The best hidden ski resort in the alps is now a whole lot less hidden, thanks to its new link up to Saalbach-Hinterglemm

Fieberbrunn, tucked away at the far eastern end of Austria's mountainous Tirol province, has developed a name for itself over the past few years as a bona fide freeride destination. This is due in no small part to it being a regular stop on the Freeride World Tour, but in some ways this is simply proof of what locals have long known.

The Wildseeloder (where the FWT competition takes place) might only reach 2119m, but the terrain here can go toe-to-toe with the best in Europe. And the resort's location in a Schneeloch (a 'snow pocket' where precipitation and weather patterns make for favourable snow conditions) ensures good reliability.

Drawing on its combination of top-notch freeride terrain and a reputation as a family-friendly resort, Fieberbrunn has successfully marketed itself in recent years as "the best hidden ski resort in the Alps". But the December 2015 opening of a lift-served link with Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang makes this once modestly-sized Tirolean resort (just over 40km of pistes) rather less hidden. In fact, the link up creates a combined ski area of 270km of pistes and 70 lifts, making the enlarged 'Skicircus' second only (in Austria) to SkiWelt Wilder Kaiser Brixental in terms of size. 

But size isn't everything. The trend towards 'link ups' of existing resort is certainly understandable from an economic viewpoint, but it can also change the character of those resorts - especially when smaller ones are absorbed by larger ski domains. And then there's Fieberbrunn's off-piste. Will the new TirolS gondola, with its €20m price tag, make the Wildseeloder's famed slopes easy pickings for those inbound from the Saalbach side?

Through the back door of the Circus

While Saalbach-Hinterglemm is one of Austria's most rambunctious apres destinations, Fieberbrunn has always been rather a quieter proposition. Both the village itself and the area around the base of the lifts are dominated by pragmatic rather than flashy hotels, pensions and apartments. And although Saalbach-Hinterglemm boasts some of the most extensive and modern lift infrastructure in Europe, this is far from evident when you set eyes on the oddly impractical gondola 'clusters' that pass for the Streuböden lift at the base of the mountain. In short, the fact that Fieberbrunn has become part of the immense 'Skicircus' domain is far from evident at first glance. 

The frontside slopes remain the stomping ground of ambitious intermediates and families, with easy cruisers around the Lärchfilzkogel, and more challenging reds from the top of the Lärchfilzen quad chair. The backside slopes, centred around the Reckmoos Süd gondola and Hochhörndl quad chair, are the departure point for Fieberbrunn's vaunted off-piste.

Although the Wildseeloder - where FWT riders do their thing - requires close to an hour ascent, there is an abundance of challenging terrain within an easy traverse of the lift. It's worth noting, too, that while the northern slopes of the Wildseeloder feature some intimidating chutes and world-class freeride terrain, there are a choice of descents of a more gentle nature.

However, courtesy of the new link-up to Saalbach-Hinterglemm, the Reckmoos gondolas see more traffic than previously, as skiers and riders of various abilities make their way to the new TirolS cable car, which brings them to the Reiterkogel. One of the secondary benefits of the new connection, is that this has opened up off piste descents on the Fieberbrunn side ('Big Dude' and 'Big Mom' specifically) that were previously skiable, but required a substantial hike back out at the end.

Destination: Salzburgerland

From the Reiterkogel (1819m), where the new 10-person TirolS gondola tops out, the entire expanse of the Saalbach Valley is visible, with lifts strewn out across the vista of 2000m peaks. The top of the new TirolS lift also marks the provincial border between Tirol and neighbouring Salzburgerland, where the previously interlinked resorts of Saalbach, Hinterglemm, and Leogang are all located. Lucky for Tirol Snow Card holders, the 'upgrade' to get access to the entire lift network is only an additional €20 per day.
 

Compared to Fieberbrunn's long peak to valley off-piste descents, for many of which a local guide is advisable, the Saalbach Valley is rather more limited in this department. The north-facing slopes of the Schattberg offer the best opportunity for untracked powder, and the Zwölferkogel has some playful terrain, but it's on piste where the Skicircus really shines.

Long fall-line descents of up to 1000m are possible in blue, red, and black varieties, and there is an abundance of good novice terrain around the Reiterkogel and the Kohlmaiskopf, both of which are blessed with plenty of sun. The Schattberg north descent is definitely the pick of the advanced runs.

It is advantageous that the TirolS connection brings skiers and riders into a fairly central part of the Skicircus, because even traveling at a decent clip, this is not a ski circuit that can easily be knocked off in a day. However, a major plus is that the vast majority of valley descents (with the notable exception of those to Leogang) finish in the Saalbach Valley, and a regular ski bus makes it possible to return home. Be warned though - you don't want to miss the connection back to Fieberbrunn if staying on the Tirol side. It's not far as the crow flies, but nearly an hour by car!
 

Link... or drink?

Saalbach, and to a lesser extent Hinterglemm, are renowned for their full-throttle apres-ski - certainly one of the reasons the resort has been popular with Brits for decades. Even besides the obvious allure of Austrian style apres, the villages of the Saalbachtal are idyllic, dominated by picturesque traditional hotels and quality restaurants.

But as the apres action ramps up, the lifts that transport skiers and riders back to Fieberbrunn starts to wind down for the day. It's not all bad news though, because the trip back means ripping down the Vierstadlalm piste. This new fall-line red piste returns to the Tirol side, but bear in mind a couple of lifts are still needed to get all the way back to Fieberbrunn itself. But there - while the apres may not be as rowdy or as raucous as in Saalbach - rest assured that a cold beer is well-deserved.

The verdict

The positives of Fieberbrunn's link-up with its much bigger neighbours over in Salzburgerland far outweigh any of the potential drawbacks. Fieberbrunn retains its core appeal for families and hardcore freeriders, and thus far at least has kept its laid-back, unpretentious charm. And the gnarly terrain easily accessed from Fieberbrunn's lifts does not seem to have drawn large numbers from the larger resorts that can now reach the off-piste in a few chairlift rides. To be honest, the sort of crowd that is drawn to Saalbach and Hinterglemm are more likely to cross over in order to explore the pistes, rather than the steeps and chutes.

The major boon, from the Fieberbrunn perspective, is that this little Tirolean gem has massively expanded its appeal to the week-long holiday crowd, those who consider high-speed chairlifts and hundreds of connected kilometres of pistes as prerequisites when choosing their next holiday destination. Ambitious intermediates can mix up their time on Fieberbrunn's blues and reds with hours of exploring across the provincial border, and even those primarily here for the off-piste have more to explore. Just don't miss the last lift back, or you'll have no choice but to party through until dawn. Well, life could be worse!

Ski Club members are entitled to discounts with tour operators who offer holidays in Fieberbrunn. 

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