Value for Money 69%
Don’t be put off by the hair-raising reputation of the Hahnenkamm. Aside from its World Cup course, Kitzbuhel isn’t scary at all. The town is cute and luxurious, the slopes mostly easygoing, and the scenery soft and pretty.
Hans Haas is a ski instructor with the element3 ski school in Kitzbuhel: but his proper job is running an organic farm near the Schwarzsee, just outside town. When he’s not farming or teaching, you’ll find him skiing on the Streif, immediately above Kitzbuhel, or off-piste on the Steinbergkogel.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 Skiing in Kitzbuhel
- 3 Where to Learn
- 4 Where to Stay
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Where to Party
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
If you’ve ever watched the Hahnenkamm on TV, you’ll understand why Kitzbuhel holds a special place in the hearts of ski-racing fans. This extraordinary 3.3km descent, which drops through 863 vertical metres – on a slope that at one point reaches 85 degrees – is the single most exciting race on the World Cup calendar. Everyone who completes the course is considered a hero.
The inaugural 1931 race was won by a Brit, Gordon ‘Mouse’ Cleaver, but Franz Strobl’s winning time in the 1997 Hahnenkamm downhill has yet to be beaten. During race weekend (on the third weekend in January) over 25,000 people book into hotels and B&Bs around the resort. Such is the excitement generated by the race, that it sets off a bacchanalian frenzy among the spectators. The partying lasts an entire weekend.
Aside from the Hahnenkamm, Kitz is a pussy cat
But the funny thing is, the Hahnenkamm isn’t really what Kitzbuhel is about. This former silver-mining town, set against the beautiful backdrop of the Wilderkaiser mountains, is one of the softies of the skiing world.
Its pretty, pedestrianised streets are lined with luxury hotels and upmarket restaurants and boutiques, and its slopes dotted with charming mountain restaurants. Meanwhile its pistes are, for the most part, flattering rather than frightening.
Admittedly, away from the groomed snow, there’s an ocean of off-piste to be explored – 56,800 acres of the stuff, in fact, making it one of the unsung heroes of the powder-skiing world. But there’s no denying that, for many of its guests, the sense of comfort on offer here is at least as important as the skiing.
In other words, then, Kitz is a wonderful destination for those with healthy holiday budgets, who want some proper mountain heritage – without having to ski like Franz Strobl themselves. But there is one important caveat. Kitzbuhel is rather low for a modern resort. Admittedly, this means it doesn’t need much snow to cover the pistes – because the underlying hillsides are grassy and rocky. But the lower slopes are susceptible to thaws. Plan a midwinter trip for the best chance of soft, grippy, top-to-bottom snow.
Bear in mind that there’s also a lot more skiing nearby if you want it. Kitzalps Allstar liftpass covers 10 different ski areas – including the SkiWelt resorts, Zell am See/Kaprun, and the Wildschonau and Alpbach – and a total of 356 lifts and 1087km of piste.
Skiing in Kitzbuhel
The potential for skiing huge distances here is enormous – almost on a par with the Three Valleys. It’s a diverse area that will suit intermediates best – and (if the snow’s good) off-pisters too. But if you’re used to the high and hoary resorts of France, such as Tignes, Les Arcs and Chamonix, you’ll find Kitzbuhel quite a change.
If conditions are good, it’ll be a refreshing one. Kitzbuhel’s ski area is spread over several “mountains”, none of which is especially high (the highest is 2000m), and all of which are thickly wooded on the lower slopes. Haybarns are scattered amongst the pastures, and even when the area is covered in a thick blanket of snow, the scenery is very Sound of Music. You may well find yourself breaking into song.
Check out our feature, Secrets of the Kitzbuhel piste map, for more details on how to get the most from the pistes.
What’s more, when there’s fresh snow on the ground, experts who hire a guide will also discover an extraordinary amount of off-piste skiing. Some of it dives off to the sides of the piste network – such as the wonderful Blaufeld run, which starts at the Steinbergkogel, and drops down to the little village Aurach bei Kitzbuhel. Other lines are to be found in hidden valleys, such as the Saukaser. Altogether, it adds up to a mouthwatering 56,800 acres of terrain.
Here’s quick video taster from the resort.
