All Ziller, No Filler
Austria’s Zillertal (Ziller Valley) is well known to many British skiers because of hard-partying Mayrhofen and the year-round glacier skiing at Hintertux. But straddling the regional border between Tirol and Salzburgerland is the sprawling Zillertal Arena, which is overlooked by those with their sights set on the resorts further up the valley. But this shouldn’t necessarily be the case, according to Chris Taine, our resident Austrophile.
Blink and you’d miss it. Driving south on Highway #169, the twin gondolas – Karspitzbahn and Rosenalmbahn – ascend fairly unspectacularly up the mountainside from a sprawling asphalt parking lot. Courchevel it definitely ain’t. No ski-in, ski-out accommodation (in fact there’s no ski run down to the valley), there’s nothing at all to suggest that a world-class resort is hidden away at the top of these gondolas, out of sight of the rapidly passing traffic.
In the geographic centre of the Zillertal, Zell am Ziller easily goes unnoticed. It’s beyond the reach of hordes of Munich daytrippers who head to Hochzillertal, off the radar of freeriders bound for Hochfügen, and simply unknown to Brits drawn to big and brash Mayrhofen. But the twin gondolas, which are around a mile from the pretty village of Zell, actually access the largest connected ski area in the entire valley. This is a fact not lost on Dutch visitors, who seem to vastly outnumber any other nationality by a substantial margin.
Though it does pain me slightly to share this around, here are 7 reasons why Zillertal Arena deserves a place on the shortlist for your next ski trip.
While quality does vary, Austria is generally a place where you can expect ‘bang for your buck’ when it comes to food and drink. And nowhere delivers more ‘bang’ than Rosi’s Schnitzelhütte. Halfway down the Sportabfahrt, the signature XXL Wiener Schnitzel puts all other schnitzels to shame. You can tackle it on your own, but from experience it can easily feed 2-3. Plus, Weissbier was basically invented to wash down hearty, meaty dishes like this!
2. Kapauns doublechair
Ahh… the joys of the fixed-grip chairlift. Each season resorts across Europe upgrade their lift infrastructure, each one appears as if it’s trying to ‘outpimp’ the last. But sometimes, lifts are best left as they are. Nothing like an old, slow, temperamental fixed-grip chair to keep away the masses. The Kapauns chair is a prime example, and while the runs are short, the off-piste terrain is low-angle, well above 2000m, and accessed via a short traverse from the top station. If the snowpack is stable and you deem it safe, longer runs are possible from the top of the ridge. A decent base layer is needed to cover the sharky rocks, but once it’s filled it, the terrain here is phenomenal.
3. Backcountry runs into the Krummbachtal
The Krimml-X-Press chairlift provides the connection between Zell and neighbouring Gerlos, where the terrain is family-friendly, the snowpark perfectly maincured, and the views of the Zillertaler Alps magnificent. Gerlos, or more specifically the 2264m Isskogel, is also the starting point for a variety of descents that lead down into the Krummbachtal. The top section is wide open, with both steeper and gentler sections, while the bottom requires navigating through trees down to the valley floor. After more than 700m of vertical descent, you can recharge at the rustic Krummbachalm with a few fellow powderhounds, before skating along the the snow-covered path back to the lifts.
5. Half a chicken at the Larmachalm
If Schnitzel’s not your bag, the next best bet in the Zillertal Arena is the Larmachalm, where the rotisserie chickens are freshly grilled and served half at a time. To top it off, the chickens are served from the sun terrace, which has stunning views towards Austria’s highest mountains. The food from the self-service restaurant is only mediocre, so this one’s really worth the effort for a serious meat-eater.
6. On and off piste around Königsleitenspitze
While the area around the Kreuzjoch (connecting Zell and Gerlos) has the best off piste skiing for expert (and highly knowledgeable) freeriders, the expansive area around the 2315m Königsleitenspitze offers the perfect playground for intermediate and advanced off piste skiers. The area around the Falschbach gondola is wide open, and you’re never far from the pistes, while on the opposite side the terrain accessed from the Gipfelbahn gondola is more featured, funnelling into playful gullies and powderfields. Off piste knowledge is still a must, but here’s it’s relatively accessible and there are many slopes with gentle gradients.
7. Beer with a view
Back on the Zillertal side, one of the (admittedly few) drawbacks is that there’s no ski-out to the valley. For those based in Zell am Ziller, that means a download, followed by a quick drive or bus ride. Although, many end up in the standard apres-ski pumping out cheesy music a snowball throw from the lift station. I’m not quite sure what the appeal of a smoky, loud apres bar in the middle of a car park is, given that you can stay up on the mountain and enjoy a beer, while others queue for the gondola. From the Kreithütte, you can watch the sun dip behind the mountains on the western side of the Ziller Valley (which happens to be Mayrhofen), before making the last few turns down to the Wiesenalm and an easy ride down.
Zillertal Arena is covered by the Tirol Snow Card – 87 ski areas, 1100 lifts and 4000km of pistes.