Working in the ski industry we have a lot of chats with people who describe some of the lesser-known resorts as hidden gems or national treasures. Hidden gems is pretty obvious, but what is a national treasure? Stephen Fry? The Beatles? The Crown Jewels? Obviously we looked to Google to translate for us:
One of Austria’s best-kept secrets, Maria Alm is part of the Hochkönig ski area, with around 125km of piste stretching up past Dienten to Mühlbach. For years locals and those in the know have been taking advantage of this undiscovered gem. There’s some great off-piste opportunities along marked ski routes and plenty for aspiring intermediates to get their teeth stuck into. More locally, Maria Alm has its own smaller beginner’s area. On top of all that, the lift pass covers the full Ski Amadé area, including Schladming and the Gastein Valley. This makes the available area a massive 860km.
But why is it a national treasure? Let’s find out.
The history of Maria Alm
First things first – Maria Alm is a very old, very pretty, very Austrian village. Bavarian tribes began to settle in Maria Alm in the 6th and 7th centuries and the first parish church was built in 1374. Under the rule of Prince-Archbishop Count Leopold Anton von Firmian (who it turns out really really hated Protestants), the church was rebuilt in Baroque style with its huge spire. It still has the highest church spire in the Salzburg region – a big fact of pride for the locals. There’s even rumours that if you make fun of the spire in front of someone from Maria Alm they are legally allowed to beat you with a Bavarian sausage (I may have made this up).
In terms of skiing, people from the Salzburg region started heading into the mountains and skiing in the 1950s. The oldest lift in the village is the Simmerlift, which was opened in 1952. From then on, the village has connected to other villages and ski areas to help integrate it into the huge ski area it’s a part of today. It’s been a part of the Ski Amadé area since 2000 and the Hochkönig Ski Region in 2010/11.
Why is Maria Alm a national treasure?
Like a lot of Austrian villages, the architecture and buildings in Maria Alm look like a chocolate box tin, and when the snow’s falling they really do feel like a winter wonderland.
Maria Alm is also one of our favourite places to chow down on a Pinzgauer Kasnocken. In other areas of Austria this is known as Spaetzle – which is kind of like Mac and Cheese, but with slightly pongier cheeses and with mini dumplings, instead of macaroni. So not that similar to Mac and Cheese then. However, it’s absolutely delicious and a great way to recharge after a long morning on the hill.
One of biggest traditions in the area is tobogganing. Ziachschlitten-fahrn used to be used by farmers to transport wood and hay down from the snow mountains. Now the town hosts races and is a great activity to take part in on your holiday. Just make sure you know how to brake – those bad boys can really take off.
What would be the perfect day in Maria Alm?
- 7am: A big breakfast in accommodation right next to the piste
- 9am: The Königstour (King’s tour): Ski to the finest viewpoints in the region and take a photo on a giant wooden throne. The tour takes in 5 peaks in just one day.
- 11am: Stopping off for coffee and home-made Apfelstrudel
- 1pm: Nibble on some Kasnockn and the sun terrace followed by a little nap in a deck chair
- 2.30pm: Long, wide pistes from Maria Alm to Mühlbach
- 4.30pm: Finish the day off in a spa
- 7pm: Night show on the slopes, hosted by the local ski school
What’s the skiing like?
The ski area is massive, and very decent. The Königstour is a real treat – a circuit with fantastic views and panoramic slopes. It’s 32km of continuous runs and 6700 vertical metres of altitude. It’s up there with the Sella Ronda in the Dolomites as one of Europe’s best ski circuits. When there’s been a powder day, the top of the Abergalmbahn lift is a great start for off-piste skiing and on-piste powder skiing.
Staying in a tiny, beautiful village and having access to over 860km of skiing makes Maria Alm a fantastic national treasure.