For most piste skiers the day starts with a ride up the Hahnenkammbahn at the start of the day from the edge of town to the 1710m summit of the Hahnenkamm. (Its name translate as the “Hen’s Comb” – because it looks like the top of a chicken’s head, and the rocks are have a reddish hue.)
Here, you’ll find the start of the famous Streif – the World Cup downhill course. It’s not normally pisted, and often covered in moguls, but it’s worth venturing onto, just to get a sense of the steepness. You can also ski alongside it, rather than on it, using the easiier Streif-Familienabfahrt. On a busy morning in high season it’s well worth skiing a couple of top-to-bottom descents here, while the morning crowds disperse and head south.
Beyond the Hahnenkamm, the 1935m Pengelstein gives access to several long runs down into the village of Aschau and larger Kirchberg, and access (by bus) to Westendorf and the SkiWelt. In theory, that means another 279km of skiing and a further 91 lifts, but chances are you’ll only make the journey once. It’s a long commute, and involves riding two buses.
Target the Resterhohe for the snowiest, quietest slopes
From the Pengelstein, you can also track south, towards the Resterhohe, via the stunning 3S gondola. The slopes at this end of the resort are usually quiet: during busy weeks we’d advise heading here first, taking the bus from Kitzbuhel straight to Pass Thurn, and then skiing your way back towards town. There’s also more skiing on the other side of the valley from Kitz, on the Kitzbuheler Horn.
Clearly, there’s a lot of terrain here, and the ever-improving lift system has made getting about much easier than it used to be. Kitzbuhel’s, indeed Austria’s, first 10-passenger gondola runs from just above Kirchberg towards the Eherenbach Hohe. It carries 2,400 people per hour. Above that is an eight-person chair-lift – with weather bubbles and heated seats – running from Ochsalm.
All in all Kitzbuhel is really best for good intermediates, though more advanced skiers will have fun if they like skiing bumps, or luck into powder, and hire a guide to explore off-piste (there’s also a cat-skiing operation on the lift-free Bichalm). This promotional video gives you an idea of the look of the place and it does hint at the variety of lift-serviced skiing you’ll find here.
Much-improved facilities for freestylers
There are also lots of natural hits and lips on the Kasereck and Silberstuben pistes (marked 28 and 29) on the peak called Pengelstein. In good conditions, this is a great spot for advanced (but not expert) snowboarders to ride off-piste.
Where to Learn
A few years ago, the two main ski schools of Kitzbuhel amalgamated under the banner of Rote Teufel (Red Devils) – which now boasts over 350 instructors. Under centralised management there has been some improvement in standards.
But there are now many other ski schools to choose from – including the locals’ favourite, Element 3 which specialises in taking small groups on- and off-piste, and Snowsports Kitzbuhel which specialises in private lessons and race training. There are also ski instructor courses run by Ski Instructor Academy Austria in the resort, with a guaranteed job in the resort.
Plenty of opportunities for off-piste after a fresh snowfall
There are some good guides here. Bergfuhrer Kitzbuhel is a mountain guiding company employing UIAGM guides to lead both adults and children off-piste. They can also arrange ski-touring expeditions. Welove2ski’s editors have also had epic days with the guides at Alpin Experts.
Kitzbuhel for kids
Rote Teufel ski school has a kindergarten and runs group lessons. They also have a race training school for children, with trainer Patrick Hinterseer, a former racer. Children learn to develop race skills by training on moguls and in the deep snow. The highlight of the week’s training is when the pupils have to try to beat the ski instructor’s time.
Snowsports Kitzbuhel runs children’s race training camps all year round – on the glaciers close to Kitzbuhel outside the main winter ski season. This is for children aged six years and upwards. element3 Kids’ Wonderland is where small children can learn in a fun, safe environment.
Where to Stay
There are lots of lovely four and five star hotels in Kitzbuhel – making it a great place to stay for a romantic or sybaritic break. But they’re not cheap. If being central is your priority, then you’ll want to stay in the Vorderstadt – the pedestrianised medieval town centre.
Look no further than the stylish Hotel zur Tenne which is in a great location for anyone who wants to soak up the charms of Kitz as well as ski – right in the heart of the walled town. Several of its suites have open fireplaces: some have whirlpools and steam baths. It’s a very snug spot – traditional in style, but in no way out-of-date.
