So there you are with the Kitzbuhel piste map in your hands. It’s the first day of your ski holiday, in one of the most famous ski towns of all – Kitzbuhel in Austria, home of the Hahnenkamm, the world’s toughest and most spectacular ski race.
You’re excited. There are, after all, 170km of groomed and waymarked trails to burn through before the holiday’s over. You’re nervous too. Is every piste a potential World Cup downhill run, you wonder? Above all, you want to get started. You crack the map open and search for some clues to your future skiing pleasure.
Stop! Before you even get on the first lift, there are some important things you need to know. The Kitzbuhel piste map is pretty clear and easy to follow. But it’s only a map. Here are the secrets it won’t give up at the first glance.
There’s only one Streif…
Don’t be intimidated by the reputation of the Streif – the proper name of the Hahnenkamm race course. Yes, it’s every bit as terrifying as they say it is. But there’s nothing else like it in Kitzbuhel (or, for that matter, in much of the rest of the Alps). When it comes to the ski area as a whole it’s a complete red herring.
Admittedly some of the red-rated pistes here are just a shade steeper and more sustained than you’ll find in, say, Courchevel in France. Anyone who hires a guide on a powder day will find some superb off-piste, too. But generally, skiing in Kitzbuhel is characterised by easy-going intermediate descents. Anyone freaked out by the idea of steep, icy slopes can relax.
…And you should see it/ski it first thing in the morning
Fancy skiing the Streif yourself? Well, before race day (usually one of the last two weekends in January) you can’t. It’s closed to the public.
Once the race is over, the flatter, safer sections are opened up to the public – but be warned, they’re a sheet of ice, and ordinary skis will not hold an edge on them. Only later in the season will you be able to ski the whole thing. It’s 21a on the Kitzbuhel piste map.
In the meantime, however, you can ski a piste that runs alongside it, the Streif-Familienabfahrt. This is rated red – upper-intermediate – and gives you the chance to check out the forbidding Mausefalle – Mousetrap – near the top of the course. The gradient of the slope here is 85%, and when racers catch air from it, they can travel up to 80m before regaining contact with the snow.
If you do want to check out the course, make sure you do it first thing – especially if there’s been a dump, or the snow is soft. By the end of the day the Streif-Familienabfahrt is heavily mogulled.
Once you’ve seen the Streif, head to the back end of the ski area
Nearly everyone starts the day by riding the Hahnenkammbahn gondola up the mountain, and for much of the day, they get stuck on the pistes nearest to it. For quieter slopes, and the best snow, cross the magnificent 3S cable car in the middle of the ski area as soon as possible – and don’t come back until the end of the day.
Allow yourself only one detour en route, to piste 55, the Hochsaukaser. It’s a lovely black, not too steep and not too long, and it’s tucked away in a corner no-one gets to, so the snow’s usually in good nick. It’s a great mid-morning boost for your skiing ego.
The best snow is on, or near, the Resterhohe
Top left-hand corner of the Kitzbuhel piste map is your ultimate destination – to the slopes on or near the 1894m Resterhohe. It feels like a world apart from the rest of the ski area, with more open slopes and its own frigid microclimate. Whatever’s happening elsewhere in Kitzbuhel, it’s going to be colder and snowier here.
En route, you’ll enjoy several cracking reds, notably red 61, Talsen, which drops down from the far side of the 3S gondola, and has a wonderfully sustained fall-line pitch in its mid-section. You should also stop at the Barenbaldalm for an Aberdeen Angus rump steak (they graze the beef on the slopes below the restaurant in the summer). But once you make it to the back end, you’ll probably stay there for the rest of the afternnon.
If at this point you can’t face the idea of skiing all the way back to Kitzbuhel at the end of the day, don’t worry. You can also ski down to Pass Thurn or the village of Jochburg and take a bus back into town.
The Skiwelt is next door
What lots of skiers in Kitzbuhel don’t realise is how close the Skiwelt is. The Skiwelt is Austria’s largest interconnected ski area, offering an additional 279km of groomed and waymarked skiing; and much of it, like Kitz, is intermediate-friendly.
To get there, you need to buy an Allstar Card to beef up your lift pass, and you’ll need to ski to the right-hand edge of the Kitzbuhel piste map, in the valley above Kirchberg. That’s where you can catch a bus to the nearest Skiwelt lift station. It’s not far, and it’s worth doing at least once in your holiday, because one of the closest Skiwelt resorts is Westendorf – home to three scintillating top-to-bottom pistes, off the top of the Choralpe.
Right then, that’s your briefing, Snowfiends. Time to fold up the map, stick it somewhere you can reach it – and let rip. There’s 449km of pistes of mouthwatering variety to get stuck into. You don’t want to hang about.
Tour operators featuring Kitzbuhel include Crystal and Inghams. For independent travel, fly to Innsbruck, which is served by easyJet from London Gatwick, Liverpool and Bristol. You can find more information about travel to Kitbuhel at www.kitzbuehel.com and about the Tirol at www.visittirol.co.uk.