Awarded the accolade of the world’s best ski resort by Skiresort.de, the world’s largest test portal for ski resorts for the third year running, Kitzbühel certainly has great credentials. It’s one of the pioneers of alpine skiing ever since Franz Reisch skied down the Kitzbüheler Horn, making it the first Alpine ski run in Austria.
We were invited to explore its many attractions and were keen to find out if it lived up to its enviable reputation. Easily reached by plane from Salzburg or Munich, there’s also a railway station located conveniently next to the main ski lift. We started our visit with a tour round the village by Pepi, a very knowledgeable and friendly guide who even serenaded us goodbye with a bugle!
The brightly coloured houses and cobbled streets are extremely picturesque. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful ski resorts in Europe.
There are some interesting art galleries, luxury stores selling designer ski gear and Austrian traditional costumes and the all important coffee shops for a slice of sacher torte.
Kitzbühel is considered to be an all-year round destination and it became internationally famous when the future King Edward VIII first came here in 1928 and made it popular with the British as a Summer destination. With 4 golf courses including two 18 holes and many miles of hiking and mountain bike trails, I can certainly see the attraction. There’s even a casino!
The Church of Our Lady or Liebfrauenkirche has a stunning baroque interior and an impressive bell tower.
Cinephiles may remember the film 7 Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt and David Thewlis – the latter’s character, Peter Aufschnaiter, was one of the two Austrian mountaineers who took part in expeditions in Tibet, helped build a power plant there and met the Dalai Lama. He is buried in the cemetery and his grave is adorned in typical Tibetan style.
The Legend Park is a tribute to some of Austria’s most famous skiiers…
Including multi gold medallist Toni Sailer who retired from skiing at age 22 and subsequently became a film star.
One of Kitzbühel’s most famous ski runs is the three-and-a-half kilometer Hahnenkamm. It’s just as popular in Summertime with hikers and mountain bikers.
I was a little apprehensive about the skiing element of our trip, being so out of practice. I needn’t have worried as our friendly ski instructor, Kevin from Element 3 Ski School, immediately put me at ease. Originally from the UK, he also speaks perfect German. During the Summertime he’s a golf instructor, which reminds me that in Kitzbühel you can actually do a morning of ski and an afternoon of golf in April. Skiing itself is possible from at least end of November to mid April as the resort has a combination of snow canons and natural snow with an average of 155 days skiing. In fact as Kevin says, it’s not the height of the resort that counts so much as the rocks around them keeping the snow firmly in place. He recommended Ski Rent Michael and we were very impressed with the quality of the equipment. Michael, pictured here on the right with Kevin on the left, changes the ski boots every year and they’re state of the art.
There’s been a great deal of investment in the skiing infrastructure in Kitzbühel – around million Euros since 2000. Many of the chair lifts have heated seats and automatically opening covers. All of this came as a pleasant surprise to me as I haven’t skied for over ten years. Some of the chair lifts are eight-seaters which means that you rarely have to queue more than a minute.
After a little tour on the nursery slope where thankfully I managed not to fall over, we headed to one of Kitzbühel’s more sedate blue runs to brush up on our rusty technique.
Whilst it’s true that I’ve got down a couple of black runs in my time, one of them was on my backside snowballing down after losing a ski ;-). Visibility was unusually very low and it would definitely have been daunting to attempt much skiing without knowing the pistes so we were all the more grateful to Kevin.
We stopped at the Berghaus Tyrol for a tasty lunch on the slopes. I had a very tender beef schnitzel whilst Mr Luxe enjoyed the grustl, a great combination of fried egg, sauteed potato and beef.
Heading back on the slopes, we tackled a few more challenging runs and perfected our parallel skiing and turning. With 170 km of slopes, 780 snow cannons, 32 km of ski trails and 53 cable cars and ski lifts, there’s something for everyone – beginners, intermediates and experts. Free-riding, or snowboarding off-piste, is extremely popular too with extensive back country and deep snow.
Yet arguably Kitzbühel’s main attraction is the world famous Streif downhill ski-run, scene of the infamous Hahnenkamm downhill race. It certainly looked pretty steep from the top! With high speed jumps, exhilarating bumps and gliding sections, it’s an extremely diverse terrain for expert skiers. The race itself attracts 80,000 visitors every year.
Having said that, there are sections that can be tackled by intermediate skiers and there’s even a wacky uphill race, Vertical Up, held in February each year! Kitzbühel also plays host to the largest snow polo tournament in the world, the Valartis Bank Snow Polo World Cup.
Talking of wacky activities, we couldn’t resist trying a Segway tour in the snow. It’s surprisingly easy when you get the hang of it – just remember to wrap up warm. We cruised through some stunning countryside – check out the video for a glimpse. It’s a great Summertime activity too.
You’ll be spoilt for choice in Kitzbuhel and the surrounding area. We tried out the haute cuisine at Neuwirt, whose slogan is “Life is Better When You’re Eating”. A place after my own heart where I particularly enjoyed the salmon trout with creamy spinach, white truffle cream and Austrian “Grüll caviar”.
They also do a fine line in wine including this Opitz One Austrian late harvest wine.
In nearby Aurach, I’d highly recommend Hallerwirt, with a cosy traditional decor.
They serve up local specialties and delicious red fruit sundaes.
WHERE TO STAY
Kitzbühel has a wide selection of hotels with some very luxurious options. There are many spas within the hotels, and the Aquarena swimming pool and wellness centre for those which do not. We were just staying for a few nights so the comfy yet casual Hotel Gamshof suited our needs very well. Our room had a large balcony with great views towards the town and the breakfast certainly set us up for the day.
As you can probably tell, I’ve fallen a little in love with Kitzbühel. From the charming village centre to the state of the art skiing facilities and great après-ski, it’s somewhere that you’ll want to return to time and time again and a hot contender for the title of the world’s best ski resort.
Are you a fan of skiing? Have you ever been to Austria?