Value for Money 78%
Austria’s highest ski village is only 34km from Innsbruck airport, and ringed with magnificent, unpisted terrain. So although its ski area is small, it’s a canny choice for a short break or a ski touring trip.
Each winter, Astrid Zauner works as a ski instructor and off-piste guide in Kuhtai. “Basically, I grew up there,” she says. “My grandad kept beehives in the area, and I spent all my weekends and my winter holidays as a child on its slopes.”
Astrid loves the fact that the resort is only 40 minutes from Innsbruck (she can pop into town to see friends after work), and also that it’s so snowsure. “Its snow guarantee is a job guarantee for me, so I’m happy,” she says. Ski-touring is probably her favourite activity in the resort. “However much time you have, and whatever the weather or snow conditions, you’ll find a touring route to suit you,” she says.
Table of Contents
- 1 Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
- 2 A Short Guide to the Skiing in Kuhtai
- 3 Ski Schools in Kuhtai
- 4 Where to Stay in Kuhtai
- 5 The Best Restaurants in Kuhtai
- 6 Apres-Ski in Kuhtai
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
At first sight there’s not much to Kuhtai – just a huddle of hotels on a pass called the Kühtaisattel, with a handful of ski lifts attached. It offers a modest 44km of pistes (with an extra 41km nearby in the neighbouring Hochoetz) a quiet, unhurried atmosphere, and a reputation for good snow.
Sounds too small for a full-blooded ski holiday? Yes, for a seven-day, adults-only piste-bashing trip, it probably is. But if you’re in the market for short break or a weekend, then Kuhtai suddenly becomes a tantalising prospect.
1. It’s half an hour’s drive from Innsbruck airport
From the moment you touch down on Innsbruck’s runway to the point where you start unpacking in your hotel’s carpark, the transfer takes little more than an hour. There aren’t many ski resorts in the Alps that offer this kind of fly-in, fly-out convenience.
There is one caveat: if it’s snowing hard, Innsbruck airport is almost certain to close, in which case you’ll be diverted to Munich, and then bussed south into Innsbruck. It’ll add at least three hours to the journey. It’s a risk you always take with Innsbruck flights in winter – though of course there’s not a blizzard every day in the Tirol.
2. The snow’s usually soft and cold
Kuhtai is the highest ski village in Austria. Admittedly, the slopes don’t extend that high above the hotels. The top lift only reaches 2520m, which means the ski area is well short of matching the likes of Obergurgl or Obertauern in Austria (or Val Thorens and Tignes, in France) for altitude. But all the same, this is a snowy corner of the Alps; and until late in the season the north-facing pistes under the Alpenrosenlift and Hohemutbahn lifts are usually in superb condition. In fact along the whole of this side of the pass you’ll find great snow. Opposite, the south-facing slopes are more problematic, however, and suffer from thaw/refreezing cycles more quickly. So, to get the most out of the piste map, we’d advise skiing here before mid-March.
3. Access from bedroom to ski slope is quick.
Kuhtai’s modest size may militate against a vibrant apres-ski scene. But it sure makes getting onto the slopes easy each morning. Most Kuhtai hotels back straight onto the pistes or are only a short walk from them.
4. There are some cracking pistes to be skied
Almost all of the skiing’s on steeper pistes – reds and blacks. There’s nothing freakishly steep, to match the likes of the Harikiri in Mayrhofen, but you’ll find plenty of fall-line runs to get your thighs burning. Underneath the long Dreisenbahn chair there’s a big area of off-piste skiing, too.
Here’s a short promotional film from the resort, which doesn’t over-egg the pudding. Note that almost all the skiing is above the treeline: which is blissful on a sunny day, but less brilliant when it’s foggy (this is of course a common problem with high-altitude resorts in the Alps).
Ski tourers and bargain-hunters should consider it too
There are three exceptions to the “short-breaks only” rule for Kuhtai. The most obvious concerns price. UK tour operator Inghams runs a chalet-hotel here, which can be heavily discounted in the low season: a week here can sometimes be had for £480pp, chalet board, including flights and transfers, which is a steal for a chalet holiday in the modern era. If your budget’s tight, put it high on your hit list. Yes, the ski area’s relatively small: but you do get ski-in, ski-out accommodation, and – usually – good mid-winter snow by way of compensation.
Ski-tourers and wannabe ski tourers should consider a longer trip here too. Kuhtai’s lift-serviced ski area may be compact, but it’s girdled by a big, empty area of mountains, full of touring routes. One look at the resort’s touring guide will give you a sense of that.
