A view of the lake and the town during our Zell Am See skiing review

Zell am See Skiing Review A Week Skiing in January 2020

Hello! I'm Phil, one of the team here at The Ski Gathering. Zell am See is new to The Ski Gathering for the winter season 2019-2020, so I took one for the team and went exploring to bring you this comprehensive Zell am See skiing review.

I was excited for my first trip to Zell am See. I've skied all over the world, but Austria is one of the places I'd visited least, this being just my third trip. I'd heard a lot about this area in particular, with the new connection just built linking up Zell am See and Kaprun with the giant Saalbach-Hinterglemm area. Something crazy like 400+kms of pistes in the one area, skiing at altitudes from 750m to 3000m, and ski resort on a lake? My interest was piqued, and so I packed up my kit and headed out to find out for myself.

Page Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Ski Area Summary
  3. The Local Ski Area
  4. Kaprun Ski Area
  5. Zell Am See to Kaprun Link
  6. Saalbach Hinterglemm Ski Area
  7. Zell Am See to Saalbach Link
  8. Zell Am See Maps And Downloads

Skiing Zell Am See Summary


If I had to summarize Zell Am See in one word, I'd say variety. The expansive area has every type of skiing condition you can think of. In altitude, you can ski at 750m or at 3000m. There's steep and challenging north-facing mountain sides, and gentle south facing cruising blues, skiing on the sunny side of life. Big wide and gentle, narrow, steep, challenging, it's all here.

Plenty to Challenge

Myself, I've skiing more resorts in more countries than I can remember. This was only my third trip to Austria, which is known for having relatively low village heights. I'd falsely got it in my head that lower villages would mean gentler sloping mountains. Not at all, there's plenty of steeper stuff here, and that also brings the added benefit of shorter lift ride times as you go straight up. If you are "blue-runs-only", there will be the odd part you might rather take a lift over, but they've planned that in very well with their lift connections.

Endless Skiing

I found the skiing to be just about endless. When you take the whole three connected areas together, a week just isn't long enough to cover it all. I found myself looking at the piste map on the way home thinking "I never made it there, or there, or...."

Introducing the Ski Area

Zell Am See Lift Pass - 3 areas on one pass

Lift Pass Official Website (called the Alpin Card)

Your Zell Am See lift pass covers three distinct areas: Zell am See, Kaprun, and Saalbach-Hinterglemm (also known as Ski Circus). Zell am See itself is, very handily, sat right in the middle. There's only one lift pass here, the AlpinCard, and that covers the lifts in all 3 areas along with any connecting ski buses. It cost €278 for an adult for 6 days in 2020. (plus €2 for the card which you get back when you return the card to the lift pass office)

Top Tip: Your lift pass actually works from 3pm the day before your lift pass actually starts so if you get in resort early you may get a chance for some arrival day skiing.

Zell am See

Zell am See offers a skiing range from 780m all the way up to 2000m. It's a varied area, offering a great range of piste skiing with plenty to challenge the more experienced skier. I was surprised with the speed and ease of ascent, wih fast lifts that gain height very quickly up the relatively steep mountain slopes. It's a small enough area that one good day and you'll have most of it explored. Our group had a big range of skiing levels and we found it very sociable, as we bumping into each other fairly regularly especially at the hot chocolate stops.

A view out over the lake and ski resort of Zell Am See


Kaprun ski area is a very different animal! Here you can go up to 3029m for a view from what feels like the top of the world. You can ski on a Glacier, and watch free-stylers going off jumps as big as houses. It's no mean feat getting there though, it's bus ride then 4 lifts up from Kaprun village down at 768m to then go up a mere 2261m to Kitzsteinhorn peak above the glacier. Really great skiing, at all levels, and well worth the travel. I recommend going there once or twice on your Zell Am See holiday as full day out to make the most of the journey up to the roof of the world.

A view of the whole of Kaprun from the top of Kitzsteinhorn

Saalbach-Hinterglemm (Ski Circus)

Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn (also known as Ski Circus) is the latest addition to the area. The ZellamseeXpress bubble lift was built for the start of the 2019-2020 season to connect these too areas. I'm very glad they did that. The connection is great, and the skiing in Saalbach-Hinterglemm is both wonderful and endless. For those who like cruising on the sunny side, this is the section for you. And for those looking for a challenge, it also contains perhaps my favourite red run on the planet....

Next, we'll get stuck into each of the 3 ski areas in depth....

