I just got back from my first trip to Austria for a fantastic week of skiing at the beautiful lakeside town of Zell Am See in the Kitzbühel Alps. I put my new Sweaty Betty gear and Dragon Alliance goggles to the test, tried to cover as many pistes as possible, perfected my six words of German, après-skiied like a pro and overdosed on schnitzel. Sehr gut!
I hadn't been for years so my skiing was a little rusty, but my boyfriend was learning to board so was in ski school for the first couple of days so I could reacquaint myself with the mountains at my own pace. I took a few tumbles: day one I clipped my skis at the front and arabesqued my way into a full-on faceplant, day two a beginner snowploughed into me, day three I fell a couple of times due to tired legs, day four no falls (woo hoo), day five I fell over playing around trying to go backwards, day six no falls again and on the last day I fell over at the top of a particularly steep black. Overall I was pleased with my pretty low fall count.
I was kitted out in the gnarliest ski gear I saw all week: the big and bold Uphill Ski Jacket from Sweaty Betty - it kept me warm and dry, I stood out and I didn't see anyone else in it (what more can you ask for from a ski jacket?) - made from a technical waterproof and windproof fabric, lined with thermal fleece and in a badass geometric print stylish enough for a chic off piste look too.
I was also really chuffed with the performance of the waterproof, breathable, fleece-lined 4-way stretch softshell Astro Ski Salopettes. with light padding on the knees for those obligatory crashes. These are now both in the Sweaty Betty sale too - I couldn't recommend them enough so grab a bargain if you're heading to the slopes soon or next season.
For goggles, I've been using the NFXS pair from the California-based Dragon Alliance, which has been designing surf and snow eyewear and accessories since 1993. I can't fault their ground-breaking, patented frameless lens goggles and they come with a changeable set of lenses so I could switch to yellow for the snow days.
wearing the Sweaty Betty base layers warming up in the Berghotel Schmittenhöhe
Zell Am See itself is quite a low resort at 762m located on the shore of Lake Zell, surrounded by pretty forested slopes and Alpine pastures, but the chairlifts take you up to pistes over 2,500m with guaranteed snow on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier and peak of the 1,965m Schmittenhöhe mountain. To get there, there's an hour and a half transfer time from Salzburg airport before arriving at the classic 19th century town and picking up our hire equipment and lift passes.
We booked through Crystal Ski and went for the traditional four star Hotel St Georg, which is conveniently located a few minutes away from the CityXpress gondola and 5 minutes walk to the town centre. Our bright, clean room had a balcony overlooking the town and a tree-lined slope and we thoroughly enjoyed soothing sore muscles in the indoor swimming pool, sauna and steam room downstairs. It's a charming, quiet hotel with really friendly service from the Sauper family and good food: we started each day with a big, hearty breakfast from the hot and cold buffet before hitting the slopes.
I stuck to blues for the first two days before venturing onto reds and blacks later on in the week. The resort is great for beginners and intermediate skiers: there are 138km of pistes with 31 blue, 19 red and 9 black runs. It's a family resort so there were a few too many little kids (I'm not broody, but some very cute little dinks in snowsuits!) as some European countries had school holidays that week, but overall it wasn't too busy.
The weather was great: lots of fresh snow, lots of sunny bright blue skies with only two days of poor visibility. Some winters the lake freezes over so you can walk over it and try out skating or curling, but sadly this year it was only partly frozen. For non-skiiers there are lots of cross-country and Nordic walking routes as well.
My favourite runs were on the Schmittenhöhe, including an 8km descent through the trees involving a 1,200m vertical drop, some challenging mogul runs and the fantastic night slope Ebenbergbahn, an illuminated red run brightly lit with flood lights overlooking the sparkling town open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings from 6.30-9.30pm, which I did seventeen times on two nights. I can't imagine a better way to destress after work.
On the Wednesday evening, we clambered back up a piste to watch the freeski, snowboard and laser show to see how the real dudes do it before hitting up some of the bars.
There's a good nightlife scene with lots of traditional Austrian restaurants and lively apres ski places: our favourites for drinks were Crazy Daisy's, Ginhouse and the igloo ice bar on the glacier and our favourite restaurant was Genuss Werk with its cool decor, soul/motown soundtrack and modern food.
antipasti at Genuss Werk
The best place for lunch is the ski-in/ski-out Berghotel at the top of the Schmittenhohe, cosy wooden interiors, warming dumpling soups and delicious apple strudel.
It's a great place for winter sports fans of all abilities where you can stay in a pretty lakeside town, fly down the tree-lined pistes, take in the beautiful mountain views and an impressive glacier, eat well and sleep like a baby. We had a blast.