In total, we had six days of skiing, however, the weather was a huge factor, not only with how much skiing we could do in a single day but also where we were able to ski. We often found ourselves stuck in Hinterglemm and unable to ski to Saalbach or further afield to Leogang and Fieberbrunn.
Hinterglemm is cute though!
There are 70 lifts and gondolas that connect the four villages of the Skicircus. The hours of operation from lift-to-lift vary and you must always be aware of the lift hours of operation so that you do not get stuck in a village where you are not staying.
Weather also affects the lift/gondola hours of operation and we even encountered a couple of instances where lifts/gondolas sporadically revised operating hours (e.g. the lift closed 30 minutes early). The sporadic changes to hours of operation can be problematic at the end of the day and even more problematic when you’d been at après-ski and didn’t pee before leaving the chalet.
As an example, there are two upper lifts (upper lifts in my blog posts are defined as lifts that are on the top half of mountains) that need to be running in order to ski from Saalbach to Hinterglemm (the G2 and the B2). If either of these lifts is closed, the only way to get from Saalbach to Hinterglemm is by shuttle bus or car.
Using this example, let’s say that the last uplift for G2 is at 4pm and earlier in the day, you planned to ride the G2 around 3:40pm as part of your journey back to Hinterglemm. Now let’s say that the crew sporadically decided to close the G2 lift 30 minutes early (so 3:30pm). When you arrive at the G2 lift around 3:40pm, you will find yourself in a pickle and left staring at the mountain tops.
The long and short of it is that you must always be aware of lift/gondola statuses and the best way to monitor the status is via the interactive piste map on the official Skicircus website here.
Day 1 – Sun & Saalbach
Looking back, our first full day in the Skicircus was one of the best weather days during our ski holiday. Not wanting to go balls to the wall on our first day (read: ski so much that we would not be able to walk the next day), we kept it low-key and skied from Hinterglemm to Saalbach. We ate a late lunch in Saalbach and then skied back to Hinterglemm, stopping for après-ski on our final run into Hinterglemm.
Peter and I do not ski black runs so excluding black runs, there is only one way to ski from Hinterglemm to Saalbach. From Hinterglemm, it is a four-lift and four-run journey to Saalbach. In the map below, the black arrows represent lifts and the grey arrows represent runs.
The second, third, and fourth lifts are upper lifts and if one of these three lifts is closed, then it is not possible to ski from Hinterglemm to Saalbach. We ran into this issue on three out of our six days in the Skicircus because of the weather.
When we left the UK for Austria, Storm Ciara was just about to make landfall in the UK and Ireland. Technically, Ciara was an extratropical cyclone and she was the first of two cyclones to batter the UK during a one-week period in February 2020. The second was Storm Dennis and he was making landfall on the day of our return to the UK.
Simultaneously in Austria and during Storm Ciara, there was a major winter storm that was bearing down on the Skicircus which caused a full day of pouring rain, wind storms, and fresh snow (yay!).
Start of post tangent: Storm Dennis was so intense that most flights in/out of the UK were canceled. Our return flight was canceled but we were able to find another flight on the same day and I have never been so terrified on an approach to the runway in my life. The strong wind had caused the plane to sway from side-to-side at what felt like a 60-degree tilt at times. Some passengers were crying. Other passengers were vomiting. I was thinking, “This is it. This is how it is going to go.”
I was seated in a window seat over the wing and all I could see out the window was the flashing wingtip light through the dense clouds. It looked like an apocalyptic storm. I closed my window shade because the flashing light was adding unnecessary terror and was swiftly told by a flight attendant that the shade needed to be open for landing.
The pilot announced that we would be landing shortly and said “It is gonna be rough” and a few moments later, he “stepped on the gas” as though he had changed his mind and then a few moments later, we were a few feet above the runway. I do not know what happened in the cockpit that day but what it felt like the conversation between pilots went like this: “OK, we are gonna land this sucker. Oh shit. No we are not. We have no other choice but to land.” End of post tangent.
Our first day of skiing was a success. We skied for about three hours in the sunshine and drank beer when finished. What more does a person need?
