This post was updated on .
As mentioned at the end of my previous TR from Riesneralm, during the previous five days all of the ski areas I'd visited on this trip fell into the category of "decent-sized for us (northeastern and even western Americans)/small to them." Day 6 at Hochkönig (meaning "High King") was the first and only expansive circuit of the visit that allows you to travel legitimate distances on skis. Google Maps sez 11 miles across, which doesn't include the additional peak on the far right that's not connected to the main area.
To compare it to the biggest interconnected ski areas in North America: Vail, Park City/Canyons, and Whistler are all approx 6 miles wide, Big Sky/Moonlight is 5 miles wide, Mammoth and Killington are 4 miles wide.
Hochkönig is the towering massif you look at the entire time, not the mountain you actually ski. Judged by prominence, it's the sixth tallest peak in the entire Alps with the summit at 9,600 feet/2,900 meters. By contrast, the ski area itself is definitely in the lower-elevation category, topping out at 6,200 feet with a vertical drop of 3,600 feet. Only a 50-minute drive from Salzburg, it's become increasingly popular, although not quite the world-renowned ski-tourist attraction of Saalbach-Hinterglemm just to the west.
Approaching the region from the east, it was a bit gloomy in the valley following the four-inch dusting that had fallen overnight.
After paying $54 for a walk-up day pass (the most expensive on this trip/all of the previous tickets were in the $37-44 range), I took the gondola from the village of Mühlbach:
Five minutes later, I was relieved to see the bluebird panorama up top:
Throughout, there are playful callouts to the "king" theme, including the circuit's name "die Königstour": the King's Tour. For example, at the top of each of the five individual sectors are "kingdom gates" made out of trees, some of which have allegedly been used by eagles as nests.
Along with wooden thrones, popular as photo ops:
Since it was already 10:00 by the time I was booted up at the car, a British gentleman in the gondola told me that if I wanted to cross the entire area and return before the lifts close, "you mustn't dilly dally excessively!" (not to be confused with the UK expression "shilly shally," which means to be indecisive). Fair enough and always entertaining to be reminded of expressions that never made it across the pond to our side.
They provide a lot of signage throughout the circuit to keep you moving in the proper direction:
It's almost not worth posting the trail map here because it's so compressed, you'd think you were at a comparatively tiny place like Sutton, Quebec. Here's a link to the online version, which you can zoom in; however, it still doesn't convey the breadth of the area.
By 11-ish, the school-break crowds had already chewed up the dusting that had fallen the night before on the groomers leaving steeper pitches scratchy in spots:
The smartest thing to do was ski the offpiste baby bumps directly next to the trails, which were soft as could be:
All but one of the main lifts in the entire area were high-speed detachables. Many had posh leather seats:
Gorgeous vistas everywhere:
Sometimes you had to take connecting sections to cross to the next sector:
Going at full speed and not taking any breaks, it took me more than 2.5 hours to almost reach the far side of the circuit, where I decided to stop for lunch:
What a life this rock-star cat has. He's accustomed to getting lots of attention. Everyone stopped to pet him, including me:
By the time I finished lunch, it was already 1:30 and I had to get moving back to my car. Unfortunately, this meant leaving a lot of skiable terrain on the table, including the extensive above-treeline Aberg sector on the far looker's right.
The only remaining non-high-speed lift remaining in the entire joint. They've already installed the the towers for the new gondola to replace it this summer.
Due to the low elevation, most of the forests are too dense to attempt to ski. Moreover, as I understood it, there are species of mountain goats that burrow in the snow during the day and skiers have reportedly hit them. Hence these signs throughout:
An industrial-sized hut at the top of two lifts:
With oversized pillows to relax on:
Snoozing in the sun:
And a chapel with a view:
I pulled into Mühlbach at a little after 4 pm, pretty exhausted from how many miles I covered. In short: easily a place you could spend a good three days exploring; one day was sufficient only for a quick overview. Moreover, there was some legitimate black terrain in addition to all the intermediate-cruisers. I'd definitely go back for more.
would you consider Hochkonig a destination resort?
"Peace and Love"