I did some more research on Bad Gastein and believe it or not, I changed my mind about the place and will probably go there myself this season. However, I will stay at Schladming--connected to Bad Gastein by the Ski Amade Passs.http://www.skiamade.com/
The amade Ski Alliance comprises not only 5 skiing regions with 865 kms of pistes, but also 5 independent and individual holiday regions with 28 resorts:
The Gastein part of the network consists of several base areas:
Here's what I learned about Bad Gastein. The place receives a respectable 600 cm of snow a year and is a haven for experts because of the off piste terrain above it and Sport Gastein. There's also a lot of pure intermediate terrain there--especially in the Dorfgastein/Grossarl tal. The Dorfgastein/Grossarl area also is where the most infrastructure investment has been--it has the most new chairs. Sportgastein, Bad Gastein, and Bad Hofgastein have the more upper level skiing and the best off-piste options but infrastucture is less advanced--more slow chairs and surprisingly, lots of pull lifts. Be sure to learn how to use a pull lift on gentle terrain before you try them on steep slopes.
Also, if you laugh on these rigs, you fall.
The major complaint I've read about Bad Gastein is that snowmaking is limited--only 30 percent of its terrain is under the guns. The town is kind of like a slightly run down version of St. Moritz so if you like the imperial splendor of Spa towns, you'll like Bad Gastein. Lots of big stone hotels on a hillside--sort of an urban enclave in the middle of the countryside. Spa towns like this tend to be places where you need to where a coat and tie for dinner and women wear fur.
What really sold me on the place is the access via the Ski Amade pass to Schladming's 7 mountains. The Schladming area, although it gets slightly less natural snow than Bad Gastein (500 cm), boasts some of the best snowmaking in the Alps--nearly 100 percent. Much of the terrain is also wooded and north facing so it holds snow well. Wooded terrain is also a godsend on snow days because as we all know, trees offer much needed contrast. Schladming is more of a traditional Austrian Village than Bad Gastein. Arnold's family comes from this region: the Styria provence of Austria. For kicks, one can also ski the Dachstein glacier above Schladming nearly all year long.
Each region within the Amade system has free ski busses, but it is not clear whether one can travel freely by bus between subregions. For me, that's no problem because I will have a car--I need it to visit relatives in nearby Slovakia, where I also hope to do some skiing. But for you folks, you may have to pay for ground transportation should you decide to ski Schladmiing instead of Gastein one day.
A final positive about the whole region is the access to Salzburg, Linz, Vienna, Bratislava, and Munich. In the end, this access issue is what is really selling me on this region because my time in Europe will be so limited. Salzburg and Linz (both interesting places with lots to see and do) are about 1.5 hours by train (50 minutes by car) from Ski Amade. Vienna, Bratislava, and Munich are about three hours by car and 4 hours by train. Access to Eastern Europe and relatively low prices makes Ski Amade popular with Slovaks, Czechs, Hungarians, and Poles so don't assume everyone will be German.
Given the size of your group, it may pay to have at least one car. The car will make it easier for the skiers to range further afield in the Ski Amade welt, and give the non-skiers an opportunity to visit Vienna for a day. Salzburg and Linz, however, are probably more easily accessed via the train. Parking in European cities leaves a lot to be desired so regional trains are usually the way to go. If your group wants to go to Vienna, I suggest either spending the extra time on the train (you have to switch at least once) or driving to Schwechat Airport, parking, and taking the express CAT TRAIN to Wien Mitte. CAT takes you from VIE to MITTE in just 15 minutes. From Mitte, you can get to most of the famous sites by tram or subway. The VIE airport at Schwechat is only 2.5 hours from Schladming by car.