The Skiing 80%
Value for Money 69%
The 270km area puts Saalbach in ninth position on the world charts and, now that Fieberbrunn is linked, this gives the mainly intermediate area a lot more off-piste opportunities. Saalbach also has a well-justified reputation for its apres-ski scene.
Bernard Niederseer was born in Saalbach and has lived here for the last 30 years, apart from the five years when he was studying in Innsbruck. He has been a professional skier, and today he works in marketing for the lift company with a special focus on biking and freeriding. He also runs his own youth-hostel/guest house, the Steinachhof, in Saalbach.
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
I started skiing at around five years old, when I went to my first ski class in Saalbach. I have lived here nearly all my life and still feel that Saalbach has a great atmosphere. You can spend a relaxing winter holiday here, but you can also challenge yourself and party hard – that’s what makes Saalbach is so unbelievable varied. Although its is an international ski resort, Saalbach remains a little village with really likeable locals.
Set in a long, forested valley called the Glemmtal, Saalbach and Hinterglemm are girdled by a circuit of steepish, intermediate-friendly pistes, and has now been linked to the Tirolean resort of Fieberbrunn to create a total 270km of piste.
Fieberbrunn is more of a family resort in comparison, with some excellent freeriding that adds to the overall terrain in a very beneficial way. The resort is one of the venues for the Swatch Freeride World Tour in March.
When the snow’s good, the valley makes a great destination for an energetic group of skiers who want to ski pistes all day and party hard all night – in some respects, better than the classic party towns of Verbier and St Anton, because the skiing is a lot less demanding.
It’s not easy, exactly – many people find the reds and blues here steeper than in other resorts. But you don’t have to be able to tackle powder or moguls to get the best of it.
The only real problem can be the altitude. Almost all the skiing is below 2000m. While that makes for a softer, prettier landscape than the high-Alpine resorts, it also makes the snow-cover less reliable.
Guide to the Mountain
My favourite piste skiing in Saalbach is the area around Hochalm peak, which is perfect for carving. The best spot for catching the sunset is in the Kohlmais area. If you want to challenge yourself, I recommend the black pistes on the Zwölferkogel peak’s north face or the Schattberg peak’s north descent.
Overall, the skiing in Saalbach is ideal for adventurous intermediates who want to feel that they are travelling somewhere each day rather than skiing the same stretch of mountainside over and over again. Beginners are also well catered for, with nursery slopes in both villages.
The main circuit is made up of blue and red-rated pistes that are a little steeper than average, and there are a few proper blacks too – notably from the top of the 2020 Schattberg Ost back into Saalbach.
Called the Nordabfahrt, it drops through 1000 vertical metres and faces north (so holds its snow well). It’s wide and usually groomed too, and when it’s not icy it’s the perfect place to build your confidence on something a little steeper than normal. By the end of week’s holiday here, most intermediates should be skiing it comfortably.
You can ski the circuit in both directions, and unlike a lot of other ski circuits, such as the Sella Ronda in Italy, you don’t have to complete the full tour if you run out of steam. Just descend to the valley floor and hop on a free ski-bus home.
What’s more, few areas in Austria can match the modern lift system, which is being continuously upgraded. This includes the Tirol-S 10-seater gondola to Fieberbrunn in Tirol, which has created a giant 270km ski circus from the four medium-sized resorts – ideal for intermediates looking to put big mileage beneath their feet each day. A piste of 3.5km with a vertical of 780m was consequently created, with top-to-bottom snowmaking. Two gondolas access the ski area from the Fieberbrunn valley.
Those who like skiing fast on steepish pistes will love it
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Well, if you luck into a good, cold, snowy winter, and you’re not looking for oodles of off-piste, you’ll have a ball. But if it’s warm and sunny, you’ll find that the slopes on the northern side of this long valley (which face south), degrade rapidly.
So if you’re looking for really good-quality on-piste skiing, then make sure you come in the middle of winter, or book your holiday at the last minute, when you know the snow will be good.
Oh yes, and don’t forget to make the detour down to the village of Leogang, in the next valley north of Saalbach: the runs are north-facing, so they hold their snow well, and they’re much quieter than the main circuit.
As with everything, the early bird catches the worm. It’s really one of the most impressive things to be the first skier on the slopes, so I would recommend taking the first lift at 8.30am – or 8.00am in the spring. If temperatures are getting warmer, start on south-facing slopes in the morning and change after midday to the nort-h or west-facing areas to benefit from the best slope conditions possible.
