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Blogging from the Austrian Alps.... - James Cove, Zell am See
Monday August 27, 2012 - Email this article to a friend

Our content editor, James Cove, is in Zell am See with his 13-year old son, Max. If you thought the Alps was just for a winter holiday then think again. To see what the two of them get up to and the attractions of summer in the mountains then see their rolling blog...


Now I had never actually wondered what it may feel like to be a seal, but as I pulled the zip up on my black, rubber wet suit thoughts of the aquatic animal sprang to mind.

Max and I were about to go canyoning - a sport where you follow a river canyon by swimming, jumping, sliding, clambering over rocks, walking and sometimes abseiling.

To partake a thick rubber wet suit is required - hence the seal feeling.

All dressed up with somewehere to goAll dressed up with somewehere to go
















Icy coldIcy cold













Seals swimmingSeals swimming

















When I entered the icy water of the canyon I felt even more like a seal as I bobbed along the water using the buoyancy of the suit to float on the surface and the currents to make the swimming easier.

Or rather sort of paddling along with my arms as the suit made swimming slightly different.

Once out of the water Max likened me more to a beached whale as the suit fitted "comfortably" around my stomach. I was sticking with the seal image.

He though was perhaps more like a dolphin.

We were wearing a full wet sit that comprised of shoes, an under-suit and then an over-jacket.  It was padded and gave buoyancy. When swimming my legs remained on the surface and I felt like I had been blown up 20% by a bicycle pump. 

It was a bit ungainly but I was eternally grateful as it kept me warm, protected and as we swam, scrambled own rocks and jumped from 9m ledges into icy mountain water.  One thing a seal didn't wear though was an orange crash helmet.

Welcome to canyoning.

More fun!More fun!













Earlier in the week we had been white water rafting and I didn't think we would be having more fun on the holiday than on that day.  I am pleased to report that I was wrong. 

Canyoning beat it hands down, both for me and for Max.

Perhaps because it requires more input,- you don't just sit there as you do in a raft even though there is paddling to be done.  Standing on a rock ledge above an icy pool and being told to jump also requires a deal of trust and commitment. 

The adrenalin rush and satisfaction of doing it is very real.

We were once again with Adventure Service Outdoor Sports from Zell am See-Kaprun and they were perfect - with the right balance of fun and attention to safety.

"Do not jump with both feet but rather just step off the edge with one foot like you are going down a staircase. Once you have decided the moment to jump do not change your mind," said our guide Tom Popley. He has been working in the area for almost two decades and came with a wealth of experience.

He had a point as earlier in the summer a Dutch woman has changed her mind just as she was about to jump from a 9m ledge - she slipped and fell.  She survived but had trouble breathing for a while as she hit the water arms and legs flailling around.

Injuries though are very rare - we wore a harness in case a helicopter rescue was needed and the guides carried a full first aid kit. Neither was requires.

All we had was fun as we made out way down the 10km canyon with cliffs hundreds of meters tall towering over us.

"This is not a difficult route but there are some big jumps and you need to concentrate and have you wits about you," said the other guide, Franz Oberlader. "You should feel challenged but not scared."

In our group was a mix of Austrians, Germans, Dutch, British and a couple from Luxembourg.  None of us knew each other before the day, but by the end we felt like firm friends through our joint experience.

As for Max and I it was yet another unique father and son shared experience.

Happy Days.

Messing about in the waterMessing about in the water















It is still wet but it has at last stopped raining and snowing after extreme weather in the last 24 hours.

Time for a bit more outdoor action.

Yet more fun!Yet more fun















Hang on tightHang on tight













and some ice creams too...

The weather liftsThe weather lifts















Summer is on hold in Austria, winter has arrived early.

It was forecast but it has still taken us somewhat by surprise.

It is the end of August/beginning of September after all.

Summer in the AlpsSummer in the Alps













May be needed soonMay be needed soon













Waking is off!Walking is off













Max in the snowMax in the snow













For more information see the main PlanetSKI news report here.

Although it was fun to see the snow it put most of the other activities on hold - especially as lower down it was raining heavily.

The best option was to stay indoors - at the Spa.

With its slection of pools, water jets, slides, saunas and steam rooms it was the best place to be on a cold and wet day.

Best place on a wet afternoon













Thursday PM...

Moto-cross, adventure forest, picnic in an alpine pasture, pleasure boat on Lake Zell, our own electric boat and then a few Austrian calories to replace the lost energy.

A summer holiday in the mountains is rather good.

Especially if, as a parent, you want to see your child doing a few things rather than just sitting on the X-box or messaging friends on Facebook.

And if you read the blog that follows on about what else we have been up to so far in Zell am See-Kaprun this week it simply begs one question to us.

Why don't more British families have a summer holiday in the mountains?

