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A ski trip to Kitzbühel

More reporting from beyond the world of the Blue Books.

Kitzbühel in Austria's Tyrol Bundesland has been on my winter wish-list for quite some time, and now I've finally made the trip. Even though they all have similarities, every Alpine resort I've visited has it's own character and variation on some common themes. Kitzbühel is no exception. The central area of the town looks quite different from what I've seen elsewhere. Whereas towns like Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Lech and Oberstdorf look like rustic towns that became wealthy because of tourism, Kitzbühel has the look of a prosperous town that became ever richer once people starting coming here for skiing. The center reminds me a little bit of Berchtesgaden- instead of chalet-type buildings, you see those brightly painted multi-story structures with the thick stone and plaster walls. Wooden and stone chalets are prominent outside the downtown. The old center contains mostly expensive spa hotels, expensive restaurants, high class wine bars and expensive boutiques. Expensive seems to be a common theme in this town. If you're looking to excede your usual yearly clothing budget with a single purchase, Kitzbühel beckons.

Alpine views: From the town, the vistas are fairly restricted. Typical of many Alpine locations, when you're in the valley, the geometry of the of lower slopes blocks your view of most of the high peaks, which are generally recessed further back. Although it's definately scenic, the views won't immediately blow your mind, like you might see in the Berner Oberland or the Swiss Rhône valley. Once you ascend, though, the peaks jump out at you.

Skiing: Even though the conditions haven't been great since I've been here, I really like the layout of the pistes. The skiing areas are spread out over a very large geographic area, but you can access most of the slopes without descending to the valley. T-bars and rope tows (which I hate!) are few and far between. There's more than enough mountain restaurants and bars to keep your appetite and thirst under control while you ski. Most of the pistes are not particularly difficult. This would be a great place for beginners and intermediates. One complaint on that front, however. The easy "exit piste" that takes you back to downtown Kitzbühel is temporarily closed. This means that the only way to exit the slopes is to take the "racing piste" where they hold international ski competitions. At the end of the day, when my muscles are usually screaming at me to take a break, I would prefer a nice gentle descent, rather than an Olympic-caliber downhill. I can imagine beginners have a particular hard time getting down the mountain. (cont.)

Posted by
12040 posts

(cont). I've also noticed that, in contrast to many other resorts, particularly in the US, snowboarders are a very small minority here. Easily 95% of everyone on the slopes is on skis, not boards. I didn't go near the terrain park, so perhaps that's where the boarders congregate, but it would seem this resort is still very much ski-dominated.

Also, destignated Winterwandeling trails are very few (as opposed to the Berner Oberland, where they're very prominent). The sledge runs seem to be limited to a few small slopes at the bottom of the mountains. So, what's the message? If you're not here to ski, shop or get a spa treatment, it would seem there's very little for you to do in Kitzbühel. I haven't seen a cross-country ski course, but this being a major winter sports mecca, there has to be one somewhere.

Aprés-ski: Quite a bit more sophisticated than I've experienced anywhere else, with the exception of perhaps St. Moritz. Although you can hear the usual aprés-ski type music (here's an example, if you need a quick primer), this is not a frat party atmosphere. More the kind of place where you sip wine and have a conversation, rather than chug beer and yell like a fool.

I've noticed that there's a particular type of crowd here. Although it's a pretty international grouping (I've heard Bavarian-Austrian dialects, Hochdeutch, Schwiezerdeutsch, Plattdeutsch, Swabian, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish, a surprisingly large amount of Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Japanese and even Arabic spoken on the lifts), the most prominent connecting thread is this- money. Everyone looks the same on the pistes, but there's quite a bit of expensive clothing walking around town. This is definately a playground for the rich, or at least, international conspicuous consumers. Good place to informally network, though.

Something else I've noticed about the crowd here, particularly after dark. I've mentioned that people here are impeccably dressed. But I have to say... this is probably the most photogenic group of visitors I've seen anywhere. Even moreso than St. Moritz. Now, I'm a happily married man and have no use for this kind of thing. But... for a single young gentleman of means about 5-10 years younger than myself, this town would be close to paradise.

So, who should consider a visit to Kitzbühel? First and foremost, winter sports enthusiasts, particularly skiers. You can't do much better in the Alps. If you don't ski, though... there's not a whole lot for you here, unless you REALLY like boutique shopping. I can imagine the hiking is pretty good in the summer, but there's other destinations that are much more convenient to the usual North American tourist trail. If you're looking for some folksy Tyrolian cultural clichés, this is definately the wrong place. I probably won't return, simply because Kitzbühel isn't very convenient to where I live, but if I lived in, say, Bavaria or southern Baden-Württemberg, it would probably enter my regular Alpine rotation. The skiing is just amazing.

Posted by
12040 posts

Oh, one more detail I forgot. No night-skiing. But this is pretty rare in the Alps anway.

Posted by
11613 posts

Thanks, Tom. Great report. I don't ski (not on purpose, anyway) but I spent Christmas with friends just outside the town, and everything you said is true! We did find some inexpensive resaurants once you pass through the arch at the end of the main street.

Posted by
14580 posts

I'm no skier, never was, but a good report on this scene, specifically on the various languages and Dialekte you heard spoken.