Going off-piste in Austria

Our writer returns to her Austrian roots to rediscover Salzburgerland’s often overlooked ski region


There’s no real direct translation in English for the German word gemütlichkeit, but the sense of warmth, relaxation and friendliness it conveys is perfect for describing the experience of a ski holiday to Austria’s Salzburgerland.

An easy hour-long transfer from Salzburg airport, Salzburger Sportwelt is a tightly knit group of towns and villages linked by both road and piste — and all covered by the same Ski Amadé pass. So once you’re at a lift, you can easily ski over one mountain to the neighbouring resort and then the next one and the next one.

Unlike the purpose-built resorts of some other European ski regions, Salzburger Sportwelt — and indeed much of alpine Austria — consists of real working villages that have been here for hundreds of years, something that gives each of them a distinct charm.

Flachau is one of the biggest and most popular towns in the region. It is not only well connected to the ski network but it’s also full of restaurants, bars and apres-ski establishments — the most famous of which is not for the faint-hearted once the slopes shut.

We stayed at the Hotel Reslwirt in Flachau, which was once the oldest inn in the village. A traditional alpine hotel, it perfectly combines the rustic wood decor common in the region with modern-day facilities, not to mention an extremely comfortable bed.

The dining room sets you up for the slopes with an extensive and largely locally sourced breakfast buffet each morning then snacks in the afternoon, plus a cosy bar for those who want to socialise afterwards. For those who enjoy a sauna and steam room after a day on the slopes, there’s a well-equipped spa area in the basement too.

But one of the hotel’s major benefits, particularly for skiers and snowboarders, is its proximity to Flachau’s main ski lift Starjet I, which is about six minutes’ walk away — even in ski boots. Because while you can also while away time in the town’s shops, cafés and restaurants, the main reason to come to Salzburger Sportwelt in the winter is for skiing and snowboarding.

Flachau itself is part of the vast Snow Space Salzburg ski area, which also includes Wagrain, St Johann and the Flachauwinkl-Zauchensee ski connection — meaning that skiers have immediate access to more than 210km of slopes over 12 peaks and five valleys.

If that wasn’t enough, the Ski Amade pass covers five different regions and 760km of pistes.
One of the five largest ski regions in Austria, that also means there’s a wide variety of slopes for everyone from beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders, including two World Cup runs, world-renowned freestyle and freeride spots and state-of-the-art ski lifts. You certainly don’t take the latter for granted on days when there’s a white out.

And while plenty of ski regions might promise that there’s something for everyone, I can vouch for this personally. Having grown up in the Austrian capital Vienna, I’ve been coming here since I was a child, and this region was the site of some of my best teenage school ski trips.

My now husband learned to ski here as a beginner in his mid-thirties — an inevitable hazard of marrying someone who grew up in an alpine country — and my 70-something father still pootles around on skis at a nearby resort.

For those who do prefer something a little quieter, the broad and family-friendly slopes of neighbouring Radstadt and Altenmarkt, a short transfer or ski bus ride away from Flachau, are an absolute delight; plenty of long runs and panoramas, without ever being too crowded.

Slightly further away and tucked into the end of a valley, but still well within the same region, is Filzmoos, a picture-perfect alpine village in the foothills of the aptly named Bishopsmütze (“Bishops mitre”) peak and Dachstein glacier.

The pace of life is undoubtedly slower here compared to some of its competitors, but the 20km worth of long and quiet pistes are ideal for a decent and uninterrupted downhill run if you’re still gaining confidence on the slopes or regaining your ski legs after a long break.

It’s also particularly popular with cross-country skiers; the village hosts ten sign-posted routes stretching for a total of 48km, including the high-altitude 14km Rossbrand trail at 1,600m, which promises some of the finest panoramic views of the region.

As a bonus, the Schörgi Alm hut at the top of the Papageno gondola, and the start of the Rossbrand trail, is perfect for a hot chocolate break in the sun. Highly recommended for skiers and non-skiers alike, but remember your sunscreen.

There is plenty here for non-skiers too. Buses regularly run between the villages, the Erlebnis-Therme Amadé in Altenmarkt is great for a swim and sauna, plus there are countless walks nearby. The more adventurous can try one of the night-time or all-weather toboggan runs too.

If there’s one thing that I don’t miss from my teenage ski trips, it’s the food. While Austria prides itself on using local food produce — and more than 50 per cent of the farms in Salzburgerland alone follow ecologically sustainable methods — culinary options in the country’s more rural areas were once very limited.

Happily, that has now changed considerably, so you’ll find a much wider range of tastes and dietary requirements catered for in most restaurants, with an emphasis on local sourcing reflected in the dishes on offer.

If one place really highlights how things have improved in recent years, it’s the Lumberjack Bio-Bergrestaurant and food hall on the Kleinarl-Flachauwinkl pistes, where the stalls are organic-certified and Bio-Austria approved, and cater to flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans.

Be sure to try the Kaiserschmarrn, also known as Emperor’s Mess — a light and fluffy shredded pancake made with rum-soaked raisins and served with compote and icing sugar.

And while I loved the chance to indulge in some nostalgia (as well as some time on the slopes), one of the most memorable highlights was firmly off-piste — taking a magical horse-drawn sleigh ride through the woods surrounding Filzmoos.

As the houses faded away into the distance, the snow got higher and the forest quieter, with only the jingle of sleigh bells to disturb the quiet.

By the time we arrived at the Oberhofalm hut, cosily tucked under blankets to keep out the winter chill, the last of evening sun was setting behind the surrounding mountain peaks.

The gathering dusk made the hut somehow seem even more welcoming and by the time we left by taxi a couple of hours later, well fed on hearty Austrian fayre and warmed by Glühwein, we could only just pick out the same snowy peaks in the darkness, standing in what felt almost like a protective ring around us.

Very cosy — or sehr gemütlich, as they say here.

Getting There

Flights to Salzburg, the closest airport to Flachau, cost from £65 from Gatwick with easyJet and from £85 from Manchester with Ryanair.

Rooms at Hotel Reslwirt cost from around £100 per night B&B.

A six-day Ski Amadé lift pass costs around £320 per adult, while a three-day Learn to Ski package costs around £350 for adults.

Horse-drawn carriage rides to Hofalm cost from around £20 per person. Book via

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