A view of Saalbach Hinterglemm Ski resort and valley

Zell am See Ski Area

Zell Am See (Schmittenhöhe) Official Website

The Skiing itself

As the first area I got to explore, I found lots of great surprises in the Zell am See ski area. It's a relatively small area when taken on it's own, which was great for our group. We were all different levels, so it meant we were never far apart when it came to meeting up for lunch or hot chocolate breaks. I found that one good day's skiing and you'll have most parts of the Zell am See area explored, though the full area on your lift pass (which includes Kaprun and Saalbach-Hinterglemm) is so big that after a full week there were whole sections we've never touched.

The mountainside worked perfectly for the large range of levels we had, from complete beginners to very seasoned skiers and snowboarders. We could all find what were were looking for in close proximity to each other which was a great added bonus.

What Altitude is Zell Am See?

The town of Zell Am See is at an altitude of 750m.

Zell am See, had a very large vertical drop, over 1200m, giving some wonderfully long runs. A personal favourite is right from the top all the way down to the bottom of the areitXpress bubble. That's the length of 3 bubble lifts in a row, where you can ski from 2000m down to 780m without stopping. These long run lengths are present across the whole extended area too with towering mountains surrounding the low valley floors.

Looking at the piste-map, you'll see there's a section where the blues are, a section of reds, a section of blacks etc. If you are blues-only (that's the more gentle grade of ski slopes), then you'll find there's the odd steeper section you'll want to take the lift over. That said, the lift system has been very well planned for that and all the beginners in our group could meet us anywhere on the mountain without any problems.

How many ski runs in Zell Am See?

There are 41 ski runs in Zell Am See and there are 28 ski lifts.

Resort Piste Length Total Pistes Blue Runs Red Runs Black Runs Snow Parks Longest Run Snow Making
Zell Am See 77 km 41 20 15 6 2 6 km 77 km
Kaprun 61 km 28 12 11 5 4 7 km 38 km
Saalbach Hinterglemm 270 km 156 87 54 14 4 7.5 km 243 km
Total408 km225119802510-358 km

Zell am See Lift System

I was very impressed, to put it in a nutshell. The lifts are fast and modern, and many of the chairs and bubble ski lifts boast heated seats! The majority of the ski lifts are bubbles.

The main face rising above the town of Zell am See is steeper than I'd imagined, which brought the added benefit of shorter lift times the lifts generally go straight up to the peaks above.

Resort Base Altitude Highest Point Vertical Drop Total Lifts Gondolas High Speed Chairs Chair Lifts Drag Lifts
Zell Am See 760 m 2000 m 1240 m 28 9 7 3 9
Kaprun 768 m 3029 m 2261 m 23 9 4 2 8
Saalbach Hinterglemm 840 m 2096 m 1256 m 70 29 18 3 20

Getting your bearings

The main foot of the mountain is just up the hill from Zell am See itself, at the bottom of Schmittenhöhebahn and trassXpress ski lifts. This was the original base of the skiing. The cityXpress lift running right into the village centre is a more recent addition. That means a lot of the main facilities are at Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress. Here you will find ski shops, ski hire, ski school, bars and restaurants, childcare and also lockers you can rent for the week (inside the main ski school building).

Where to Base Your Skiing?

When you head off skiing you can either head straight up the cityXpress lift, or take the free ski bus up to Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress and go from there. You can hire and keep your skis at either location.

Myself I hired in the village. I used Ski Pro who are about 30m from the Hotel Heitzmann where I was staying. Hiring in the village works well for those who are not getting lessons as you can just jump on the ski lift and head straight off.

Other people though will be starting and finishing their ski days at the base of Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress. If you've booked into lessons, or have children to drop at childcare / ski school, then that will most likely be at the bottom of Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress. Some of my group were in that situation, and what worked really well for them was to hire their skis & snowboards up at Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress, and also hire a locker up there for the week (6 euros per day I think.) That way they can just leave their skis, boards and boots up their each night. No walking in ski boots of carrying kit around.

The Valley floor in Zell Am See as seen from the AreitXpress lift

Ski Buses

Getting from the village centre to the bottom of Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress is very easy on the ski bus. It's free with your lift pass, bus number 71 (though check the timetable here in case it's changed since my visit). It goes from the centre of Zell am See (see map here) and takes about six minutes. Officially it's every 30 minutes, but they put on more buses in between at busier times, which in my experience is most of the time. I never waited more than about five minutes for a bus. No one I chatted to ever found a 30 min gap either.

You can also get the bus from here to Kaprun. Please see the sections below for my full write-up on getting to Kaprun and getting to Saalbach Hinterglemm.

