloved Empress “Sissi”, who was well known for her hiking prowess and climbed up here during her holiday in Zell am See.
The Zell am See ski pass also allows you to ski in the nearby Kaprun skifield and take the gondola up to the top of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier. It takes half an hour on the bus to get there so we did that on the last day when there was no ski school. The Kaprun ski area is quite different, with fewer trees and big wide open spaces. It’s also a bit less sheltered from the wind. I’d like to try skiing here more next time.
We all loved the Ice Camp at Kaprun, with the schnapps bar and colourful lighting. Wandering Kiwi Jr loved sitting on the animal-fur covered ice seats and sipping (lemonade) from an ice cup.
Just below the top of Kitzsteinhorn there is a gallery – tunnel – into the mountain and some great earth science displays for young and old. There is also a café with fabulous views and of course the viewing platform. Unfortunately on the day we visited the visibility was … zilch… ah well next time… when I can’t wait to hear my daughter shout:
“Hi ho! Let’s Go!
Hi he! Let’s Ski!”
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been skiing in the Zell am See-Kaprun ski area or elsewhere in Austria? What was your experience?
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