In January 2020 I found a new favourite ski resort. Read this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach, Austria to find out why I rate it so highly.
As a snowboard writer I am often asked what is the best place to ski. I usually reply its being in the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
However, Saalbach and the surrounding Skicircus was so impressive it has been added to my list of top resorts. It is a fairly long and diverse list, but every resort on the list is there with good reason. And Saalbach has plenty!
Saalbach is in the Salzburger Land region of Austria which is to the east of Tirol. It can be reached in just over two hours from Innsbruck or Munich, but the closest airport is Salzburg at around 90 minutes away.
Skicircus is the ski area reached from Saalbach which also includes Hinterglemm, Leogang, Fieberbrunn and a few other small villages. There are a whopping 270 km of lift linked slopes offering huge variety.
And if for some reason that is not enough, your Alpin Card ski pass also includes nearby Zell am See and Kaprun. This increases the total to 408 km of slopes. All of which can be reached using ski lifts except Kaprun Kitzsteinhorn which is a short bus ride away.
The lifts in the Skicircus reach over 2000m and the base towns are around 1000m below providing plenty of vertical. There are a lot of blue and red slopes plus a few blacks and some exciting off piste itineraries.
There are a total of five snowparks spread around the area catering to all levels. This includes the impressive Nitro Park above Leogang. If you are into your freestyle there is a lot to get excited about.
Likewise if freeride is more your thing there is plenty to get you up in the morning. Fieberbrunn is a regular host of the Freeride World Tour so there are some serious descents for the brave. But all across the area there is varied off-piste to be enjoyed by all abilities.
We spent four days in Saalbach riding in a different area each day. There had not been any snow in Austria for a couple of weeks. However it started snowing the night before our arrival and carried on for around 48 hours.
I arrived in Saalbach from Mayrhofen by bus at around 2:30 pm and my friend arrived from Salzburg airport around the same time. So we quickly checked into the Hotel Hinterhag, got changed as fast as we could and hit the slopes.
As we did not have much time we stayed local. The Hinterhag is on the hills above Saalbach, so we snowboarded down to the Kohlmais Bahn gondola and lapped it until the lifts closed.
This route has around 800m of vertical so we took a nice blue first and then a couple of reds. It had been snowing since the night before so there was plenty of powder and we had a little play off the side of the pistes.
It was great to get some bonus runs in. You have got to love Austrian resorts for allowing you to use the next days lift pass from around 3pm the day before. We also found a route to snowboard all the way back to our hotel, which is always nice!
When we woke up bright and early the next morning it was still snowing and it looked like there would be a fair amount of powder to play in. We headed for the Bernkogel Bahn from which would take us towards Hinterglemm.
We were there not long after opening and there was untouched powder on the wide piste. So we did a run back to the bottom to lay some fresh tracks. Smiling ear to ear we headed up Bernkogel to explore further afield.
Visibility was at times pretty challenging, but there was fresh snow everywhere. The edge of the pistes often had 20-30 cm of untouched snow. Between the pistes there was up to 50 cm in places.
We spent the morning working our way up the Hinterglemm valley. This meant taking in the peaks of Reiterkogel, Hasenauer Köpfl and Reichkendlkopf finding powder wherever we went.
We enjoyed quite a few runs, including excellent off-piste, in the Reichkendlkopf area. Feeling hungry we stopped for a very nice lunch at Sonnhof near the base of the Hochalm Chair.
After lunch we headed to the other side of the valley via the Zwolfer Nordbahn which whisks you 800m up Zwolferkogel. We enjoyed a long run down to Hinterglemm before exploring runs around Schattenberg West and Schattenberg Ost.
The powder over here was still good and we had the odd patch of sunshine interspersed between snow showers. When we’d had our fill we took the long blue to Vorderglemm. It is a 1100m decent that I thoroughly recommend.
The Gondola from here takes you back over the otherside of the Valley. From the top there is a long, and at times flat, run back to the pistes we’d played in the day before.
We were both tired by now and headed straight back the hotel. According to Strava we covered 65km, much of which was off-piste and in powder. The Hotel Hinterhag spa was calling!
It snowed on and off that evening and night but the third day dawned bright and sunny. We decided to make our way over to Leogang. It took three lifts, some very nice wide slopes and fun off-piste before we reached Wildenkarkogel.
From there you still need to take another two lifts before you can start boarding down towards Leogang. This area was mainly blue runs but there is also a long fun slope. We found plenty of powder to play in between the pistes.
From the top of the Mulden chair there is a long blue piste all the way down to Leogang. It is very wide and was fairly quiet and the perfect steepness to practice eurocarves. We had loads of fun on the way down to Leogang.
After taking the Steinberg gondola back to the top we headed down the other side of Leogang slopes. It is another long piste. Again blue at the top but splitting into blue, red and some steep black slopes after the midstation.
The Asitz gondola took us back to the top and we were pretty hungry by now. We has seen signs for the Seidl Alm, a vegetarian and vegan restaurant, and my vegan snowboarding buddy was determined to visit.
Two lifts and a few runs later and we were there. I had one of the best curries I have had in a mountain restaurant. Stuffed full of veg it had a good level of spice. My mate had a vegan quinoa dish that he was very happy with.
After lunch on day three of this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach we snowboarded all the way down to Vorderglemm. After a few more runs in this area we started to head back towards Saalbach, exploring some different pistes along the way.
It had been another big day with plenty of miles travelled so we headed back to the Hinterhag.
