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, with a local ski area that rises from the edge of town.
Zell am See ski area
The neighbouring resorts of Zell am See and Kaprun offer a combined 140 kilometres of piste and, with the link to the Ski Circus Saalbach (December 2019), the ‘Ski Alpin Card’ offers over 400 kilometres of piste.
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 Schmittenhohe 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 visitors of good intermediate ability and above will be able to tick off all the slopes here within a day or two, but the full area lift pass also includes the nearby non-linked ski areas of Maiskogel and Kitzsteinhorn above the resort village of Kaprun, the latter on the virtually year-round ski slopes of the sizeable Schmiedingerkees and Maurerkees glaciers.
Zell am See apres ski
There are lots of cosy, atmospheric huts dotted around the Zell slopes. Among the best are Glocknerhaus, Kettingalm, Areitalm, Breiteckalm and Blaickner's Sonnalm. Apres ski is lively and varied with cafes, bars and discos aplenty. When it's sunny, Schnapps Hans Ice bar outside the Berghotel really buzzes with great music, a crazy DJ and dancing on tables and on the bar. The Diele disco bar is also very popular.
Zell am See village
The town is larger than most ski resorts and best comparable to ski towns such as Kitzbühel and Chamonix. The town of Zell is built between a lake and a ring-shaped mountain. Most of the central and lakeside areas are on level ground, ideal for strolling around; the lakeside esplanade in particular is a very pleasant place for a walk. The 'Altstadt' quarter around the central square by the church is a lovely area, during the day and in the evening, and houses a great choice of good restaurants and café-bars together with a wide range of shops in the surrounding streets.
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.