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7 days winter adventure in Zell am See-Kaprun

No matter what season, I just can’t get enough of adventures, even not during winter! One of my favourite destinations for cold days is Zell am See-Kaprun in Austria, about 2,5 hours from Munich by car. Just last week I returned from this winter wonderland and really had a blast: skiing, climbing on ice and snow, horse riding, paragliding, relaxing in the sauna watching the snow-capped mountains and amazing food. For me Zell am See-Kaprun is almost my favourite winter destination after having been there four times within the last three years. There are many reasons for this, only a few are included in this article!

And the most awesome views ever!

Day 1: Arrival and relaxing

Travel by car

Line and I obviously had quite a long journey from South Africa via Munich, but usually you can make it to Zell am See-Kaprun from Germany quite easily and quickly. If you’re from the South of Germany then you can even go there with your own car or you fly to Salzburg or Munich like us and drive the rest with a rental car. From Munich Zell am See-Kaprun is about 2 hours, from Salzburg a little less than an hour.

Arrival and relaxing at the Tauern Spa

After about 24 hours on the road Line and I made it to Zell am See-Kaprun around noon and checked in at Tauern Spa. The hotel is one of my favorites in Austria. I’ve been there quite a lot the last couple of years. We checked out our room quickly, left our stuff there and set out to explore the city center or rather village center of Kaprun in order to rent ski equipment for the next days.

Rent ski equipment with Intersport and at Tauern Spa!

The great thing about Zell am See-Kaprun is in fact, that there are a couple of Intersport stores that lend skis, ski sticks and of course ski boots. But best is, you don’t need to return them at the same store but can for example rent them in Kaprun and return them at another store in Zell am See a couple of days later! For us this was of course very convenient because we didn’t have any ski equipment with us, since we came from South Africa. But still we wanted to check out the variety of ski slopes at Zell am See-Kaprun.

Of course we also didn’t have a warm jacket not to mention ski trousers, but even for this there was a solution: you can conveniently rent ski clothes at the Tauern Spa! And this is what we did. I have to admit, I find this really amazing since it gives you the chance to go skiing and on winter adventures for a couple of days, without having to be prepared or carrying the thick clothes with you.

Relaxing with panoramic view

Perfectly equipped and ready to hit the ski slopes the next day, we chilled at the spa area of the Tauern Spa for the rest of the afternoon. This spa area is just fantastic! Besides two saunas and one steam bath there is also a heated outdoor pool with a great view of the snow-capped mountains! Is there anything better? In addition they have the most amazing relaxing room with heated water beds where Line and I took a nap of at least an hour. There is also a small lounge where you can sit next to a fireplace, nibble healthy nuts or dried apple rings and warm you up with hot tea. For us this was heaven after this long journey!

Day 2: Finally skiing alias my failed attempt to do freeride skiing

The next day promised to be great, up and down the hills with our skis! I had been so excited for this day since it had been a while I had been standing on skis. In Zell am See-Kaprun you can choose between several ski areas and different slopes for beginners to pros and even daredevils can get their adrenalin rush.

We startet the first day right on the Kitzsteinhorn and while Line stayed and practiced on beginners slopes I tried freeride skiing. And tried is exactly the right word! Since I haven’t been skiing for some time I quickly recognized that freeriding isn’t exactly my cup of tea. To be honest though Michi also chose quite an advanced slope with a lot of powder snow. Since I’ve never skied on powder snow before I fell a few times leaving me cursing in the snow. I decided to go back to the slopes and choose freeride skiing slopes that where not that adventurous.

I think my freeride skiing guide Michi from the ski school Hartweger didn’t have it easy with me sometimes, since I still wanted to go fast and keep it adventurous. So amongst others we then took the Black Mamba. This one really gives you a huge adrenalin rush since the slope is sometimes 63 percent steep!

So if you’re really good at skiing or even are a little experienced with freeride skiing the Kitzsteinhorn is your place to be. There are several demanding offroad slopes you can ski down all of different levels and with fantastic views. Even on the glacier itself you can go freeride skiing – just awesome!

Someone even told me you can still go skiing on the glacier in May. So you could go skiing in the morning and put on your swimming pants or bikini in the afternoon and go sailing on the lake! How awesome is that?

I just had so much fun and Line was also able to practice and learn quite a lot. For lunch we met up at the mountaintop restaurant of Kitzsteinhorn and ordered two huge schnitzel. So good! After that we took a little trip to the Gipfelwelt 3000. This is where the 362 m long National Park Gallery is situated and there is also a cinema where you learn more about the region Zell am See-Kaprun. What you definitely shouldn’t miss is the view point platform at the end of the tunnel. The view of the surrounding mountain world is simply breathtaking!

Since we were pretty exhausted from the first hours on skis we took the gondola downwards. Thanks to the new gondolas Gletscherjet 3 and 4 there are many going up and down the whole day so you don’t have to wait long to catch one.

In the afternoon we relaxed at the Tauern Spa again, went to the sauna and jumped into the pool. For me there is just nothing better than being active outside in the morning and relaxing in a warm room inside in the evening. So if you are looking for a perfect combination of sports and relaxing the Tauern Spa Hotel is just perfect for you!

