Our annual college reunion happens on the slopes of Austria. This year I met my mates from Rotterdam in Saalbach, along with my good mate Mossy. Six of us in total – plus our no show German.
Saalbach was a new destination for us all – we’ve been all over the Austrian alps since 2012 (Mayrhofen 2012, Gerlos 2013, St Anton 2015, plus an excursion to Sierra Nevada in Spain in 2014). Saalbach is now the largest ski area in Austria, at 270km of slopes, having recently expanded this winter (It’ll soon be overtaken by the Arlberg region of Lech/Zuers/St. Anton).
Salzburg is about a 90-minute drive away. It’s not as well connected as other resorts with only Saturday direct flights from Dublin, so we flew via Frankfurt. Luckily Erik had a car rented to drive us up but we took an efficient tax shuttle on the way back (there is a train line from Salzburg but it stops 18km away in Zell am See).
The slopes were great – such a huge ski area would keep most people busy for a week. Four main towns are connected – Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn. Most slopes are blue, so it’s really beginner friendly. There’s plenty of red and only a few black. The lift network is top notch – loads of fast gondolas plus loads of heated 6-seater. The newest gondola, TirolS, connects the resort to Fieberbrunn, which is in neighbouring Tirol. We never got bored and really enjoyed going down the slopes, as they were never that busy, despite Dutch school holidays.
I like looking at technology on the slopes. More and more people have GoPro cameras, plus now 90%+ wear helmets (it’s like cycling – 20 years ago you’d be laughed at with a helmet). Wi-Fi even makes it up to 2,000m to the restaurants, which is a minus in my point of view. Internet free holidays would be great.
I always like tracking my day’s skiing afterwards on the virtual map from www.skiline.cc. you simply enter your ski pass number and it shows you how far you’ve skied, how high you went and how long you enjoyed on the slopes. You can even get a handy print out at the lift station.
Austrian food is great. Really hearty and traditional which is perfect after burning loads of energy. You have to try specialities such as Wiener schnitzel, spätzle, Kaiserschmarrn, Tiroler Gröstl, roast chicken and of course Apfelstrudel (mit Vanillasaus naturlich!) Plus a Schiwasser to quench the thirst. The perfect lunch on a sunny terrace with panoramic views (just like at Waggelalm).
At night there are lots of meat and veg options, plus pizzerias and Mexican places. another dessert is Mohr im Hemd (death by chocolate). Breakfast is usually bread, ham, cheese, eggs. We also did a lovely cheese fondue in the apartment one night.
The après ski was pretty good, although it wasn’t my favourite resort. The reason I love Austria is the Dutch and Austrian après ski songs. To your average Irish ear, they probably sound worse than a bad Eurovision entry crossed with a bad sing along chorus, but to me, they bring back so many good memories of years gone. Plus the fact après ski doesn’t discriminate on age – so everyone is up singing and dancing. Part of the battle is (a) knowing the words and (b) perfecting the dance moves. Some have routines I’m still learning. My favourites are below
Dancing on a bar stool, table or bar top gets extra marks if you’re still in your ski boots. You’ve got to imagine these places are as busy at 5pm as a nightclub would be at 2am.
I was disappointed by the choice of bars in Saalbach village. There was a really busy place, Bauer´s Schi-Alm, which was too busy by day 2 for me. We found a few other bars. The best was Goaßstall in Hinterglemm, which had a great outdoor bar and super music. The rest of the bars were all very quiet. As one South African said to his mates in a quiet bar “you guys are in the “H” of Saalbach.”
Overall Saalbach was a good resort. If I went again I would stay maybe in Hinterglemm and find an apartment or guesthouse for the week. Or I’d try Zell am See, as it’s easier to get to by train. Already 2017 looks like we could be heading to Ischgl!