On yer bikeOn yer bike













Up among the treesUp among the trees













Taking in the viewTaking in the view













Messing about on boatsMessing about on boats













Pleasure cruisePleasure cruise













The besy way to end a day like todayThe best way to end a day like today













So what are we up to next? 

Back to the action sports - it's canyoning.

Now just in case you are wondering a couple of people have asked us about prices.

A large beer is €3.50, an ice cream €2 and a decent pizza €7.50.  You can get a meal for two, with wine, for around €25 per head at one of the many restaurants.

Max had a fever one day and I went to the chemist to buy the Austrian equivalent of Calpol. I was expecting to get stung - it cost €2.70. 

Whitewater rafting was €50, the Adventure Forest free with a lift ticket, the moto-cross was €9 for 10 minutes round the track, a 45 minute boat tour of the lake €10.50. Hiring an elecrtirc boat to make your own way round the lake is €10 for 30 minutes or €16 for an hour. The water light show mentioned further down the blog was free too.

All in all pretty good value we reckon and not one of those holidays where every time you put your hand in your pocket you wince with pain.

Wednesday PM...

Well we were planning on going up the mountain today, but all plans are made to change and we ended up white water rafting instead.

What a treat!

Setting offSetting off; one looks more nervous than the other




























If ever there was a reason in the summer to exchange a beach holiday for a mountain holiday instead then it is white water rafting.

It is fun, action packed, adrenalin-filled and, er, wet. More fun than pretty much anything you can do in the sea.

Max and I took a 10km trip down the River Salzach with the company, Adventure Service Outdoor Sports.

It starts off with a mixture of apprehension and excitement as the safety briefing is delivered and we are shown how to help with the control of the boat and what to do in an emergency.

All the time the river is roaring past just a few meters away.

A professional takes charge of the raft but he needs help from us by paddling at the right time, in the right direction and with the right amount of force.

Rafting does not involve sitting in a boat and letting someone else do the work - you join in.

The River Salzach starts high un in the mountains above Zell am See and is fed by the snow, rain and melting glaciers.  It ends up in the Black Sea; we were going the somewhat shorter distance of Eschenau to Schwarzach.

The best time is mid-June to mid-July with the river high and the water fast, but this year August has been good too.

"It is unusual for the river to be this high, but it is and you are in luck," said our guide 44-year old Lauri Arkimo who comes from Finland. He came to the area many years ago, fell in love with it and stayed.

In the winter he works as a ski instructor while in the summer he is out on the water.

Max and I were in a boat with Lauri and six other people. As we carried the inflatable raft down to the river's edge and sense of camaraderie developed.

We were embarking on an adventure.

To begin with I was simply intent on paddling correctly as Lauri issued instructions but soon I realised that he was simply using us to get us into certain parts of the river where the currents then do the rest.

We didn't have to paddle like out life depended on it.

He deliberately steered into some rough stretches of water knowing it would be exciting, but not dangerous. 

However the man sitting next to me did almost fall out as we smashed into a submerged rock.  He was saved by the quick reaction of the man opposite who grabbed him as he lost his footing and fell backwards out of the boat. I made a small contribution by managing to hold on to his arms and we just managed to stop him taking a little swim.

It is not dangerous but you do need to have your wits about you.

I was glad Max was at the back of the boat next to Lauri who I could see was keeping an eye on him.

After the near miss I kept my feet firmly in the straps on the bottom of the boat and ensured Max did too.

Hang on tightHang on tight












Sometimes glided down a calm and peaceful river gazing at the river bans and admiring the view, while at other times it was more white-knuckle ride as we sped down the river avoiding the rocks by Lauri's skill and expertise rather than our rafting prowess.

At one point we paused to moor the boat and take a swim, Max had a turn at the front of the boat as we shot the rapids and he got completely soaked.

And me?

Well I had the best few hours of fun in the mountains since the last time I had a pair of skis on. 

If you come to Zell am See and only do one activity then the advice of Max and myself is simple; make sure it is white water rafting.

We went with Adventure Service Outdoor Sports and they were highly professional; safety conscious and yet they gave us all a fun day out.  See here for further details of the white water rafting and the other activities that the company offers.

Fancy a go?Fancy a go?







We will be putting up some more photos later so do check back for those if you want to see what it all looked like.

In this instance a picture really is worth 1,000 words.

Rafting as it should beRafting as it should be













Wednesday AM...

Today we're taking a gondola up the mountain to try our hands at alpine motorcross and an adventure forest.

Then we are returning to the lake to take a sightseeing tour and if there's time then hiring a "speed boat". Tomorrow it is white water rafting and then canyoning... It is going to be an action-packed next 48 hours!

Much better than lying on a beach. Cool


Now when you get to my age (the wrong side of 50) it is not often you can beat your kids at sport.