Day 3: Skiing on the Schmittenhöhe

The next morning we set out on the Schmittenhöhe, a mountain with even better views and great ski slopes as well. Here you can go skiing from November to mid April. Here you will find slopes for all different kind of levels: from blue, easy slopes to red, demanding slopes and black, clearly adventurous slopes. Schmittenhöhe has it all! Line was able to practice on the blue slopes, that where going down from the very top to the bottom of the valley.

I instead took the red and black slopes of course and really worked off my energy. Schmittenhöhe really offers a huge variety of different slopes so you can easily go skiing here for several days, going down slopes you’ve never been on before every day.

If you need a break in between I can recommend you the Breiteck Alm. This hut is still very rustic, the food typical Austrian and the ingredients used come from the region. On the cozy terrace you can even enjoy the sun warming your face, if the weather is nice, and the amazing view of the surrounding mountains.

Tip: Take a look at the whole ski area of Zell am See-Kaprun here!

Relaxing next to the fireplace and lovely food at Tirolerhof

Line and I spent the whole morning on Schmittenhöhe again and just got back down in the afternoon. This time we didn’t relax in the spa for the rest of the day but very cozy in front of the warming fireplace of Tirolerhof in Zell am See. We had checked into this hotel in the morning and stayed here for the next days.

The Tirolerhof is very cozy and a little bit more traditional in comparison to the Tauern Spa. We felt at home from the first second and enjoyed sitting in front of the fireplace in the lobby area almost every afternoon. The staff are really very nice and from Tirolerhof you are in downtown of Zell am See within 2 minutes. And not to forget the great dinner options. Every evening you can choose from a three to four course menu. So if you like it cozy and would like to enjoy a great dinner, Tirolerhof is where you should check in.

Day 4: Mountain summit climbing with ice and snow!

On day 4 a very special and much more extreme adventure was waiting for us: climbing up to the top of Kitzsteinhorn! We had to get up earlier than the last days, the alarm went off at half past 6. At 8 we met up with Markus from the company Bergführer Zell am See-Kaprun at the valley station of Gletscherjet 1 to take us up to 3029 meter where the mountain station was. There we set out on the real adventure: climbing 200 meters across snow and ice and with an immense gradient.

Markus had brought the right equipment for us and so we put on the climbing irons and helmets and took the ice pick in one hand. Markus provided us with a few tipps and off we went! The beginning was already pretty steep but since we had our climbing irons we didn’t slip away on snow and ice. Additionally we could hang on a the metal rope which made the ascent a little easier – we could really feel it in our calves soon!

These ropes where also very useful for Markus to further secure us. Especially for Line this was a good thing because she actually is afraid of heights and already didn’t enjoy the gondola ride to the top that much. But the amazing views we had in-between encouraged not only her but also all of us to continue climbing even though it was very exhausting.

Just before the real mountaintop we reached a sort of natural window where we stopped for a little break and enjoyed the fantastic view. Once you’ve climbed up there, you never get over the breathtaking view you have from there! But still we had 20 more meters to climb up, very close to the edge, which pushed our adrenalin even higher.

And then we had made it to the top and the view you have from 3.229 meters can barely be put into words – amazing! Just a mind-blowing view! All the exertion and overcoming your fears to make it to this spot pays off. I think I have never seen such a stunning mountain panorama. Especially in winter the snow covered mountains and clear blue sky just take your breath away!

We then had some warming tea and started our decent to the summit station afterwards. I can’t really decide if climbing up or down felt more exhausting. While going up you can really feel it in your calves, your thighs will be strained when going down. At the end we had to make our way through deep snow which was really fun. And once you’re back down again there is no better feeling than meeting a challenge and outgrowing thereby!

I can only recommend you to try climbing to the summit once. If you’re in Zell am See-Kaprun, just give Markus a call to take you up there. Only if you are already experienced enough you can go by yourself and of course only if you have the right equipment. Otherwise it’s just too dangerous! We definitely had a blast and felt totally safe with Markus as our guide. And if Line and I can make it, you can make it too!

The average time to climb up to the top is one to one and a half hours and the same time for the decent. In winter the first gondola goes up at 8.45 am so you can start at 9 am. And no matter when you dare to do it, if in summer or winter, a stunning view is granted!

Day 5: City stroll through Zell am See

After this extreme adventure it was time for one day of relaxing and a little tour through the city Zell am See. It is indeed not very big, but that’s why the center and the old town are even nicer. Especially the lake is perfect for a little or longer walk. Depending on the the weather the view can be totally different: one time you can spot the other side of the bank and the mountains are reflected in the lake, while another time the atmosphere is mystic and you can only see a few meters further because the lake is covered with thick fog.

If you then got a little hungry I can recommend you Villa Crazy Daisy. Especially the pizzas are great here. If you’re not starving, I advise you to take a small one because the regular ones are huge! In the evening you can then chill out at the gin house and try your way through the 530 different gins that make the Ginhouse one of the biggest collections of gin in the world.