A Short Guide to the Skiing in Kuhtai
Since 2012, Kuhtai’s ski area has been the venue for the SIGB Ski Test – the annual March gathering of manufacturers, distributors, ski shops and ski testers to check out equipment for the British ski market. It’s been the most successful ski-test venue of the last 15 years, thanks to the easy access from Innsbruck airport, as well as several fast lifts, good March snow, and a decent variety of terrain (both on and off piste), all served by ski-in, ski-out hotels.
And if you that makes Kuhtai sound like a good venue for a short break, packed with skiing – well, you’d be absolutely right. Ski here for two days – especially midweek, when the Austrians are at work – and you’re going to have a blast. You need to be at least a confident intermediate to enjoy the pistes – almost all of them are reds or blacks – but if you are, then you’ll love their steepish pitch and their tendency to follow the fall-line straight down the slopes. The snow on Kuhtai’s north-facing slopes is almost always in great nick too: in fact, it sticks around long after the lifts have closed at the end of the season.
Good areas for piste skiers to target include the scenic Gaiskogellift draglift – which has a wide flat part on the top – perfect for carving – with a steeper black run from the middle, good for short turns. There are some good off-piste runs beside the piste, too.
Meanwhile, off-pisters will like the look of the terrain under the Dreisenbahn chair. It’s a tasty mix of trees, short little chutes and wide-open slopes – and its shown in the picture above. Proper experts will be frustrated by the fact the lift stops short of the higher ridges and crags (although they can always skin up). But for less technical powder skiing, it’s a lot of fun: provided of course you’ve checked the avalanche risk and have your own avalanche safety gear – or you’ve hired a guide.
Another off-piste option is to ski down the north-facing dam of the reservoir. It’s not as steep as it looks – and it holds its snow well. But you must be sure the avalanche conditions are safe before you try it.
Here’s a short promotional video about Kuhtai, based on chair-lift chats with skiers in the resort. Not surprisingly, it downplays the modest size of the ski area – but it does give you a good sense of the unhurried pace of life here.
Why’s the terrain park so good?
Under the Alpenrosenlift you’ll also find a much bigger and better terrain park than a resort of Kuhtai’s size would normally warrant. Known as the K-Park, it’s home to some huge kickers, a skicross course, and one of only a handful of Olympic-standard superpipes in the Alps. Kuhtai’s proximity to the hip young gunslingers of Innsbruck explains the size and quality: and the resort got itself onto the freestyle map when it played host to several events at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012.
However, it’s worth bearing in mind that facilities like these are fearsomely expensive to maintain: so make sure you check in with the tourist office and the terrain park’s Facebook page before you go: to check the resort’s still offering the features you’re looking for.
There’s more skiing at Hochoetz if you get bored
Kuhtai’s lift pass also gives you free access to 41km of pistes in Hochoetz. It’s a half-hour drive from Kuhtai, at the northern end of the Oetztal and majors in blues and reds, both above and below the treeline. It’s a good place to go if it’s foggy at Kuhtai, and for most intermediate skiers it will stretch a short break by an extra day or two. But all the same we still don’t think this makes Kuhtai a sensible venue for a week-long holiday, unless you’ve bagged yourself a ludicrously cheap late-booking offer.
Ski Schools in Kuhtai
Prices are generally lower than you’d pay in a big-name resort such as Meribel or Val d’Isere. For example, two hours of private instruction with Follow Me costs about two-thirds of the price you’d pay with a British ski school in an A-list French resort.
With Skischule Kuhtai – the most Brit-friendly of the schools – 5x4hr group lessons for adults cost barely more than 5x2hr lessons with a British ski school in France.
Formats are flexible, too. With Skischule Kuhtai, for example, you can sign up for group lessons for any length of time from one to six days and for full day or half-day classes too.
That said, this isn’t a good resort for beginners – not for a whole week, anyway. The nursery slopes are fine, but there’s a dearth of long blues to progress to. Most of the pistes are too steep if you’re only just getting the hang of your linked turns. Check out our guide to the best ski resorts for beginners for some alternative destinations.
Lessons for First-Time Ski tourers
Where to Stay in Kuhtai
Kuhtai’s a small resort, and most of the hotels are gathered together on either side of the road, at the top of the Kühtaisattel pass. But if all you want to do is ski – and you don’t want ski lessons – then the best place to stay is a little bit further along the road; at the the 4-star Hotel Alpenrose (pictured above).