The last ski bus runs about an hour after the last lift. The last lift is anywhere from 17:00-18:00 depending on the time of year and the bus route. There are other buses after this but they are not included in the ski pass.

Top Tip: If you do not want to ski a black, but need to get to Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress, I'd get the bus up. Yes, there's a blue run (run 5B) marked from the top of the cityXpress to Schmittenhöhebahn / trassXpress but a lot of that run us a flat path, and there's a decent chunk of uphill too!

The Views, the views!

Now, most ski areas are not exactly in ugly places. I could not, however, write a section about skiing Zell am See without talking about the views. Just incredible, even by ski resort standards. You have steep mountains yet a completely flat valley floor. With Lake Zell itself then the wide valley, and sheer mountains rising all around, the views it gives are another level above.

Zell am See - Kaprun App Review

Zell am See & Kaprun have one app for the two areas combined. I wasn't a huge fan, to be honest. The best thing about any ski area app is normally a big piste map with a giant, idiot proof "you are here" marker. In this case the map they use is very different from the piste map, so it's a bit confusing.

On the plus side though, if you press the "Tools" button though you do get a few cool bits, like an altimeter and "Slope Inclination Meter", so you can have some evidence that the black you took on really was just about vertical.

Zell Am See Photo Gallery

Saalbach-Hinterglemm Ski Area (Ski Circus)

Saalbach-Hinterglemm Official Website

Also known as (Ski Circus), the Saalbach-Hinterglemm ski area is by far the largest of the 3. Huge, in fact, comprising of 4 distinct sub areas: Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn. After a week, there were still many sections I'd not explored. No matter what your taste, this section seems to have it all.

Skiing on the Sunny Side of Life

As you look at the piste map, you'll see the main valley containing Saalbach-Hinterglemm. The whole right hand-side of that valley is a blue cruiser's paradise. Countless wide blue runs on a south facing mountainside. What's not to love? I really enjoyed exploring this area and there's countless sunny terraces to stop for a drink.

Or take on The North Face

On the left of the main valley are some big peaks reaching over 2000m. Here you'll find some high speed bubbles, which in one lift which gives you over 1000m of altitude gain. Being steeper and north facing, here you'll find wonderful skiing for those looking for something to get the legs warm.

I couldn't leave this section without telling you about what's probably my favourite red run on the planet. You'll see a red run marked number 8 on the piste map, coming from the right hand side down into Hinterglemm ski resort itself. That's over 1000m vertical drop in the one, long red. There's no flat bits, just once consistent challenging red gradient run from top to bottom that'll lift my legs warm and my facing grinning from ear to ear. And if you want to do it all over again, there's one high speed lift from bottom all the way back tot he summit to do it all again.

The 1000m vertical drop in the one, long red in Saalbach Hinterglemm Ski

Testament to the size of the area is the fact that we never made it as far as the villages of Leogang or Fieberbrunn. Looks like I'll have to go for longer next time.... :)

Zell am See To Saalbach Link

Is Zell Am See Linked with Saalbach?

Yes Zell Am See is linked with Saalbach. The ski connection between Zell am See and the Saalbach-Hinterglemm ski areas has been very well done. It's very easy to get between the two areas. You can easily do the morning in one area, then the afternoon in the other.

Skiing from Zell Am See to Saalbach

To get from Zell am See to Saalbach, you first ski down the red run (number 21 underneath the zellamseeXpress). We found this run great in the mornings, though it could have more moguls later on in the day. If you are not so keen on lumpy conditions you can take the bubble down. The piste does bring you right down to the valley floor, though we took the bubble down just the last section (a very short bubble ride).

At the bottom you jump on the ski bus. This is free with your lift pass. They were running every 10 mins every time I went through (there's a big electronic board showing the bus times). It's about a 5 minute journey up the valley to the first lifts of the Saalbach Hinterglemm area. Easy!

Skiing from Saalbach to Zell Am See

We found it ever quicker and easier on the way back from Saalbach to Zell Am See. You can get from the top of Zwolferkogel peak (the big mountain top left of the Saalbach-Hinterglemm piste map), right into the centre of Zell am See, using only two lifts and the 5 minute bus journey.

On the way back, you can usually ski the whole way. The final blue run (number 168) back is on the sunny side and low so it was closed when we were. That said it looks quick and easy to do.

No complaints at all about the quality of the connections, they've done a great job.

Saalbach-Hinterglemm App Review

This is a great and simple-to-use app. Big piste map, big "you are here" marker. Easy days.