Meanwhile, the similarly-named Romantikhotel Tennerhof was originally an elegant Tirolean country house and is now one of the foodie hotspots in town. You’ll have to dress up at dinner to enjoy his cooking, however – the style of the hotel is fairly old-school with painted four-poster beds, and hunting trophies on the walls. There’s nothing crusty about the highly-rated service, though.
Hotel Weisses Roessl is a former coaching inn and today is a chic, sophisticated spot. Its facilities include the two-storey Cheval Blanc spa (it focusses on treatments from the Far East), with an impressive indoor pool and pool bar.
Hotel Schwarzer Adler has a 16-metre rooftop swimming-pool and fabulous spa, as well as an additional six designer suites. The restaurant has 15 Gault Millau points. Interiors are modern and bright, and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Hotel Goldener Greif is a warmly traditional place in the town centre. It was built in the 13th century and later became an inn. It’s been family-owned since 1954 and the town’s casino is located inside.
Hotel Tiefenbrunner is another hotel in the pedestrian part of town, with a variety of rooms including junior suites with four-posters. There are two in-house restaurants: Goldene Gams and Rosshimmel, as well as a spa with a gym and indoor swimming-pool.
A stone’s throw from the Vorderstadt
Sport und Beautyhotel Schweizerhof is next to the Hahnenkammbahn. “Comfortable, handy for the town centre and the food is excellent,” was the view of one recent reporter. Best Western Premier Hotel Kaiserhof is in a great position for the skiing – next to the Hahenkammbahn. It has good sized rooms and a lovely swimming-pool. Closer to the centre of town Villa Licht is a small, chic property offering eight serviced apartments at lower prices than the big hotels: it’s a canny spot for a holiday, if you can get a room.
Chalet Weiss Spa is a short walk from the centre and is one of the poshest private chalets in the resort. It sleeps 14 guest in 7 sumptuous bedrooms, with two of the five floors given over to a spa and a 15-metre indoor swimming-pool.
Staying off the beaten track
Hotel Erika is a striking Art Nouveau built in 1897. It has two swimming-pools, a spa, and a children’s playroom. The hotel is a great place for animal-lovers, with its own pet dogs, cats and deer. Guests can walk the dogs and children can feed the deer.
Hotel Rasmushof is a bit like a large chalet and has a warm ambiance. It’s located on what is the golf course in the summer. “Off the beaten tourist track, a smart, welcoming establishment that is a favourite with the Hahnenkamm racers,” says one reporter. Golfhotel Bruggerhof is outside town, and is recommended for the quality of its food.
In complete contrast to the traditional Tirolean style found in many of the five-star hotels is Hotel A-ROSA – a big, award-winning hotel that is eight storeys high, set on the golf course just outside town. The style is modern and pared back, and the enormous spa is highly-rated: “Very co-ed and very nude in sauna areas”, warns one Tripadvisor reporter. On the whole the reviews have been good, despite the fact that the rooms have been praised for being too big and criticised for being too small.
Schloss Lebenberg is a former hunting lodge 20 minutes’ walk above the resort (there’s a courtesy bus service). The Schloss has been beautifully converted from a stately home into five-star hotel. The original castle rooms are in the tower and are now suites, but there’s a choice of nine different room types in the main building as well as a rooftop swimming-pool, piano bar and games room.
For something a little cheaper
Fortunately, for those on a tighter budget, there are alternatives – including lots of self-catering apartments, which can be booked through the tourist office. For example, three-star Chalet Strasshofer is next to the pedestrian area and contains apartments for two to four people. UK tour operator Crystal also has an inexpensive catered chalet in the resort.
Where to Eat
Kitzbuhel has some fabulous restaurants, both on the mountain and in the village. There are more than 70 in town, and you’ll find everything from traditional dishes such as Wiener Schnitzel, Tiroler Groestl and Kaiserschmarrn to Asian fusion and seafood. Several of the best restaurants are in the hotels.
Among the stars of the dining scene is the Rosengarten, in Hotel Taxacherhof in the neighbouring town of Kirchberg – one of the finest restaurants in the Tirol. Acclaimed chef, Simon Taxacher, has created his own outstanding style of Austrian nouvelle cuisine.
Lots of award-winning restaurants
Kitzbuhel has its culinary stars too. These include the Stefan Lenz at the Romantikhotel Tennerhof, who has two chef’s toques and 16 points from the Gault Millau guide, as well as Lois Stern and Jürgen Bartl of the Hotel Zur Tenne both of whom have one chef’s toque and 14 Gault Millau points.
