ZELL AM SEE is the quintessential Austrian resort, a compact town of picture-postcard perfection, with a lake on one side and an impressive mountain hinterland on the other. A skiing and hiking centre in its own right, Zell is also within easy striking distance of the Glemmtal resorts of Saalbach and Hinterglemm to the northwest, while the village of Kaprun to the south provides access to year-round glacier skiing below the Kitzsteinhorn.
A horseshoe of mountains immediately west of town is served by three main lift systems, catering for hikers and sightseers in summer, and skiers in winter, when they're augmented by a network of smaller chairlifts and drag lifts to form a sizeable integrated winter sports area. Nearest at hand is the City Xpress (daily: May 10–12 & 22–25 & June to mid-Sept 9am–5pm; Dec– March 8.30am–4.30/5pm; return 12.80) two minutes' walk uphill from the town centre, which involves a two-stage (gondola followed by chairlift) ascent of the Hirschkogel, a peak that can also be approached via the Areitbahn gondola (mid-June to mid-Sept & Dec to early April 8.30am–4.30/5pm; 12.80) from Schüttdorf, 3km south of Zell. Twenty-five minutes' walk further west of the City Xpress (and served by a half-hourly bus), the Schmittenhöhebahn gondola (daily: mid-May to mid-June 9am–5pm, mid-June to mid-Oct 8.30am–5pm & end Nov to mid-April 8.30am–4.30/5pm; return 20) involves a ten-minute ride to the highland pastures of the 1965-metre Schmittenhöhe, where you'll find a café-restaurant and an impressive, all-encompassing panorama, with the lake down to the east and the ridge of the Hohe Tauern to the south.
The Sonnenalmbahn (daily: mid-June to mid-Sept 9am–5pm, & Dec– March 8.30am–4.30/5pm; return 11), which departs right next to the Schmittenhöhebahn, climbs in the opposite direction towards the alpine meadows of the Sonnalm, before connecting with a chairlift (return 11) which rises to the 1850m Sonnkogel, from where you can gaze down on the Glemmtal to the north. Whichever way up you choose, you'll be greeted by wide-ranging views and an appetizing variety of walks – taking the gondola to the Schmittenhöhe and following the Höhenpromenade path northwards to the top station of the Sonnkogel chairlift (90min) is one of the more popular itineraries, as much in winter as in summer.