Day 2 – Rain & Hinterglemm
We got stuck in Hinterglemm on our second day in the Skicircus due to the winter storm. This was the day when we realized how integral the upper ski lifts were when skiing the Skicircus. Our goal for the day was to ski beyond Saalbach so we took the Reiterkogelbahn gondola up only to find that the upper lift, Hasenauer 8er, was closed. Our only option at that point was to ski back to Hinterglemm.
When we reached Hinterglemm is when we realized how disconnected the lift/gondola system is at the Skicircus. Hinterglemm is in a valley and there are runs on both the north and south-facing slopes. Since we were only able to ski the lower half on the north-facing slope (in total, two available runs), we decided to focus on skiing the south-facing runs.
To get from the north-facing slope to the south-facing slope (and vice versa), you must remove your skis, dodge cars, and clonk through the village of Hinterglemm.
A similar “dismount” situation exists in Saalbach when traversing from the Hinterglemm arrival runs to the Saalbach and Leogang departure lifts/gondolas (and vice versa). Additionally, there are a few instances in the Skicircus where roads intersect runs – roads literally are perpendicular to the run, slicing the run in half. If the road is not covered by snow, then you must remove your skis, walk across the 2 m / 6ft wide road, and put your skis back on to finish the run. It is unbelievably annoying to have to remove skis in all of these situations!
Below is a photo I took in Hinterglemm of people traversing from Skicircus areas A and B to area D.
We skied one run on the south-facing slope and then it started raining. It poured for the remainder of the day. We retreated to our hotel and played many rounds of the card game Uno.
Day 3 – Wind & Hinterglemm
We woke up on day 3 and checked the lift/gondola status and realized that we were going to be stuck in Hinterglemm for a second day. We wasted no time with the north-facing slope and instead focused on areas A and B. It was an extremely windy day with low visibility, especially at the peak (Zwolferkogel).
At one point, we rode the 12er Kogel I and II gondolas up to Zwolferkogel peak (1,984 m / 6,509 ft). We alighted the gondola and there were at least 100 people standing in the station. I was confused at first but then I noticed the people standing on the peak outside of the station and oh my god, the wind!
The wind was so strong that people were leaning into it at 45-degree angles and not falling on their faces. It looked similar to weather people leaning into hurricane-force winds except we were on the top of a mountain with visibility no further than our hands and sheer drop-offs on all sides of us.
I was too scared to ski the run because I had not previously skied that run and I could not see where the run actually was, so I said, “Hell no! I’m going down! On the gondola!”
My decision did not excite Peter because he is scared of heights and the gondola was swinging pretty aggressively in the wind on our ascent. I thought he was going to ski down but he joined me in the gondola along with several other skiers and we alighted at the halfway point on the mountain and skied down from there.
Although run availability was limited on our third day, it was a successful day.
Day 4 – Overcast & Saalbach
The weather on our fourth day was overcast but most lifts/gondolas were open (they opened later than usual). We decided to get the heck out of Hinterglemm and ski to Saalbach. We agreed that once we reached Saalbach, we’d decide to ski further afield or “play around” on the runs in Saalbach (as Peter would say).
Due to our late departure from Hinterglemm and our need for both lunch and après-ski, we had a limited number of hours to ski so we played around in Skicircus areas H and I. It was nice but not my favorite area of the Skicircus.
We stopped for an on-piste lunch at Luis Alm. This chalet was my second favorite chalet at the Skicircus. It is a newly-built chalet and is the largest chalet of the chalets that we visited. It had the best espresso and a menu that included both Austrian and non-Austrian dishes which was nice when we wanted something other than goulash and schnitzel. It also – and this might be the most amazing thing about Luis Alm – had toilets on ground level (no stairs!).
There are two sides of Luis Alm – a cafeteria and a restaurant/bar (with table service). Both have dedicated interior seating sections and there is a shit ton of outdoor seating for those sunny après-ski days!
One thing all chalets, including Luis Alm, lacked is an abundance of ski racks. At peak times, skis would often times be “parked” on runs.
What the Skicircus lacked in ski racks, they made up for with their super modern gondolas and lifts. Seriously, some of the gondola/lift stations are architectural works of art!
