A-Z of resorts: Zell am See

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The Independent Travel

Finishing an A-Z of almost anything is often a bit of a struggle, but among ski resorts the last place in this series is easily filled. Zell am See is the archetypal Austrian village: alpine scenery, lakeside setting, mountains towering above. The medieval centre is protected from the ravages of modern life by a tunnel that diverts passing traffic away from the town. To judge by appearances, at least, it is the perfect destination.

Finishing an A-Z of almost anything is often a bit of a struggle, but among ski resorts the last place in this series is easily filled. Zell am See is the archetypal Austrian village: alpine scenery, lakeside setting, mountains towering above. The medieval centre is protected from the ravages of modern life by a tunnel that diverts passing traffic away from the town. To judge by appearances, at least, it is the perfect destination.

The combined resorts of Zell and Kaprun, a few minutes away up the valley, like to call themselves the Europa Sport Region. In total, there are more than 80 miles of pistes, down the mountains above the two villages, and on the Kitzsteinhorn glacier above Kaprun.

Both resorts have been badly hit by two recent tragedies: the avalanche that killed 13 people in March 2000; and, even more devastating, the tunnel fire that killed 155 people heading up on the funicular railway to ski on the glacier in November of the same year. The villagers themselves will be mourning their loss for years to come; and it has made a difference to the number of visitors to the resort, although official numbers are a closely guarded secret. But in this first winter season since the accident, every effort has been made to return to normal, although the railway is now permanently closed out of respect for those who died. Access to the glacier is inevitably slower: although the gondola carries 1,800 passengers an hour, it is now the only means of reaching the top.

But if you can put the tragedy behind you, Zell is a great destination for beginners and intermediates – as well as being the livelier village to stay in – although the lack of more challenging slopes can be a drawback to an experienced skier. The glacier has more reliable snow than most of the low-altitude resorts in this Salzburg region, and offers almost-year-round skiing.

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