9 February 2019 from Danielle in 'Ski areas''

Since acquiring Fieberbrunn in the 2015-26 ski season, the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn has become one of the largest ski resorts in the world. Extending from Salzburg to Tyrol, the ski area boasts a total of 270 kilometres of slopes and 70 lifts, a good percentage of which you can discover for yourself with the day-long Challenge. With 7 hours of straight skiing, the Challenge leads skiers through the varied pistes of Saalbach, Hinterglemm, Leogang and Fieberbrunn. We've laid out the route and our tips for the best pistes and stops along the way.

65 kilometres and 12 400 metres of change in elevation

Only the most experienced skiers should attempt to tackle The Challenge at the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn. It’s not that the route is very difficult - The Challenge comprises a healthy mix of blue and red pistes over 32 lifts, with only a sprinkling of black runs. But it measures a total of 65 kilometres (including lifts) and travels up and down 12 400 vertical metres, so the journey can take up to 7 hours depending on snow conditions and the number of other skiers on the pistes. With opening times between 8:30-4pm, this doesn’t leave a lot of time for long breaks! Luckily, there is easy access to the route from all four mountain stations, so you won’t get stranded in the middle of the mountain if you wimp out halfway through. Probably.

The Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn

1. Embarking on The Challenge

You can choose to start The Challenge in any of the four villages - what's important is that you ride all 32 lifts. For example, begin by taking the Schönleiten cable car in the Glemmtal valley, which underwent complete renovations for the 2016/2017 ski season. From the station, the route takes you to the Asitz summit at Leogang and then down the valley run to the Steinberg cable car. This is a great little blue piste, especially in the upper part. Leogang has plenty of parking spaces and makes a good alternate starting point for The Challenge.

Piste map of The Challenge

2. Leogang: Descent into the valley

From here you'll return to the summit of the Schönleiten cable car, and then head towards the Bernkogelbahn at Saalbach by way of several nice pistes. If you have time and the conditions are favourable, consider adding the Magic 6 and Panorama 6 Series. These are two fantastic sunny slopes, especially in the morning.

3. Fieberbrunn: Skiing Tyrol

From Bernkogel, continue on to the Reiterkogel, which will connect you to Fieberbrunn, the newest member of the Skicircus. This ski area in the Tyrolean Pillersee Valley has been linked to the Skicircus since 2015-16 via the Tyrol S-Bahn. Here you’ll find some challenging red slopes, notably the piste leading from the Hochhörndl 4er down to the Tyrol S-Bahn. The valley run to Fieberbrunn is also well worth it. The only small drawback to this part of the Skicircus is that it requires riding quite a lot of lifts, which means the Fieberbrunn portion takes almost 1.5 hours to complete.

4. Hinterglemm: Zwölferkogel’s World Cup piste

The next stop on the Skicircus is Hinterglemm. The official route sends you through the Sunliner before taking you to the Hasenauerköpf lift. There are a few extra options here if time permits. Take the new 12er-Express across the valley: the highlight of the Zwölferkogel is the World Cup piste, which brings you to Hinterglemm’s Westgipfel lift. This downhill course is not an official part of the challenge, but it is one of the most beautiful pistes in the Saalbach-Hinterglemm ski area.

5. Saalbach: One last effort

Only two more stops left on The Challenge! The long north run from the Schattberg at Saalbach is notorious for being steep, shady and challenging. If your muscles are already burning or you’re low on time you might want to give this one a miss, but it’s definitely a must-do if you’re able. Afterwards, enjoy panoramic views as you ski down to the valley station of the Schönleiten cable car via the kilometre-long Jausernabfahrt piste, one of the longest valley runs in Austria.

The village of Saalbach

The village of Saalbach

Refreshments in the Skicircus

You can choose your favourite restaurant among the 60 offered at the Skicircus Saalbach Hinterglemm Leogang Fieberbrunn, but don’t stay too long! If you follow Snowplaza’s advice, you’ll take no more than half an hour for lunch. And, taking into account the addictive taste of the “siegerbiers,” it’s wise to select a restaurant near the final piste that will give you easy access to the starting point afterwards. If your starting point is Leogang, we recommend enjoying the incredible views from the Hendl Fischerei restaurant at the top station of the Asitz lift.

The Hendl Fischerei, overlooking Leogang

8 tips for surviving The Challenge

1. The pre-season is key
Your ski season begins long before the first day of your ski holiday. If you haven’t yet had a chance to test your skills on the slopes this year, consider getting your thighs in shape ahead of time through squats or similar.

2. Plan ahead
It’s a good idea to study the route carefully before you set out, and you should always make sure to have a piste map handy when you’re on the tour.

3. Pick your day carefully
Wait times will be shorter on quiet days. It’s always pleasant to have good conditions, too, so check the snow report before going. Fresh snow is awesome, but it will slow you down a little bit and drain your energy faster, so freshly-groomed slopes are the best.

4. Early bird gets the worm
Make sure you’re up on the first lift of the day at 8:30. This will give you a small time buffer, which you can use for additional slopes if necessary.

5. Keep your lunch break short
We know, we know, but trust us, a maximum of 30 minutes is best.

6. Get your calories in early
To compensate for the short lunch break, which will probably be quite late in the day, start the day off right with a healthy, filling breakfast.

7. Power on the move
Stash some cereal bars or a bar of chocolate in your pockets. When your energy flags, a sugar boost can work miracles.

8. Play it safe
If you do find yourself getting low on time despite all your precautions, skip a few pistes or one of the optional lifts. Things will get expensive if you strand yourself in a different valley!

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Born and raised in the ski paradise of Vancouver, Canada, I learned to ski before I can remember, balancing precariously on my parents’ skis as they sailed down the hill. I started snowboarding in my teens and am now delighted to be exploring everything Europe’s ski scene has to offer!