The affordable Austrian ski resort that’s all about playtime for your children

Last updated 11th December 2023

The skiing is sensational, but turns out Zell am See Kaprun in Austria is really all about affordable playtime for families – on and off the slopes. As Mike MacEacheran and his family discovered, much to their surprise and delight.


Freezing but fun, Mike MacEacheran and family, Zell Am See

Playground of the wealthy, is now a playground for all

Among the dark mountains, silver lakes and ski resorts south of Salzburg, Zell am See Kaprun stands apart in history, both classical and modern.

It was once a playground for the Austrian and European aristocracy, attracting Austro-Hungarian bigwigs, Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Sissi, who fell in love with its summits and sunrises in the 1880s.

Then it bewitched carmaker Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the luxury marque, who bought the lakeshore’s 600-year-old Schüttgut estate in 1931 as a retreat for his household. Now, it’s the turn of outdoorsy families like mine, who wished they’d visited sooner.


Kitsteinhorn Glacier Park © Kitzsteinhorn

Zell Am See is home to the mighty Kitzsteinhorn

In Austria’s big-stakes winter sports’ game these days, Zell am See-Kaprun tends to be overlooked in favour of many of its neighbours: snooty Lech; hedonistic Mayrhofen; hard core Ischgl; World Cup favourite Kitzbühel, and James Bond-approved Sölden. But we were lured to Zell am See-Kaprun because this area has one thing that none of its competitors have: the Kitzsteinhorn.

When the dawn breaks softly over this totemic 3,203m summit in spring, it lights up a snaking glacier and snow-sure slopes that stay open right through until the end of May. That gives it one of the longest seasons in the Alps, and the genius of Zell am See — with its three distinct areas which are connected by one lift pass across the Kitzsteinhorn, Maiskogel and Schmittenhohe — is that even if the snow report isn’t on your side, the altitude is.

Perfect for a late season ski trip, I thought. Especially when the sugar-soft pistes make child wrangling much easier.


Kids Slope, Zell Am See © Zell Am See-Kaprun Tourismus

A perfect introduction to Austria for ski breaks with kids

If you’ve never considered a family ski trip with pint-sized travellers before, then let me tell you this. The joy is pressing pause on normal routines, getting them out in nature and taking their breath away with sun-flared mountains and ballooning summits. It’s also terrific territory for easy-breezy blackmail.

On our first morning at the top of the Panoramabahn cablecar, this did the trick when both kids (6 and 4) refused point blank to join their age-appropriate ski lessons to give my exasperated wife and I some freedom.

The trade-off was lunchtime Kaiserschmarrn (a plate-sized jam and dusted sugar pancake) in return for cruising with us without complaint; then, later, bottles of meadowsweet Almdudler was the reward for an après-ski stein of Stiegl in peace. Austria is so good at such indulgent things. Believe it or not, our kids gave us time for a second round of Stiegl while they went bum-sliding down the nearby slope, and I didn’t even get annoyed when my son tipped a handful of snow down the back of my fleece.


Familotel Amiamo, Zell Am See, Austria

Discover the wonder of Kinder Hotels at Zell Am See

Like all the best ski resorts, Zell am See Kaprun has fun chalets and affordable hotels that offer a variety of settings and experiences for whatever your whim or mood. But Austria also has so-called ‘kinder hotels’ targeted exclusively to families — and it’s little wonder they’re worshipped.

We stayed next to the AreitExpress gondola at the foot of the Schmittenhohe at the ski-in-ski-out Familotel Amiamo, which became familiar far faster than expected because of all the facilities and entertainment on tap.

It was almost as if the hotel was taking over our role as parents.


Ski-in-ski-out Familotel Amiamo, Zell Am See, Austria

Familotel Amiamo has it all from swimming to magicians

Instead of downtime after a full day on the slopes, it was pool-hopping through the hotel’s three swimming areas. My wife wanted to go shopping on the lakeshore one evening; our impatient kids talked us into hide-and-seek at the playground. Nights were filled with a kids’ club movie night, a chocolate hunt and a magician (full disclosure: he blindsided me with his sleight of hand too). And I was surprised — no, delighted — to be the cool Dad, joining in without needing to eye roll once.

The dining options helped us carb-load for the days on the slopes. Instead of taking baby steps, the kids headed straight to the buffet for ‘schnipo’ (schnitzel and pommes; don’t ask me how many times they had that) and we ordered a la carte. This being our first stay at a kinder hotel, we also didn’t know about the tiny toilets, knee-high soda and juice bar, printed-to-order colouring sheets, serve-yourself ice cream cones, treehouse indoor soft play. Switching off became commonplace for every parent we met.


Freeriding Kitzesteinhorn © Kitzsteinhorn

Wonder at the Alp’s largest wilderness area

And so, while the sun shone — and, on some days, snow fell — we skied, swam, played and ate, leading us up to our final day and an excursion to the Top of Salzburg: a restaurant-cum-museum summit station blasted into the side of the Kitzsteinhorn. Heaven and earth sit next to each other here and, after watching the eye-popping movie at Austria’s highest cinema, we clattered down an enormous tunnel showcasing gold, silver and mountain crystals. Then emerged, blinking, mole like, onto an observation platform with views of Hohe Tauern National Park, the Alps’ largest wilderness area.


Family skiing © Zell am See-Kaprun Tourismus

But ski back in time for soft play, swims and the kids’ disco

It was the perfect place to pause, think, breathe in the crystal air and share a rare moment of silence. It lasted only a couple of seconds, and then it was back on with the skis, back onto the slopes, back to the hotel pool, straight to dinner, off to the soft play and to the kids’ disco, and, finally, with eyes almost half-shut already, crashing down into our beds like an avalanche.

How to plan a ski break in Zell Am See Kaprun

How to get there

Direct UK flights to Salzburg from 1 hour, 50 minutes

Zell Am See Kaprun is 1 hour, 37 minutes from Salzburg by train

Where to stay

Familotel Amiamo, family room (2 adults, 2 children), half board from £250 per night

Book Familotel Amiamo

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