This trip to the Salzburg mountain region was the first of many that will form part of my ‘Year in Austria’ project. I am now the official UK ambassador for the Austrian National Tourist Office, where I will be travelling all around the country (using my home of Vienna as the starting point) over the next 12 months. I will be sharing content on my social channels and on the Visit Austria channels also. A big part of this project is to include insights from what you know already and questions about what you don’t, and even challenges set by you, the readers, on what you want me to see and do. Ultimately, I want you to come here too! I hope you will follow along and join in, and put Austria more on the map!
Skiing in Salzburg is as Austrian as it sounds and since ski is the national sport of the country, shredding the slopes of Austrian Alps is a rite of passage for every visitor who passes through the country in winter. Now that I live in Austria, I need to up my ski ante to assimilate and pretend I can be a proper Austrian too.
Alpine pursuits are quite the thing to show off about here.
A year had come around fast since I first ventured on a ski slope in Tirol, where I mastered a very brief introductory ski lesson that firmly planted the desire to continue. Now, the Salzburg mountain region would stage the next round of my professional ski training.
A four-hour train journey from Vienna to Saalfelden (with a halfway change at Salzburg city station) brought me straight into the heart of the ‘Skicircus’. It is a gigantic winter production born from the combination of the four regions of Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn into one.
After checking into my rustic alpine Hotel Bäckerwirt in Leogang, I went straight out to catch a cable car up into the peaks for the last few hours of blue-tinged daylight. This winter arena is so big, it now has 70 of these mountain lifts to take you up into altitudes reaching 1,914 meters, and 270km of powered slopes that can get you all the way back down.
The pivotal place for all the fun is the Asitz Mountain, and arriving in the early afternoon meant my first activity would be an alternative to ski. And so I took to a toboggan for a seven-minute adrenalin-pumped whirl down to one of the middle cable car station, admiring the panorama of distant jagged peaks on the way.
People often seek more thrills away from the piste, and in the Saalfelden Leogang Skicircus area there are plenty of options. Aside from the vintage wooden sledge fun, Asitz has now added an even faster option that incorporates the endorphin addiction of flight. The new Flying Fox is one of the longest and fastest ziplines in the world at 1,600 metres and 130km/h that soars you between two peaks and over the wide expanse of the valley floor. It hadn’t officially opened when I was there, but such is the dilemma with Austrian ski destinations. The demand for adrenalin addictions other than ski means more activities get added to the winter mix, so you are tempted to come back.
My first full morning was designated solely for private ski lessons, where I spent three solid hours on a beginner slope before a celebratory beer with lunch. With 140km of blue slopes, Skicircus is welcoming to beginner skiers, with a variety of leisurely routes to tackle once your confidence kicks in.
While my first lesson a year before concentrated on the technical perfection of the snow plough and speed control, my one-on-one lesson here built upon that, where I learnt how to turn and really put that snow plough into action. I sometimes lost my control (as is expected), although would often venture into a few seconds of adventurous speed freestyle by accident, before realising I’m no Olympian. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time, and all a part of the learning process.
However, if you are aching for an adrenalin-charge, there’s also enough incline to tempt the more advanced, with 110km of red slopes and 20km of black to shred. I’m aiming high, literally.
Aside from the ski Austria humble brag, the Salzburg mountain range lays claim to 150km of cross-country and racing trails, seven ski-touring routes and snow parks, two free ride parks, five toboggan runs and a dedicated ‘Nordic Park’. You can even learn how to ski-jump, which is one of my adventure goals.
The new Saalfelden Nordic Park is a winter sports facility where alternative ski activities come together in one huge arena. You can slow down and ice-skate on Lake Ritzensee, take a horse-drawn sleigh ride around the area or build an igloo, or you can continue with the athletics.
There’s 150km of cross-country forest trails and racing routes, where you can hike challenges path such as the Haid Trail and the winter wonderland of the Kolling Forest or take a light 30-minute meander on the Ritzensee Trail. You can also book snowshoeing tours and torchlight hikes to reach the Salzburg mountain panoramas via nature’s forest bound pristine tracks.
If, like me, you find yourself wanting to take on one of these options and are held back by a snow flurry while nature decides to re-load the slopes and valley walls, there’s always the chance to climb up, Spiderman style, on one of the indoor bouldering walls. This last-minute change of plan was a good thing – leading me towards a new sport I will soon be taking up back home in Vienna.
As seen on the Heatheronhertravels.com