From the snow-sure slopes of Zauchensee to the pretty village of Altenmarkt, this must rank as one of Austria's "hidden treasures" of skiing as far as the British market is concerned. This part of the Ski Amade region is vast, has pistes to suit all levels of experience and a snow record possibly unequalled in Austria.
The 2008-09 winter season should commence early in December, usually when there is a solid covering on the pastures which make up the vast majority of the slopes in this area and skiers can look forward to using the 860km of pistes served by 270 lifts. There are modern gondolas, modern chair lifts and numerous links to neighbouring ski villages such as Flachau, Flachauwinkl, Kleinarl and Wagrain. You can even enjoy a day-long skiing adventure as far as Alpendorf but you should be fit to attempt this long excursion.
Salzburg Super Ski Card
This offers over 2,200km of freedom! It is accepted in all of the 23 major ski regions of the SalzburgerLand and neighbouring areas. You can take advantage of season passes or you pick-the-day options available between November 2008 - May 3, 2009 so you can get out and ski whenever the mood takes you. You can saves bunches of money when compared to individual day passes and you can enjoy passing throuigh lift turnstiles using the very latest hands-free technology.
Altenmarkt is the home town of World Cup Downhill super-star - Michael Walchhofer. If the resort can produce such a star, it must surely be good enough for British enthusiasts!
Altenmarkt-Zauchensee is in Salzburgerland and lies about 40 minutes drive south of Salzburg city. It will take you about 11 hours by car from Calais to reach the resort via excellent motorways through Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany (all toll-free) but remember to obtain your Austrian vignette! This is available at the border. Salzburg airport is served by Ryanair from Stansted.
Motorists will have to carry snow chains but will probably not require them unless they venture out on a snowy morning from Altenmarkt to the main ski base station at Zauchensee, 8 miles up a wonderful pine-forest road where ski lifts head off in all directions. Do not worry about parking, there is a covered underground multi-level car park as well as a large outside area.
Altenmarkt has its own skiing area without enthusiasts having to go up to Zauchensee. It is linked across to Radstadt with pistes up to 1700m and here is guaranteed snow throughout the winter since the installation of numerous snow cannons for when winters are "not as severe as normal". The areas is great for families with slopes suitable for children and experts alike and there are plenty of mountain huts serving hot chocolate, snacks or meals full of flavour and local cuisine.
Zauchensee is the "world cup" centre with 4* hotels directly on the slopes. So a few minutes walk from the front or back door and you are on open of the numerous lifts. Slopes here rise to 2,188m which enables the World Cup organisers to stage great downhill events.
The lead up to Christmas in Altenmarkt-Zauchensee is a great time to be on holiday. The village streets are festooned with white lights with shop windows displays a wide array of colour. There are musicians and signers and a torchlight procession moves through the virgin-white landscape to re-live traditional customs. Enjoy the aroma of roasting chesnuts, mulled wines and aromatic Christmas pastries but if you cannot make Christmas, the visitor will find plenty to do and enjoy throughout the whole winter season.
In January there is the Snow and Ice Festival. There is also a race circuit where you can watch the experts putting their vehicles through an exacting course. There are also torch-lit descents at Zauchensee staged by the local ski school instructors (especially at New Year) with live outdoor concerts
The Worldcup Ladies and Junior World Champion ships are staged at Zauchensee in both January and March with Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom and Slalom events.
The village of Altenmarkt is picturesque and throughout the winter the resort's and streets and houses twinkle with magical fairly lights. The village has its own skiing - located on the HoBi mountain which links across to Radstadt. From each side of the mountain, lifts take you to the mid-station where modern high-speed detachable chair lifts whisk you quickly to the summit. On the Radstadt side there is a new gondola which takes you to the mid-station much faster than the old two-seater chair. Here the snow is extremely well groomed and the slopes are quiet. You can spend an enjoyable week's skiing not going anywhere else, but the area has such a wealth of slopes to try, you would be silly not to venture further.
Altenmarkt-Zauchensee has a wide choice of hotels from small pensions to 4* accommodation in hotels with their own swimming pools. Local food is excellent, as is the night life and apres ski which includes floodlit skiing, curling and horse-drawn sleigh rides. There is also a floodlit toboggan run from a great mountain hut which provides great music and local beer!
One hotel/pension highly recommended is the Lug Ins Land www.schenk-luginsland.com owned and run by master-chef Heinz Schenk and his Welsh-born wife, Anita. You are immediately welcomed upon arrival, breakfast is a large buffet, afternoon tea/coffee with homemade cakes is a must (it is included in the price and the three-course dinner and wine cellar will leave you more than satisfied).. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The local tourist office can be contacted by tel (0043 6452 5511),by website or by e-mail address. As Altenmarkt is the home of the Atomic Ski Factory, you will get the very best of skis and boots from the local sports shops.
Altenmarkt-Zauchensee is known as the "snow-hole" of Austria. Indeed, do not be fooled by the 856m height of the village. There is usually snow in the village streets from December through to late March/April.
The 2008-09 season opens officially early December and runs through to late April. However, lifts are open at weekends before the official "start date" if there is plenty of early snow.
Please visit the Salzburgerland's Website.