On our final day of this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach we headed for Fieberbrunn. To get there we snowboarded down to Saalbach and took the Bernkogelbahn.
It was sunny and visibility was good so we could actually see the mountains this time. From the top of Reiterkogel we turned right following the impressive Tirol S gondola that links Saalbach/Hinterglemm with Fieberbrunn.
There is a nice itinerary run here that goes beneath the gondola. Although there were many tracks the powder was still soft and there were enough untouched sections to make it a lot of fun.
From the bottom the Tirol S goes back toward Saalbach and up towards Fieberbrunn. We didn’t realise this and got on the wrong side (note the lower entry takes you to Saalbach) heading back the way we came. Not a huge problem as we just did the same run again!
After taking the correct part of the Tirol S there are still two more chairlifts to reach the top of Fieberbrunn at 2020m. From here you can head back to the bottom of the Tirol S 1000m below or ride into town (via one short lift halfway).
We really enjoyed the runs in and around Fieberbrunn. They were fairly quiet, wide and well maintained. Plus we found good powder on a couple of the itinerary runs – 110d in particular was great.
After a couple of hours of exploring we stopped for lunch at the S4 Alm on the edge of town. It was fast food but with table service and very tasty. The goulash soup was one of the best I have had – and I eat it a lot in Austria!
We had a 3:30 pm transfer, so after lunch we started the journey back to Saalbach. The long run from the top of Fieberbrunn down to the Tirol S was a lot of fun in a warm, sunny and slushy kind of way. Be warned the cat-track towards the end can get busy.
On the way back we fitted in the itinerary run beneath the Tirol S again. Conditions were still good. We made it back to the Hinterhag Hotel about 30 mins before our transfer. Plenty of time to shower and pack!
While the slopes were incredible – some of the best I have experienced anywhere – a snowboard break is about a lot more than the mountains. So this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach would not be complete without talking about Saalbach itself.
Away from the main road through the base of the valley it is a very pretty village. Parts of the village date back to the 12th century and there is an attractive church that is over six hundred years old.
The town is full of bars and restaurants plus quite a few of souvenir shops. We ate at the hotel each night so didn’t test the restaurants ourselves but there seems to be plenty of variety.
Usually I would give the apres a test but my friend on this trip was not drinking. That said it didn’t stop me from spotting the many lively bars at the base of the Saalbach beginners slopes and in various other places.
We passed the infamous Hinterhag Alm most days at around 4 pm and there were many merry skiers enjoying the Austrian Oompah music. Johnny Depp Depp Depp…. Two out of three nights I heard my neighbours getting in at around 2 or 3 am – so there must be plenty going on!
The final section of this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach is to talk about the accommodation. We stayed at the stunning four star superior art and ski Hotel Hinterhag. It is ski in, and 5 min walk to ski out, but a 15 minute walk up from Saalbach.
The lobby of the hotel really sets the tone. There is a three story glass roofed atrium with a giant mirror tree ‘growing’ in the middle. The tree and much of the other artwork is by Evi Fersterer. But artists from around the world have contributed to the uniquely sophisticated hotel.
The spa in the basement is luxurious with a good sized pool, large sauna and a steam room. You can also book all manner of massages and beauty treatments if you wish.
My room, and by the looks of it all bedrooms, was large bright and airy. They are paneled with reclaimed aged wood that gives a lovely rustic mountain feeling.
The Austrian twin V spring beds are super comfortable and there is plenty of space to push them apart if you wish. In fact space is something you get a lot of. My room had plenty of room for a table and chairs without it feeling like a squeeze.
There is also lots of storage, a big flat screen TV and of course a mini bar. My bathroom was large with a double sink and a powerful shower. The toilet is separate which is always a nice touch.
But best of all are the stunning views of Saalbach from the floor to ceiling windows. The balcony was lovely although as it was snowing most of the time I didn’t make the most of it.
The Hinterhag prides itself on its sumptuous breakfasts. Served until 10, or 11 am in bad weather, there is a vast amount of choice. There was a great selection of fruits, bread, cereal, cheese and cut meats.
Plus a good range of hot options with an omelette and egg station creating fresh dishes. My friend was pleased to have vegan milk alternatives and plenty of options for a filling breakfast.
We also ate dinner at the hotel where there are two restaurants. Upstairs you’ll find Muzis which serves traditional Austrian cuisine with a modern twist, plus plenty of steaks. There were very tasty vegan and vegetarian options.
Downstairs is Seppis an Italian restaurant inspired by Tuscany. The pasta dishes here were stunning and again there were options for those that don’t eat animal products. Both the restaurants are exceptionally high quality with great service and delicious food.
At the beginning of this article I said Saalbach quickly became one of my favourite ski resorts. The main reason is the incredibly varied slopes across the huge ski area. The runs are wide with few flat bits and somehow feel better than other resorts.
In four days we visited each area but there were many runs we didn’t have time to snowboard. The off-piste is incredible too. Okay so we had lots of fresh snow but we we still finding fresh lines near the piste three days later.
I had injured my achilles tendon doing a bit of freestyle a week earlier so I couldn’t play in the snowparks. However they look good and a friend has told me they are pretty special.
Plus it is worth adding the Saalbach does not end at the Skicircus. With the Alpin Card you can go snowboarding in Zell am See and Kaprun both of which offer something different.
To conclude this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach I have nothing but praise. It has absolutely everything you could want for an amazing snowboard holiday so it really should be top of your list.
I hope you found this review of Skicircus snowboarding holiday in Saalbach interesting and useful. To find out more about the ski area visit: www.saalbach.com