Not sure where to go today? The app has 5 different pre-planned routes you can follow. Just press the "Skicircus-Runden" button, pick the route you fancy. There's a good range from a gentle explore to a mighty-first-to-last-lift adventure.

Saalbach-Hinterglemm Photo Gallery

Kaprun Ski Area

Kaprun (Kitzsteinhorn) Official Website

Last, but by no means least, we explored the Kaprun ski area.

Kaprun ski area is very different. It's a smaller area, roughly similar in size to Zell am See. It is though very high altitude skiing, reaching over 3000m and with glacier skiing thrown in too. The altitude range is quite something, with Kaprun town & the lowest ski slope sitting 2261m below you on the valley floor.

The roof of the world

I cannot talk about skiing Kaprun without talking about the feeling over being at what feels like the top of the world. Over 3000m up, with a glacier below you, views over the surrounding mountains to distant ranges beyond, and the tiny spec of Kaprun village over 2km below. If you've never been to a place like this, it's worth the trip just for the view and experience itself. You are high enough to start feeling the thin air and some people get light-headed with the altitude alone.

Glacier Skiing

After looking at the views for a small eternity, we decided it was time to experience the skiing it offers. The first section is skiing the glacier itself. A wide, gentle blue slope, it gives wonderful opportunity for big sweeping turns with a backdrop that's hard to comprehend. All the higher slopes funnel into a place called the AlpinCenter. This kind of feels like the bottom, until you see th sign that says you are still up at 2450m. Although being very high, there's plenty of great blue runs up here.

Below the AlpinCenter, funnily enough, it gets steeper with only red runs continuing down the valley, and of course the (im)famous Black Mamba ski slope. For the brave only, that clocks in an angle of 63 degrees.

Solo skiers skiing on the glacier of Kitzsteinhorn

Freestyle Heaven

There are multiple snow parks up here, with jumps ranging from tiny beginner to ramps that look like small houses. Even if you are not into parks yourself, I'd recommend skiing down past the large park just to see the pros in actions. It's quite incredible to see their combination for skill and bravery in action.

Zell am See to Kaprun Link

Can you ski from Kaprun to Zell Am See?

No, it is not possible to ski from Kaprun to Zell Am See. The best way to get from Kaprun to Zell Am See is by bus (10 or 20 minute journey, depending on what route you pick below).

It's quite a serious journey to get from Zell am See to Kaprun when skiing. Don't be put off though, I'd highly recommend one or two days skiing in Kaprun during any Zell am See based ski holiday. Kaprun is very different and truly spectacular. It should be approached as a full day out, though a day out to remember.

Skiing from Zell am See to Kaprun

You'll need to get a bus connection to get there. There's two main departure options.

Option 1: For this you get a bus from the main bus station in the middle of Zell am See (just down the hill from the bottom of the cityXpress lift). The bus takes around 20 minutes, and is included on your lift pass.

Option 2: If you fancy a warm up ski, which we did, you can take the trassXpress to the top of the Zell am See area, then ski all the way down to the bottom of the areitXpress (bottom left of the piste map) and get the bus from there. That in itself is a magnificent run. It also halves your bus journey to about 10 mins.

There are 2 lift stations in Kaprun you can get off at. We jumped off at the first, to get on the MK Maiskogelbahn lift, though others in our party carried on to Gletscherjet and took the lifts up from there. Either way, it's no short journey to the top. It is 4 lifts in a row to get to the very summit.

The very top viewing platform on the Kitzsteinhorn is called the Gipfelwelt 3000, despite being at 3029m! Do note there's no skiing from here though, you'll need to take a short funicular down called the Gletschershuttle and the skiing starts at the bottom of that.

The buses run very frequently at busier times of day. Do watch out though as early afternoon they can have gaps of 30mins in between so it's well worth checking the bus timetable (download that here) and planning your journey down to meet it.

Skiing from Kaprun to Zell am See

To get from Kaprun to Zell am See you can again take either option above - a 20 min bus ride right into Zell am See village, or a 10 min bus right to the bottom of the areitXpress then take the lifts up and ski home. Please note the last ski bus home runs about an hour after the last lift. The last lift is anywhere from 17:00-18:00 depending on the time of year and the bus route.

Kaprun Photo Gallery

Spectacular views of the Town and lake of Zell Am See taken from the mountain

Spectacular views, long runs, fast lifts. What's not to love...

Zell Am See Holiday Dates & Prices 2024-2025

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Last Updated: 30 January 2020