A few of the gondolas and lifts were sophisticated, like this gondola with ski slots in the cabin.
And this lift with its travelator, though I must admit, I am not sure what problem the travelator solved.
This is not to say all lifts and gondolas at the Skicircus were sophisticated works of art. There were at least two very old lifts that we encountered that lacked adequate seating and were very slow.
The worst of the worst was the Sunliner 4er. That’s right. There are only four seats on each chair of this lift and it runs at the speed of a turtle. This lift is an upper lift and is required to ski from Hinterglemm to Saalbach. It was always a bottleneck. Always.
The scrum of people in the photo above looks calm but the skiers at the Skicircus are extremely aggressive when it comes to lift “queues”. It is an all-out war in scrums like the one above – pushing and shoving, people falling over when pushed, grown (and very large!) men stepping on skis with their skis so they could get ahead of people, the same grown men reaching across bodies with their poles to “hold people back” so that their partner/friend could slide in front of the “poled” person.
I have never experienced lift aggressiveness until the Skicircus. There were times when we would avoid bottleneck lifts at peak times because I could not handle the aggressive nature of the scrum (and it wasn’t just aggressiveness by men!). The men were giants. I would say 70 percent of the men were 6-8 inches taller than me and that is saying a lot because at 5’10”, I am tall for a woman. Shit, 5’10” is tall for a man! I could not imagine how it would have felt if I were an average-height female.
Day 5 – Sun & Leogang
Day 5 was our big ski day. The weather was perfect and all of the lower and upper lifts were running so we planned to ski to Leogang by way of an on-piste lunch at Henri Fischerei. Henri Fischerei is a very popular chalet so we knew we had to arrive shortly after they opened (11am) in order to get a table. The food and drinks at Henri Fischerei were so good – arguably the best on the mountain, making it my favorite chalet. And it definitely had the best view.
Protip: Reservations are accepted for après-ski at Henri Fischerei.
The fastest way to ski from Hinterglemm to Leogang is via something I call the “arterial route” which bypasses Saalbach. Luck must be on your side in order to pull this off. During our six-day holiday, the arterial run (dark grey swooping arrow on the left-hand side) was only open one day.
Even skiing the arterial route, it took us a very long time (close to two hours) to get to Henri Fischerei which is indicated by the circle in the screenshot below.
One factor for the long commute was the bottleneck at the Schonleitenbahn I gondola. We spent 20 minutes battling our way through the scrum at the gondola station which was easier than battling scrums at on-piste lift stations because we didn’t have our skis on.
The less busy runs of Leogang and our lunch at Henri Fischerei made up for our scrum woes.
I planned on stopping for a beer at AsitzBrau on our journey back to Hinterglemm but it was starting to get late in the day and I was too scared that lifts and gondolas would spontaneously close early and we would not be able to ski back to Hinterglemm (I really did not want to take the shuttle bus!) so all I have is this photo of the brewery.
Day 6 – Wind & Fieberbrunn
On our final day of skiing, we attempted to ski to the only village in the Skicircus that we had not yet visited, Fieberbrunn. We made it about halfway (our turnaround point is indicated on the map below) before turning around due to inclement weather. The clouds had started to roll in, pellets of ice were battering our faces, and the wind was howling.
We knew the upper lifts would be closing due to the weather and could not risk being stuck in Fieberbrunn because the only way to get back to Hinterglemm was via an hour-long taxi ride and we were not sure if we could even get a taxi to transport us back to Hinterglemm.
Protip: Red run 125 from Reiterkogel to the Pulvermacher scherm chalet is NOT, I repeat, NOT a red run as indicated on the piste map. It is a black run dressed in red. I believe that because it is only run that connects Hinterglemm/Saalbach to Fieberbrunn, they classified it as a red run to entice skiers to traverse between the two valleys but be warned that it is extremely steep and it was a sheet of ice the day we skied down it.
In closing, we would definitely stay at the Alpin Juwel again (I would like to hike in the Skicircus). And we would ski the Skicircus again but not before experiencing other Austrian resorts like Kitzbuhel.