Some pretty good descents
When the snow is good, there are nice powder runs above the tree-line right along the valley – and some very pretty descents into the valley (you’ll need a guide to show you where they are). My favourite descents are the area around the Wildseeloder peak or the Hochhörndlerspitze peak. There are also cool spots on the Schattberg, especially at the north and west face.
But until recently this wasn’t a hard-core off-pisters’ destination. However with the addition of Fieberbrunn things improved dramatically, adding some impressive terrain to the area around the Wildseeloder. Due to the new lift connection there is a totally new area for freeriding on the north faces of Hochalm and the Reiterkogel peak.
Freestylers have a choice of a terrain park immediately above Hinterglemm and a second, better park above Leogang. There’s also a skicross course above the village of Vorderglemm. These provide interest when the powder has gone. So more competent freestylers will enjoy themselves, whatever the weather. Fieberbrunn has a half-pipe that is floodlit at night.
New for the 2016-17 season is the 12er Express gondola in Hinterglemm, which connects the Zwoelferkogelbahn with the area beneath the base station of the Westgipfelbahn. The Oberschwarzachlift also upgrades to a double button-lift.
Where to Learn
Hinterglemm is slightly better suited to beginners than Saalbach, with a bigger novice area set safely away from the main slopes. Saalbach’s nursery slopes are located right by the main street. Fieberbrunn has two nursery slopes in the valley and one up on the mountain at Streubödenalm.
Saalbach has half a dozen competing schools, while Hinterglemm has two and the hamlet of Vorderglemm just one. The continued survival of all of them gives an indication of the popularity of the Glemmtal during the main holiday period.
In Saalbach a reader recommends Snow Academy: “My children had a fantastic time and learned to ski with the Snow Academy who were really good, and had them up the mountain on the second day. They had three days of ski school and were then good enough to ski with us the rest of the week”. Others include easySki, Zink, Board (snowboarding only), and Ski School Saalbach: “Highly recommended for instruction and guides,” said one reporter.
In Hinterglemm, there’s Activ, and Snow and Fun which has an enduring reputation. Off-piste guiding is available through Sepp Mitterer (+43 664 2420236). In Vorderglemm you can take lessons with Skischule Heugenhauser.
As Saalbach is one of the partying capitals of the Alps, it’s not really a place to bring small children. Nevertheless, in Hinterglemm you will find creches at both Hotel Lengauerhof and Hotel Glemmtalerhof.
In family-friendly Fieberbrunn there is organised childcare in five hotels, including Austria Trend Alpine Resort, Family Hotel Schloss Rosenegg and Sporthotel Fontana. Hotel Tierwarthof contains Kinderwelt, which organises actives for all ages – from babies to teenagers. Hotel Alte Post runs a children’s programme on weekdays.
Other activities for families in the area include snowshoe hiking (with special tracks in Leogang), paragliding, a designated toboggan run, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and 80km of cross-country loipe. The bobsleigh track is reached via the Asitz cable-car and is open on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Where to Stay
One thing before we start. Saalbach town centre is compact, but the outskirts of both Saalbach and Hinterglemm straggle the main road along the valley. They’re well served by the skibus but, all the same, all that shuttling about to get to and from the lifts during the day – and in and out of town at night is going to be a pain. If you do stay out of the centre, make sure that fact is reflected in the price.
The peaceful village of Fieberbrunn is the better bet for a family holiday. It’s away from the party atmosphere of Saalbach and Hinterglemm, and five of its hotels offer childcare.
Convenient for the lifts
Art-Hotel Kristiana is 200m from the centre and lifts. The family-run hotel has typically Tirolean public rooms, a modern spa, and its rooms are lifted by an interesting modern art collection. “The most hospitable and friendly family hosts/owners you could wish for, comfortable and clean rooms, plenty of hot water and truly excellent food,” said a reporter. During March, early December and also in the summer you can join watercolour classes held in the hotel’s art studio.
Hotel eva,paradise is in the pedestrian zone and less than 100m from the lifts. It has a refreshingly modern lobby, as well as a fabulous spa and wellness area. “It was terrific, if a little pricey,” said a friend of ours who was in town recently. “The food and ambience were first class, as was the wellness centre.”
