Checking out the link that has created Austria’s biggest area

3rd February 2016, by Chris Gill

The brand-new slope linking Saalbach's Reiterkogel to the fringe of Fieberbrunn

The brand-new slope linking Saalbach's Reiterkogel to the fringe of Fieberbrunn

We arrived in Hinterglemm on the evening of Sunday 31 January at the end of a day of continuous snowfall. But the rain that editor Watts had been forecasting eventually showed up – over Sunday night, the valley road became a stream, and the valley river became a torrent.

Sun was forecast for Monday afternoon, but we voted two to nil to skip skiing in the rain in the morning, and instead drove around to have a look at the villages of Leogang and Fieberbrunn, the latter newly linked to Saalbach. All it took was one lift and one piste to create what is now (by a small margin) Austria’s biggest ski area.

Our plan worked perfectly. The rain dried up around midday as we were wandering about downtown Fieberbrunn, and the link with Saalbach was opened after a shattering series of avalanche bombs had made it safe.

The link runs are excellent, long, testing reds – the existing one on the Fieberbrunn side is sunny, the new one on the Saalbach side shady. We enjoyed both a lot, thanks to the comprehensive snowmaking.

We heard that one or two tour op reps were putting it about that the new shady run is of black steepness. Well, no. It has one tough pitch half-way down that is certainly at the top end of the red spectrum, followed by a shelf that is pretty awkward when bumped up. But it’s correctly classified red, we reckon.

We enjoyed these runs only minutes after they were opened, late on Monday. Early on Tuesday we skied over Reiterkogel, the point of departure from the Saalbach valley, and hordes of people were pouring down the link run. The aforementioned shelf must have been mighty crowded.

As it turned out, crowds rather dominated our day touring the slopes of Saalbach, Hinterglemm and Leogang. There are some Austrian school holidays in progress this week, and certainly the slopes of the Glemmtal have been way too busy for our taste.

We have fond memories, for example, the long away-from-all-lifts run from Schattberg Ost to Vorderglemm, in the days when it was a peaceful retreat. On Tuesday, it was hideously crowded. Most slopes were little better.

The skiing was entirely on man-made snow, and the coverage was good although not complete (the lift company cutely publishes the fact that all lifts are open, without saying how many runs are open). But the base is seriously hard, particularly at the start and end of the day.

The highlights of our day came above Leogang, where the ‘ski-circus’ of Saalbach-Hinterglemm has a limb stretching out northwards. The second bottom-to-top gondola built in 2014 now has an excellent broad blue piste cut through the forest.

At the top of this lift are two huge, extraordinary restaurants that our readers have been raving about for years, and we at last managed to visit them.

We had a simple but enjoyable lunch in the relaxed, spacious, woody surroundings of the AsitzBräu, a brick-built refuge that was rebuilt in 2010 incorporating a brewery and lots of brewing relics. Yes, we did sample the beer, and yes, we liked it a lot.

Across the piste, in the same ownership, with the same menu but also the option of pizza, the Alte Schmiede was built about 15 years ago but incorporates a 19th-century water mill and a ski museum.

We’ve spent two nights in the small, welcoming three-star hotel Wiesenegg, well run by the Schwabl family. It’s on the fringe of Hinterglemm, with the Mitteregg lift a short walk away for access to the main Hinterglemm lifts.



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