Day 6: Ski tour to Ronachkopf

On the next day we had to get active again and went on a ski tour up to the Ronachkopf. I have never done such a ski tour before but that wasn’t an issue at all. Our Guide Heli from the Alpin-Skischule in Kaprun told us briefly how „hiking on skis“ works and off we went with our rented ski equipment.

For these kind of ski tours you actually need a different equipment than for skiing itself. The ski boots are more flexible and not that stiff like usual ski boots to enable more movement with your feet. You basically need to walk with these boots. Additionally a sort of fur is fixed beneath the skis to support them and make sure you don’t slip on snow and ice when walking up.

The tour took us about an hour and even though this sport is slower and less adventurous I sweat a lot. This is because you need to really put strength in your legs and butt to walk up a mountain in skis. The tour up to Ronachkopf is ideal for beginners though. When we had finally made it to the top we took a break at the cozy Enzianhütte. If you make it there definitely order the Bauernsalat! It’s not on the menu, but a traditional dish that is made on request: salad, fried potatoes, bacon and fried eggs – so yummy and exactly what you need after an exhausting ski tour!

Afterwards you can then remove the fur from your skis and ski down like you would usually do it. We weren’t that lucky though because the rain during the night before had melted the snow and so we conveniently drove back down by car.

Tag 7: Snowy horse ride on Icelandic horses and paragliding from Schmittenhöhe!

Our last day was again packed with adventures. Right after breakfast we drove to the Porsche Reitclub in Zell am See. Here you can go on rides with good Icelandic horses that are also suitable for beginners, no matter what season. One hour is 16 € and they will take you out in the beautiful nature reserve at the south bank of the Zeller lake or the riding path network of the Europe sport region Zell am See-Kaprun.

I took a ride on little Speedy and after 15 minutes warm up with walking on snowy paths it was time for our first canter through the snow. That was amazing! We galloped a pretty long distance and my Icelandic horse Speedy was so good and fine to ride. We did a canter on that path a couple of times back and fourth until it was time to head back to the stable. I have to admit I enjoy riding in winter and doing a canter through the snow more than riding in the summer and even Line as a professional horse rider really had fun!

If you’re up for a ride in Zell am See-Kaprun I can really recommend you the Porsche Reitclub. The horses are easy to ride and you can really rely on them.

After our fun ride we went back to Tirolerhof to change our clothes and then headed to the valley station of the TrassXpress at the bottom of Schmittenhöhe. Here Lois and Tom, our tandem partners for the paragliding flight, had been waiting for us. On our last day we were definitely seeking for pure thrills!

This time we drove up to Schmittenhöhe with a Porsche. Ok, almost. But in a new cabin of the old Schmittenhöhe cableway, which was had been designed by the Porsche Design studio in Zell am See. Having arrived on the top of the mountain Lois and Tom equipped us with our emergency parachutes and spread the big parachutes on a wide empty snowy area.

I hooked on Lois, Line on Tom, started to run and was hovering in the air – what an amazing feeling! I had already done paragliding once in South Tirol over the dolomites in summer and once in Cape Town, but this third flight was definitely the best by far. We were up in the air for at least half an hour and the view during the flight was again just mind-blowing!

Zell am See was again covered by thick fog on that day and almost invisible, but above us there was a clear blue sky – a stunning contrast! Lois let me take over guiding the parachute a couple of times which was really cool. Additionally we did some sharp turns that made me feel like I’m in a roller coaster but just up in the air and without the safe ground under my feet.

If you’re in Zell am See-Kaprun you should really do a paragliding flight. It’s so much fun, gives you an adrenalin rush and is very relaxed on the other hand. And the views over the mountains and valleys, just amazing! You can choose between a super panorama flight and thermal flight. The first one is about 15-30 minutes, costs 120 € for one person and 220 € for two like for Line and me. If you choose the thermic flight you use the thermal in the air and fly a little higher. This flight is 160 € for one person. It’s definitely worth the money since you can enjoy even nicer views and the flight is even longer with 45-60 minutes.

Zell am See-Kaprun: The perfect area for winter adventures!

Zell am See-Kaprun is really awesome for all sorts of winter adventures: the Kitzsteinhorn and Schmittenhöhe are perfect for skiing and snowboarding but also for first attempts with freeride skiing. Thanks to all the gondolas you don’t have to stand in line very long and the huge variety of slopes doesn’t make you get bored whether you’re a beginner or pro.

Beside skiing you can also do guided ski tours or snowshoe hikes. For even more adventure go for a ride in the snow and for the ultimate adrenalin rush climb up the summit of the Kitzsteinhorn through ice and snow. Once you’ve made it there the view is just breathtaking and you will have the ultimate feeling of happiness! If you prefer it a little relaxed but also want to enjoy a great view go paragliding from Schmittenhöhe.

The best place to relax after all these adventures is the Tauern Spa while you can chill out at a cozy fireplace at Tirolerhof and enjoy a lovely meal.

This was definitely not my last time in wonderful Zell am See-Kaprun. I definitely also have to come back in summer!

Have you been to Zell am See-Kaprun? Which are your favourite things to do in the area?

Sebastian Canaves
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