Alpinresort Sport & Spa has a super-relaxed atmosphere. “The hotel was superb, food, cleanliness, spa area and rooms couldn’t have been better,” said a reporter. Make sure you stay in one of the modern, revamped rooms. Another reader says: “We stayed in a fantastic room with Jacuzzi bath, walk-in shower, good wine rack, plasma TV, iPod docking station, hot tubs outside, and great food. I’d definitely stay there again”. The hotel is located on a quiet, private road a short walk from the Schattberg X-press lift.
Theresia Gartenhotel is situated next to the ski-lifts, slopes and the ski school meeting place. It boasts sleek public rooms on the ground floor, and a bewildering variety of rooms upstairs – the full range of recent styles of interior design in Alps is on offer here. The latest have a sharp, contemporary feel. The hotel has won awards for its use of organic produce, and is family run to a high standard. The Tripadvisor reviews are all glowing: “We have stayed at the Theresia Hotel frequently over the last 15 years. It is the family’s favourite destination,” says one.
Ski-in ski-out is Hotel Hinterhag is an attractive hotel above Saalbach that’s built from glass and reclaimed wood. The exterior style continues inside the hotel, along with paintings and sculptures by owner Evi Fersterer and other international artists. Fersterer’s Mirror Tree is focal point of the lobby.
For those looking for somewhere good value to stay, try Ski Miquel“>Chalet-Hotel Christina. It’s British-run and the rooms are comfortable (all are en suite) if not super-luxurious, with good food served at large dining tables. It would make a great place to stay for groups or for sociable couples. Or for those on the tightest budgets, you could stay at my own property, the Steinachhog Guest House right in the middle of town.
Further away, but worth it
Slightly further afield, the Alpin Juwel hotel has a Ayurveda Spa, outdoor swimming-pool and hot-tub, plus a large roof terrace. It also has a lift to the centre of Hinterglemm. Glemmtalerhof Hotel has a lovely modern design and comfortable accommodation.
Leogang is a completely separate village, sharing the ski area. The eco-hotel Forsthofalm in Leogang started life as a restaurant with rooms, but it has been transformed into an unusual hotel. Created entirely from wood – without any glue or metal, it blends perfectly into its setting. There are large, modern bedrooms and suites, a rooftop spa with outdoor pool, and two restaurants.
In Fieberbrunn there are several four-star hotels. Hotel Alte Post is in the centre with the ski bus stop nearby. It has a new wellness area with a heated outdoor-pool and three types of sauna. Hotel Grosslehen houses apartments as well as hotel rooms, has a restaurant serving organic cuisine (a children’s menu is on offer), a bar, a kids club, Stuberl with stove, and is close to the cross-country track and the toboggan run.
Austria Trend Alpine Resort has an indoor swimming-pool, wellness and fitness areas, a kid’s club for children from three years old (Monday to Friday). Its restaurant offers a children’s buffet. The slopeside Sporthotel Fontana has an indoor swimming-pool and a playroom, and offers childcare, morning exercise classes and massage. Hotel Tierwarthof is another hotel that’s recommended for families. Family Hotel Schloss Rosenegg is a converted Medieval castle that once hosted Napoleon. It was converted into a hotel in 1938 and today has bedrooms and apartments that are full of character, as well as a spa and mini club.
Where to Eat
The food is good, especially up the mountain. The Saalbach ski area now has around 70 mountain eateries, varying from proper restaurants and atmospheric mountain huts to the simplest of snack bars.
“Great, affordable mountain eating everywhere,” was how one reporter summed it up. Pfefferalm, an ancient farmhouse above Hinterglemm, is a favourite. Rosswaldhutte, situated beside the Rosswald lift, has good food and staff in traditional Austrian costume. Sportalm (+43 6541 7972), Thurner Alm, Gerstreit Alm, and Maisalm are all recommended. Goass Stall (meaning ‘goat shed’) serves hearty local dishes.
It receives rave reviews on Tripadvisor: “Wiener Schnitzel the size of your face and very tasty Tiroler Grostl. They also do a great Gluhwein and have a huge covered area outside with disco lights and music,” was one report. Bäckstätt Stall is a smart eatery at the foot of the slopes, open from 10am to 9pm daily.
Bergstadl in the Hinterglemm area is run by Trixi and Sepp who serve all the usual traditional Austrian fare – such as Apfel Strudel and Kaiserschmarrn – with a big smile.
