The historic picturesque Tirolean town of Kitzbühel attracts skiers and non-skiers from around the world. Each year it hosts the most famous World Cup downhill ski race - the Hahnenkamm - but at just 760m above sea level, it has to rely on artificial snow, and its celebrated nightlife, to sustain its ranking as a truly great ski resort.
Kitzbühel has it all, except altitude. The KitzSki area, which includes the nearby villages of Kirchberg and Jochberg, is big, and there is an even larger one – the SkiWelt – a short bus ride from its edge; the après ski and nightlife are enjoyed by thousands of non-skiers as well as winter sports enthusiasts; and the visual impact of the medieval town set among dramatic mountains never ceases to amaze; but at 760m Kitzbuhel is worryingly low for a ski resort, especially as all its pistes are below 2,000m. In the 20th century, a lack of snow even led to the Hahnenkamm World Cup race being cancelled on a few occasions, and this prompted the Kitzbühel Lift Company to install an awesome armoury of snow cannons to guarantee some skiing from Christmas through to Easter, no matter what Mother Nature provides.
And in a good season, when the clouds and the snow-guns work in harmony, the skiing is wonderful. The Hahnenkamm directly above the town is still the highlight, but it’s just one of several mountains with runs weaving down through the trees, along with Pengelstein, Wurzhohe, Resterhohe, Kitzbüheler Horn, Gaisberg and Bichlalm. And just a short ski bus-ride away is the Ki-West lift going up Gampenkogel from which Westendorf and the rest of the enormous SkiWelt ski area is accessible. Although most of Kitzbuhel’s terrain is intermediate-friendly (including the famous Streif World Cup run, if taken slowly) there are enough black pistes, ungroomed ski routes and off-piste itineraries dotted around to keep experts occupied for a week. And whilst Kitzbuhel is not a great resort for beginners, it has all the basics they need, including nursery slopes and excellent ski schools.
But to get the most out of Kitzbuhel, you don’t even have to ski at all: simply join the 70,000 well-wishers packed into the town centre on a big race weekend; the nearby Rasmusleitn finish area is always a sea of red and white Austrian flags and the post-race fireworks and celebrations go on late into the night. Just make sure you have booked your accommodation well in advance.
Kitzbuhel Pros & Cons
+ Big ski area and an even larger one (The Ski Welt) nearby
+ Runs for every standard
+ Attractive medieval centre
+ Fun après ski & nightlife
+ Efficient artificial snow-making
– Resort and mountains are very low
– Town is rather strung-out
– Quite expensive by Austrian standards
– We prefer natural snow to artificial snow.