Kaprun is the best-known partner of Zell am See in Austria. But Zell has had a reputation for being a large, traditional ski centre from the early days of winter sports tourism, and thus with a somewhat aged lift system. Kaprun, however, has the image of a hi-tec, high altitude, glacier resort, with year round skiing above 3000m, accessed by a state of the art gondola and six seater chairs.
In fact neither reputation is quite correct! Zell am See’s ski area has invested heavily in new lifts and snow making whilst Kaprun has managed to retain its pleasant Tyrolean village atmosphere and is actually at only a slightly higher elevation than Zell am See, 5km (3 miles) away. It has its own small ski area on the Maiskogel, but to reach the high altitude skiing of the Kitzsteinhorn you first need to drive or take a bus (15 minutes) to the base of the funicular or gondola. They will lift you high up to the ski area and its networks of gondolas, chairs, funiculars and drags.
Kaprun is an ancient village, first mentioned in documents of 931 AD (February 9th to be precise!) when it had a slightly more wordy title: ‘Chataprunnin in Pisoncia’. A castle was built there during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and remained in the control of two wealthy families for over 500 years. The Napoleonic Wars saw defeat for the area and the castle passing to Bavarian control. In 1812 a local forester bought the castle and it changed ownership a dozen times before being purchased by the Gildemeister family in 1921. Currently it is owned by a private association who use it for a variety of events.
Kaprun’s reputation changed from that of a run-of-the-mill farming community to a centre for climbers and mountaineers about a century ago. More fame developed in 1955 when two huge beautiful reservoirs were completed above the village higher in the Pinzgau valley. These great feats of engineering still attract many visitors today. Another, in 1965, the Gletscherbahn underground railway up to the Kitzsteinhorn glacier, made Kaprun’s name as one of the first year-round winter sports centres, bringing more international fame.
Kaprun now attracts more than 700,000 guests annually, a sizable chunk of the two million plus visitors to the Europa Sport Region as a whole. Although tourism is obviously the main industry, farming continues quietly in the background.
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