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The inside guide to Salzburg for skiers

Arguably the world’s most beautiful ski hub city, Salzburg features mountain-backed streets, twin cathedrals, gilded bars and cosy restaurants, while the sounds of local boy Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are never far away.

By Nick Dalton
Published 5 Feb 2021, 17:00 GMT
Salzburg is a city that really comes into its own in winter, barely an hour’s drive from ...

Salzburg is a city that really comes into its own in winter, barely an hour’s drive from dozens of ski resorts.

Photograph by AWL Images

As the birthplace of Mozart, this stately city on the northern edge of the Austrian Alps is revered year-round, but it comes into its own in winter. Not only is Salzburg barely an hour’s drive from dozens of ski resorts, including Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn and much smaller, lesser-known gems like gorgeous Hochkönig, but this is a ski hub city that’s well worth pausing in for a quick serving of stellar sights. Not to be missed is the hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Mozart’s Birthplace and mozart residence museums.

While there’s plenty of traditional-style beer quaffing to be had — try 17th-century Augustiner Bräustübl, Austria’s biggest tavern, a warren of halls where the beer is served in stone mugs — apres ski is rather different. Case in point: Hangar-7. Housing the transport collection of Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, this futuristic, airfoil-shaped building is also home to Ikarus restaurant, headed up by a different, globally renowned chef each month, and a Champagne bar dangling from the roof.

If you prefer your cocktails complemented by a Mozart string quartet, head to Mirabell Palace’s Marble Hall, where informal recitals come complete with a drinks trolley. It’s the best music in town, unless you fancy swapping your bobble hat for a bow tie, in which case, hit town during concert-packed Mozart Week (held over the composer's birthday, 27 January, each year).  

The quiet streets across the river from the old town are home to reasonably priced hotels. Grandiose riverfront Hotel Sacher Salzburg hits new heights this autumn with its recently built rooftop Sky Suite. Or just pop in and order the hotel’s famed chocolate and apricot Sachertorte, which will be delivered by a frock-coated bellboy on an e-scooter.

The Saalbach ski area has almost 170miles of groomed pistes. 

Photograph by AWL Images

The skiing

The Salzburg region offers a symphony of options for skiers, from day trips and a week of serious downhilling to a ski/city twin break, with Ski amadé stealing the show. Five areas are included on its one lift pass: Salzburger Sportwelt (big, perfect for intermediates), Schladming-Dachstein (lively town, glacier skiing), Gastein (set around spa town Bad Gastein), Hochkönig (easy-going slopes, the lofty High King Mountain ski area), and Grossarltal (cosy, suits youngsters). In total, 475 miles of piste are on offer.

Best for easy outings, Snow Space Salzburg has a free shuttle bus that connects to several cities, as well as the village of Flachau, which is lift-linked to Wagrain. New this season, the mountain ridge-hugging Panorama Link gondola takes visitors to previously standalone Zauchensee/Flachauwinkl.

And there’s plenty more, including Zell am See, a lakeside town, and the new (last season) 3K K-onnection cable-car, connecting neighbouring Kaprun to the heights of the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier. Obertauern, one of Austria’s most snow-sure ski towns, immortalised by the Beatles movie Help!, has pistes up to 7,588ft, while Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn links four resorts in one of Austria’s biggest ski areas (170 miles of slopes), including a day-long valley loop.  

Don’t miss Untersberg, a dizzying cable-car that heads up a city-suburb mountain for a five-mile off-piste path down.

Beyond the pistes

Salzburg has a sackful of Christmas markets — there’s a big one outside Salzburg cathedral but many others lead a snowy trail through the streets. The city hills — Mönchsberg one side of the river, Kapuzinerberg the other — offer winter hikes that are never too far from a cafe or bar.

Ski amadé has 450 miles of cross-country tracks, including Dachstein, the world’s longest glacier trail (10 miles) and Salzburger Sportwelt’s 37-mile Tauern-Loipe, which connects six resorts. It also has 28 toboggan runs, with plenty more elsewhere, almost all with bars within reach, where warming glühwein is a sure thing, often with food. These include Gasthof Kronreith, set above Hochkönig’s Maria Alm, where you can combine dinner with a mile-long run down.

Hochkönig also unites skiing and food on Culinary Königstours. These include Home Cooking, a three-course lunch across three huts and six peaks.

There’s fun for all ages with snowparks for zooming around on either skis or snowboard. Showshoeing is everywhere — sample the views from Loosbühelalm, almost 6,000ft up in Grossarl. Far faster (80mph) is Leogang’s Flying Fox XXL, a mile-long zip-wire with a Superman-style harness.

For something more soothing, the Gastein Valley is a wonderland of warming waters, whether at Felsentherme, an indoor hot pool carved into the rock with open-air hot springs, or Alpentherme, a collection of water parks, including one for families with warm waterslides.  

Hotel Sacher has an enviable location, situated right on the banks of the Salzach River.

Photograph by Saalbach Tourist Office

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The ski run
I love those in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee for their length and breadth, like the charming mile-long piste from Rosskopf to Zauchensee, which offers plenty of space for carving. 

The mountain restaurant: Gipfel 
The highest place to eat in SalzburgerLand is 9,937ft up on Kaprun’s Kitzsteinhorn glacier. Gipfel Restaurant offers award-winning food, from simple grilled sausages to game stew, and epic views of Austria’s tallest peaks.

The apres ski: Dampfkessel 
Located on the sunniest spot in Flachau, this rustic open-air party bar is the place to dance from mid-afternoon onwards. But my tip is to go in the morning for a breakfast of ham and eggs.

The view: Obertauern
There’s nothing like seeing the Gamsleiten 2 chairlift heading to the area’s highest point on a landmark peak – take a photo through the #loveobertauern frame at the top of the Schaidberg lift.

The restaurant: Gasthaus Zwettler’s
Based in Salzburg’s old town, this serves traditional cuisine, including Salzburger nockerl, a divine dessert souffle. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the European ski season. For the latest advice, visit

Published in the Winter Sports 2020 guide, distributed with the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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