Why? Because the best skiing in Kuhtai is on its doorstep – courtesy of the three lifts, the Alpenrosenlift, the Hohemutbahn and the long Dreisenbahn chair. The first two give you access to a selection of fun, fall-line pistes. The third is the key to Kuhtai’s off-piste (it’ll also connect you with the other pistes above the main village). The only drawback is that you’re set apart from most of the (gentle) apres-ski activity in the main hub of hotels. But if you’re skiing hard you won’t want to stay out late anyway.
As well as a great location, the hotel has a modern, indoor pool area, and a sun-deck by the side of the pistes whenever you want to kick back and soak up the view.
Up in the main village, the properties to aim for are the four-star Hotel Astoria and the four-star Alpenresidenz Mooshaus, both are close to lifts and pistes, as well as the ski school meeting points. Both have indoor pools, and a good reputation for their food. The Mooshaus is the posher of the two.
Bargain-hunters should also bear in mind that Inghams has a well-located chalet-hotel in the resort – the Elisabeth. It’s nothing fancy: but fantastic value if you can bag a low-season deal.
If for any reason you’re looking for cheap digs and you can’t find them in Kuhtai, then target Gries im Sellrain, which is a 15-minute drive down the valley towards Innsbruck: it’s quiet village with zero evening atmosphere – but rooms at the basic, no-nonsense Hotel Grieserhof are less than half the price of accommodation in a four-star hotel in Kuhtai.
The Best Restaurants in Kuhtai
During the day, three ski huts are open on the slopes – the Graf Ferdinandhaus, next to the top of the Alpenroselift, Zum Kaiser Maximilian, by the Schwarzmoos lift, and the Drei-Seen-Hutte, under the Dreiseenbahn chair-lift (check out the piste map for details). Whether or not you need to stop in a mountain hut, when you’re never out of sight of the (cheaper) hotel restaurants at the bottom of the lifts – which are mostly open for lunch – is a moot point. Nevertheless, up there you’ll get lovely views and a gut-busting array of Tirolean specialities. Zum Kaiser Maximilien has the best reputation of the three for its food.
By the way, if you’re reasonably hungry and don’t want to spend much on lunch, the dish to order is Gulaschsuppe – goulash soup – which is not far short of being beef stew in a bowl. Usually it comes with a few slices of bread – and at around 6€ is the best value of the slopes. If you’re starving, then it has to be Tiroler Grostl – the local equivalent of bubble and squeak. Both are far more nourishing and satisfying than a plate of chips – which is what a lot of people eat in the French Alps if they’re trying not to splurge at lunchtime.
Meanwhile, the restaurant to target at village level is the Kühtaier Alm which has a cosy, friendly atmosphere and serves a delicious Alm Makkaroni.
Hotels with good kitchens include the Mooshaus, the Astoria and the Sporthotel Kuhtai. All three offer full-board packages – unusual for the Alps, but a reflection of the fact that the village is not so much below the ski area as in the middle of it, which makes dropping back to base for lunch both easy and natural. So in fact you don’t have to eat out once during your stay: it’s a bit unadventurous, but a lot of British skiers like the convenience (and the quantity of food on offer).
Apres-Ski in Kuhtai
Kuhtai is not a party town, like Mayrhofen or Ischgl. At the weekend, it does get busier, when Bavarians and Innsbruckers roll in for short skiing breaks. But generally it’s best to think of it as cosy, easy-going and quiet: the kind of place where you might take a dip in the pool after a day’s skiing, go tobogganing, or settle in for a couple of beers in your hotel’s bar before dinner. Of course, with the right group of friends you can have a high old time here. But with the right good of friends you could have a big night in your own kitchen, couldn’t you?
At the weekends, the apres-ski vibe gets started up in the mountain huts – the Graf Ferdinandhaus, near the Alpenroselift, Zum Kaiser Maximilien, by the Schwarzmoos lift, and the Drei-Seen-Hutte, under the Dreiseenbahn chairlift (see the piste map for locations): and at the bottom of the slopes Loisl’s Schirm, near the Alpenrose hotel, gets busy whenever the sun’s out. After dinner, anyone who wants to venture beyond their own hotel bar should try the Dorfstadl (especially on a Saturday night), the bars at the Hotel Tirol – or, for something a bit more relaxed, the Alte Stube at the Hotel Konradin.
Make sure you try the night skiing at least once, as well: each Wednesday and Saturday evening from 7.30-10pm under the HochAlter chair lift. The Zum Kaiser Maximilian mountain restaurant is open then too, so you can stretch a couple of descents into a whole evening with a supper half-way up the mountain.