Other restaurants worth targeting in town include Jürgen Nentwich’s traditional Wirtshaus zum Rehkitz, which has one toque and 13 Gault Millau points, and the Golf-Hotel Rasmushof, at the bottom of the Streif, which has great food and a very Tirolean atmosphere. For cheap Austria cooking, try the Huberbrau-Stuberl (+43 5356 65677) and Restaurant Centro for delicious wood-fired pizzas.
1st Lobster needs no explanation, although it offers fresh fish and other seafood, too.
Great food on the mountain, and bags of atmosphere
Typical of the kind of mountain restaurant you’ll find here is Sonnbuhel, on the Hahnenkamm – a rambling, wood-panelled building with a good sun terrace and a hearty, warming Tirolean menu. Make sure you save room at the end of the meal for some Wuchteln (baked bready dumplings with a jam filling, and vanilla custard).
Meanwhile, Hochkitzbuhel, at the top of the Hahnenkamm gondola, also serves typical Tirolean dishes. It has a popular sun terrace and a Streif race course simulator. On Friday evenings the gondola is open to take people up for a candlelit dinner here. Staudachstub’n, on the main run down to the Fleckalm gondola, is recommended, and is famous for its home-made ravioli.
Berggasthof Seidlalm, on the Hahnenkamm, is a rustic 400-year-old inn renowned for its cheese dishes and has great views of the resort. This is where the Alpine World Cup was devised in 1966 by Austrian ski hero Toni Sailer and friends.
At Jochberg, Baerenbadalm is a wood and stone building with a warm, woody interior. Try the spinach dumplings with brown butter and Parmesan cheese or the Angus goulash. The beef comes from the owners’ own herd, which grazes the slopes in summer. The puddings are excellent, including Apfel Strudel and other home-made cakes and tarts. In the same area is Berggasthof Sonnalm, which has been recently updated and now offers pizza from its wood-fired oven, as well as meat from its own organic farm in St. Johann im Pongau. Restaurants at Aurach include Kechalm, which offers regional specialities such as Tiroler Groestl.
Alpengasthof Schroll (+43 5357 2344), near Kirchberg, has a lovely sun terrace and is cute inside with ancient wood and typical Tirolean stoves for warmth. You can go into the kitchen and watch the owner’s wife making huge pans of Kaiserschmarren.
Where to Party
When the World Cup comes to town (on the penultimate weekend in January), Kitzbuhel goes wild and it’s one of the biggest parties of the season in the Alps. But even in a normal week, the nightlife is impressive.
When it comes to bars and there’s a huge amount of choice. The Streifalm is on the lower slopes of the Hahnenkamm, so the first place to head for on your way home. It hosts Tirolean Evenings complete with dancing men in Lederhosen (the national costume of leather shorts), so be warned!
You can dance on the tables at The Londoner, the resort’s long-established British pub (it’s now 30 years old), but it is slightly overshadowed these days by the Legenden Cafe/Bar beside the Hahnenkamm lift.
The coolest nightclub in town is Club Take Five, which has been here for almost 20 years. It has three bars, a large VIP area, and resident DJs. Highways Music Bar holds Ibiza evenings, salsa parties, and other themed events and is located on the Hinterstadt, parallel to the main pedestrian street.
As a quieter alternative, the famous Cafe Praxmair (+43 5356 6216123) is somewhere everyone should visit at least once. Downstairs is the Prax Keller bar, which is open until late. The Goldener Greif has a rustic wine cellar.
Aquarena Leisure Complex has a 25m pool with a waterfall and tubing, and offers a full range of spa treatments (the speciality is a ‘healing moor mud treatment’), fitness classes and a restaurant. Kitzbuhel hosts the Valartis Bank Snow Polo World Cup, the biggest event of its kind in the world. The Mercedes-Benz Sports Park covers an area of 4,500 sq metres and offers a wide range of sports including curling, ice hockey, ice-skating and a climbing wall.
Every Thursday and Friday, you can go night-skiing on the Gaisberg slopes in Kirchberg from 6.30pm until 9.30pm. There’s also moonlight snow-shoeing, tobogganing and floodlit cross-county skiing to try. Free guided winter hikes and walks (in the daytime) are available from Monday to Friday throughout the season.