Après-ski (French: after skiing) refers to any form of entertainment, nightlife, or social event
that occurs specifically at ski resorts.
I must admit that my wife and I are mediocre skiers, and in our winter travels, we always spend more time on après ski activities than with ski passes in the mountains. If, like us, you don’t feel very comfortable fastened to a pair of thin strips of slippery plastic at an altitude of 2500 meters in mountains, it does not mean that ski resorts are not for you. You wouldn’t believe how many people come to the Austrian Alps not for skiing, but for the comfortable and enthralling après ski.
Europe is well suited for winter holidays. While oranges are ripening in Portugal, Spain, and Italy, and it is sunny and warm there, slightly to the north, you will find a real Christmas fairy tale and knee-deep snow. If you adore snow, I would call Austria a golden medium among European countries. Vacationing there is not very expensive, ski infrastructure is modern, and the Austrians are amiable and speak at least three languages. Moreover, Austrian après ski traditionally ranks near the top of ratings lists.
This year, we chose the Austrian town of Zell am See for our “winter holidays.” Picturesque views, breathtaking ski slopes, graceful swans that live in the local lake, hot springs, quiet forests, and unbridled joy in evenings—Zell am See is a paradise for tourists. The charming old town is conveniently located on the shores of an alpine lake. A long time ago, tectonic forces formed a vast basin here. Now, Zell am See is protected on one side by the lake, whose water is always calm, and on the other three sides by the majestic mountain slopes of Hohe Tauern, which are about three and half thousand meters in height. This combination of natural beauty, mild climate, and healing waters of the thermal springs quickly turned the small town into a year-round European resort.
Those who come to Zell am See for skiing, always have their breakfast early and immediately go to the nearest ski lift. One of them, City Express, is located in the heart of the town. People who prefer après ski to skiing have the opportunity to observe the morning activities in the streets of Zell am See. It is funny. Near 8 a.m., sitting with the first cup of coffee and a glass of Prosecco in a cafe, you witness the arrival of aliens on the streets of the city. In suits and helmets, with skis and snowboards, they walk slowly in an unearthly fashion, out of streets and lanes, and move in the direction of the ski lift to get back to their planet…. Well, to ski. They will not return to the town until 4 p.m., and this, only because there are is no night skiing in Zell am See, and the lifts shut down at 5 p.m.
As a ski center, Zell am See is more suitable for intermediate skiers, but since my wife and I don’t belong even to the average level, a two-day ski pass was enough for us. Do you think if you are not a fan of skiing and snowboarding, you have nothing to do here? Think again. European ski resorts are so good that everyone will find something interesting to do there; it is no wonder that every year they attract plenty of single people. The atmosphere here resembles a delayed celebration of the New Year—fun and friendly—which is convenient for socializing and making acquaintances.
Winter holidays in Austria are similar to Germanys Oktoberfest, just add sport, mulled wine, and Jägermeister to beer. The same busty blonde waitress, dancing to the national music with young and not-so-young people in short leather shorts, riding in the sled…. But there is one more thing: probably, except for Germany, Austria is the only country that offers a vacation in thermal pools in the open air and naked snowball fights in nudist thermae.
We had big plans for the next ten days. At first, to visit a unique place, the ice cave Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice cave in the world at a length of 42 kilometers and depth of 407 meters; then Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens; Mauterndorf Castle once owned by Hermann Goering; and thermae in the town of Kaprun, neighboring Zell am See. But as it often happens with us in Austria, some of these plans were not realized. No one could explain to me why the ice cave Eisriesenwelt, where the temperature is minus 14 degrees even in summer, is closed from October to May. With Swarovski Crystal Worlds, we were just unlucky. This year it was closed from January 1 until April 1 for changing the exposition. We had only one trump card—Mauterndorf Castle, because this Austrian castle was open in winter.
Nevertheless, we had a great time walking around the lake and feeding the resident swans. Such a stroll around the lake takes about five hours, therefore we alternately enjoyed the photographing of mountain views and the partaking of mulled wine, piquant soup-goulash, and Jägermeister.
Following a couple of sunny days, the weather in Zell am See deteriorated dramatically. After a brief attempt at skiing in the fog, we decided to dedicate our next day not to skiing, but to après ski, and so, with a rented Opel Mocha, we drove to the neighboring town of Kaprun to the aquatic center Tauern Spa.
Here, we had something to compare with. On our last visit to the Austrian Alps, we relaxed perfectly in the thermal complex of Bad Hofgastein. The difference between the Tauern Spa and Bad Hofgastein is that the former has saline water. Water comes a long way from the depths of the mountains, but cannot be called thermal, because it is cold when it reaches the surface. In the Tauern Spa, water is not cooled as it usually done, but is heated artificially.
There are things that are beneficial to health, but don’t bring pleasure. A healthy practice such as relaxing in thermal complexes is a real pleasure. Approaching the Tauern Spa, we saw people floating on the top floor of the modern four-storey building in a pool with transparent walls. Did they have any idea that they were perfectly visible from the street, I wonder? They were taking very unusual poses in the water. It seems, the architect of the Tauern Spa had a great sense of humor and wanted to reduce slightly the pathos of his sterile and modern design of glass and concrete by forcing visitors to smile already at the entrance to the building.
It is clear that nobody will be surprised by a well with ice water and Kneipp path today, therefore in the Tauern Spa, you will find a selection of different saunas and baths: Finnish sauna, bio sauna, laconium with rock salt, and even a sauna with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Yes, a bread oven was placed right in the steam room.
The aroma of freshly baked bread left quite an unexpected impression on me, but I understand that marketers are forced to think creatively to surprise experienced customers.
The pool impressed us with its dimensions. The complex was built in an empty field and nobody thought about saving on space. There is a lot of light and air. Endless rows of sun loungers around the pool take away the worry about a place to lie down to rest or nap. Every pool had an artificial cave with rain or circular shower.
A whole day here is not cheap, but a visit is certainly worth it, even if you dont encounter bad weather during your holidays in Zell am See. No doubt, the alternating of saunas with outdoor pools will strengthen your immune system and improve blood flow.
In the countries with cold winters, people think of winter vacations as a necessity to escape to someplace warm: it’s every man for himself! We run away from cold, snow, fur boots, and twilight which arrives immediately after dinner, to find the sea, the sun, barefoot natives, young coconuts, and old rum. But what if for some reason you cannot afford such a long journey? Don’t be upset. Try to accept winter as it is: with its joys, snow, and entertainment. The Austrian Alps will help you, even if youre not able or don’t like to ski.