For something a little different from the traditional mountain hut try the new Hendl Fischerei in the Leogang part of the ski area. The mainly glass building has a very funky wood and glass interior. The food is mainly barbecued meat and smoked fish served on wooden plates, or the house speciality of Flammkuchen – which looks a bit like a pizza base topped either with bacon and leeks, beef strips, horseradish and dried tomatoes, a vegetarian version with goats cheese, nuts, honey and rocket, or the sweet version with berries or apple and cinnamon. You can stay here, too, if you like the idea of being up the mountain and straight onto the slopes each day.
Fieberbrunn has 10 mountain restaurants in its immediate area, including the popular Wildalpgatterl, which uses mainly regional produce and traditional regional recipes. The other mountain eateries include the traditional Larchfilzhochalm and Streubodenalm. At Ferchlstadl, the chef provides regional specialties and national delicacies with a creative twist, whilst Hochhorndlhutte specialises in homemade cakes.
Some fabulous places to dine
Most of the restaurants are in the hotels, and there are some good ones here. In Saalbach, La Trattoria Italiana (pizzas from a beechwood oven) and Vitrine (a vegan eatery) are both in the Alpenhotel, and make a change from traditional Austrian mountain fare. Del Rossi is a popular place for pizzas and steaks.
Seppi’s restaurant, up in the piste-side Art & Ski Hotel Hinterhag, serves delicious cuisine in warm woody surroundings. The menu includes dishes such as salmon marinated in fresh herbs, pasta with artichokes, sundried tomatoes and olives. Also try the crown of lamb, which is served with polenta, dried grapes and a light mint sauce.
In Hinterglemm we recommend the Fuhrmannstube in Hotel Zur Dorfschmiede. Restaurant Kendler, in the hotel of the same name, has a rustic atmosphere; signature dishes include roast venison and sole. The Heurigenstube restaurant in Hotel Salzburg serves ‘balanced, aromatic and light’ five-course dinners and has a weekly themed buffet such as a Pinzgau Farm Buffet, Italian or Mexican.
Sinnreich at the Forsthofalm hotel in Leogang serves gourmet food in modern minimalist surroundings. The fabulous regional pudding, Salzburger Nockerl (a sweet soufflé) is a speciality.
There are 18 restaurants in Fieberbrunn village; especially recommended are the ones in Berggasthof Wildalpgatterl and Hotel Alte Post (both offer Tirolean cuisine), and Hotel Gasthof Grosslehen which uses regional ingredients from its own farm.
Where to Party
At least half the point of coming here is to get stuck into the nightlife. “Saalbach definitely parties hard, people were still staggering around in ski boots late into the evening,” said a recent reporter.
You don’t have to look hard to find where the action is. Late afternoon comes to alcoholic life in Hinterhagalm – on the south-facing slopes immediately above Saalbach. Then it’s all down to Bauer’s Schialm by the church at the bottom of the pistes, and Veltins (“basically a small tumbledown shack”).
It’s equally noisy at the rustic Goass Stall (“Lively atmosphere and service is quick. Loved the guy in the goat costume coming round with flyers”) and Hexenhäusl in Hinterglemm. The snow bar outside Hotel zur Dorfschmiede is always busy as the lift closes.
Later on, attention in Saalbach focuses on The Alibi Bar and the Kuhstall Bar. Bobby’s Pub is lively and Zum Turm (+43 6541 8668) is a converted jail. In Hinterglemm the Glemmerkeller, Road King and Tanzhimmel (+43 6541 6497) attract the late-night crowd. Serious party people will also be interested in the annual Rave on Snow event which is held in mid-December, with 70 DJs and live acts.
The Nightliner bus service operates along the valley road between the two villages until late evening and until 2.30am on Saturday nights.
Fieberbrunn is not a party resort and has just one nightclub, D&D Tenne, and seven bars. For apres-ski with music at the foot of the slopes, try the Fontana bar. Riverhouse (+43 5354 52313) attracts a young crowd, S4 Alm has a nice woody interior, and Biwak (+43 5354 52088) is a cool bar with music. Others include the Taverna in Schlosshotel Rosenegg, and Fever Fountain Saloon (+43 5354 56257).
The resort has an adventure pool complex, a natural ice-skating rink, floodlit half-pipe and floodlit tobogganing, and offers sleigh rides and snowshoeing.
Also see our feature on Saalbach’s secret ski link.