Some may not think hurtling oneself down a tube at an Austrian swimming complex is a sport, but Max and I certainly got competitive as there was a clock at the bottom timing our descent.

Our hearts were pumping, a certain amount of skill was involved and we were trying to beat each other.

It was sport.

James and MaxJames and Max

















Obviously all you do is chuck yourself down the tube and try to stay as streamlined as possible but the first few times I applied the break and Max won.

In fact he won the first four contests.

Slowly though my confidence and positive attitude grew and I was shaving seconds off his time.

What ever happend to my devil-may-care attitude? It began to return.

James; in there somewhereJames; in there somewhere














Max; needs to be more streamlinedMax; needs to be more streamlined













Soon enough victory was mine.

JamesThe winning time












"Er, Dad the only you reason you won is that you are fatter and heavier than me," said Max.

Sadly he was right.

Monday PM...

Whenever I say that the beaches in the mountains are just as good as the beaches by the coast I get a strange look from people.

"There are no beaches in the mountains," they say.

Well, Max and I have spent most of the day on one today and below is what it looks like.

Life's a beachLife's a beach













Warm enough to swim inWarm enough to swim in













Fun to be hadFun to be had













In winter the area has 1,195,485 overnight stays for all the skiing and winter activities. 

In the sumer there is still a very respectable 863, 382 stays so clealry manu people are aware of the attractions of summer in the mountains.

Topping up the tanTopping up the tan













And a swimming pool tooAnd a swimming pool too













Time to relaxTime to relax













OK there are no waves and you can't build a sand castle, but there are certainly many other attractions.  A beach made of grass is one and salt-free water to swim in is another.

You may not be able to gaze out to sea and dream of distant continents and spot vast ocean-going vessels on the horizon, but the views are pretty spectacular.

Some lakes are too cold to swim in, but many others are not. 

Lake Zell is "refreshing" and you don't need a wet suit as you do to swim in many places around the shores of the UK.

The water is crystal clear and the tourist office goes so far to claim it is of drinking water quality.

"Lake Zell is among the purest lakes of Europe and has drinking water quality," says the resort in its brochure.

Yours trulyYours truly













Sunday Evening...

Now we have seen a few firework displays around the mountains in our time - at New Year, Fasnacht and other carnivals but never anything quite like this.

It was a display of water jets by the shores of Lake Zell, lit well by coloured spotlights and all set to music. 39 fountains are used and the water is forced 40m into the air.

It was quite simply just like a firework display - without the bangs.

It is new this year and the largest such spectacle in Austria.

On Sunday the free event it is all set to classical music, while on Thursday it is rock music.

Fireworks by waterFireworks by water











Quite a sightQuite a sight










Umbrellas are useful at the frontUmbrellas are useful at the front











We were even able to see some mountain images to reflect where we were.

At one point a giant screen of water was sprayed in the air and images were projected onto it.


Lakes and MountainsLakes and Mountains














The Grand finaleThe Grand finale















For further information about Zell am See-Kaprun then see here.

The UK holiday company, Crystal, offers holidays to the village as part of its Lakes and Mountains programme.

Sunday PM...

We arrived in Zell am See near Salzburg to find the inaugural Ironman taking place.

It consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bike ride and if that is not enough it is followed by a full-length marathon - 26.2-mile (42.2 km).

Condtitions are chilly which was very welcome for the athletes.

But as the event began rain was forecast for later.

Pumping the ironPumping the iron














This is where they do it. 

One athlete has likened it to doing a triathlon on a postcard. Smile

Heaven or hell?Heaven or hell?









And as the athletes swapped from bikes to their running shoes for the marathon, that involved running through the streets of the town, the heavens opened.

Still at least it kept them cool.

Enduring in the rainEnduring in the rain































1,800 Ironman 70.3 athletes are part of the first IRONMAN 70.3 Zell am See-Kaprun.

They came from 40 different countries.

"It's unbelievable," said two-time Olympian Daniel Fontana at the pro press conference. "It feels like racing on a postcard."

Despite the wet weather it was pronounced a success by the tourist office. It was also a good tempeature for the Ironmen.

"The crowds turned out to cheer on the athletes and it was a great day. We have a clear lake and a great route for the cycling and running sections of the event," said Marina Latini from the tourist office. "We are already looking forward to welcoming everybody back next year when the event is on September 1st."

If you get the chance the day is well worth a look...


James and Max are on holiday with Crystal Summer. There is still a chance to go this year if you wish and the prices have just been reduced.

It offers holidays to Zell am See and prices are from £462 per person including flights from Gatwick to Salzburg, transfers, 7 nights half board at the four-star Hotel Feinschmeck departing on 15 September 2012 (save over £200 per person).

For further details see; Crystal Summer, or call 0871 230 8180.

For more information about the area then see Salzburgerland - and Zell am See -

For the spirit of the mountains

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