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  • Jennifer

Kitzbühel, Austria: One Month Skiing in Tyrol

Updated: Mar 3

After a month skiing in Whistler, BC, Canada, we headed to Europe...and 25 hours later, after a series of planes, trains, and automobiles, we arrived in Kitzbühel, Austria. This alpine town was an easy and beautiful two hour train ride from Salzburg, and looking out of the train windows got us super excited for our month in this medieval Tyrolean village.

Although Kitzbühel is considered the most exclusive ski resort in Austria, we found it to be super welcoming and down to earth. From the mostly car-free streets of the village's center to the slope-side restaurants, everyone we met was there to have fun skiingwith the emphasis on fun. There is nothing like après ski in Austria (read our blog from our ski trip to St. Anton, Austria to see what we mean).

The village of Kitzbühel may be home to the largest ski region in Austria, but it is also a quaint town with horse-drawn carriages, cozy outdoor sidewalk cafes, and lovely churches. The architecture is a picture perfect Alpen mountain town with church bells ringing and the clip-clop of horses' hooves on cobblestone.

Kitzski, the ski area, spans two federal states (Tirol and Salzburg), and includes seven towns: Kitzbühel, Reith, Aurach, Jochberg, Pass Thurn-Mittersill, Hollerbach, Kirchberg and Aschau in Spertental. It's huge! Everywhere you look there are trails and lifts and gondolas. With more than 233 km of ski runs, and 57 cable cars and chair lifts, we never got bored. In fact, there were days we were racing from one end of the resort to the other to catch the last gondola back down the mountain, and we still had more skiing to do!

Mention Kitzbühel to avid skiers and the first thing they bring up: The Hahnenkamm race on the Streif slope. This is known as the most challenging and dangerous downhill racecourse in the world, and you can see why in this video of the six worst Hahnenkamm crashes. It's crazy and these skiers are fearless! Racers reach speeds of 90mph on this steep, twisty slope. Hahnenkamm means rooster's comb in German, and every year the poster for the event includes an homage to a bright red rooster's comb (the winding back and forth of the trail resembles one). It's often referred to as "the Super Bowl of Skiing."

We got to ski down the Streif several times, and even though we weren't going anywhere near 90mph, it was still a blast!

Although we missed watching the legendary Streif ski race by a few weeks, we were in Kitzbühel for VERTICAL UP, which has the opposite goal—to go up the Streif as fast as possible. There are no rules for this nighttime race, as long as you're powered by your own strength and wear a headlamp, you can take any route you want up the 3.3 km long run with an elevation change of 860 vertical meters. Participants dress up and people cheer them on with cow bells. We jumped on the gondola after the starting gun and watched the winner coming up the Streif in the dark with his headlamp on, it was really a great time. The record is 30:49.7 minutes and this year's winner came close with 32:32—the final person made it to the top almost two hours later! The photo below is what it looks like with the trail lit by 342 participants running up the Strief with headlamps to light their way in the dark.

The weather ran the gamut during our stay, from blue sky days with tons of sun to white-out snow and fog that made it impossible to see.

The resort is large and quite spread out, with three major sections and the views of the Alpen peaks is amazing from everywhere. It took us a couple of weeks before we skied most of the pistes and it wasn't until the final week that we were able to ski the remaining obscure ones in the far reaches. The conditions were quite variable throughout our stay. Early on it was warm and it hadn't snowed in some time, so things were very mushy and quite bumped up. Heading down, we found ourselves dodging loads of beginners flailing and falling their way through the moguls. We eventually got a decent snowfall followed by some colder weather and things quickly turned fantastic! The turns were awesome and trails that were formerly real thigh-crushers suddenly became wide open screamers that begged to be skied faster and faster.

Joe decided to set the alarm and go solo one day for the first gondola up to catch first tracks. He promptly discovered ski heaven, with perfectly groomed trails, no lift lines, and no crowds. By noon he realized he had already done 20 runs and felt inspired. What was originally planned to be an early start and early finish turned into an epic marathon. After a quick lunch, Joe set a goal for the day of 40 x 3. Taking off from the far end of the resort, up and down, up and down, zooming from one end to the other, by 4pm the goal was achieved. 40 runs, 44 miles, and 46 thousand vertical feet. It was an epic day and quite an achievement! Which was soon followed by ice on an ailing knee, a tall, cold hefeweizen, and an early night. Because the following morning we were both up there together for first tracks at 8am and it was another amazing day!

There's no shortage of great places to eat and drink in Kitzbühel, from casual to over the top. We loved a tiny place called Simple, owned by Paul, an Australian from down under, who was excited to show us pictures of the US Ski team enjoying burgers there a few weeks before. At Don Luigi we had amazing pizza and practiced our Italian with the owners (Italy is just a couple of hours away). Rosi's Sonnberg Stuben is highly recommended for traditional Austrian food, but it is outside the village, so you'll need to take a taxi. The Huber Bräu is in town, and you can find regional dishes and Tyrolean specialties. We also had a delicious dinner at Hutschpferd Palais after The Londoner one night, the crock of melted cheese with bread was just what we needed! Cheese is a very big thing in Austria and it's always yummy.

The slope side dining runs the gamut from Austrian chalets serving traditional food to champagne bars to casual open-air terraces—there's something for every mood! And we tried them all. Our favorite spots included Almbar next to the Panorama Alm at the top, it's an open-air bar (when the sun is out, when it's snowing they close the roof) with an amazing view. Here's where we discovered Eierlikör, which is egg liqueur. They serve it as a warm shot with whipped cream and it is so yummy!

Basically, it tastes a lot like eggnog or custard. They also have a giant log, and you try to hammer nails into it by taking turns with the sharp, narrow side of a masonry hammer, and the one who gets it in last has to buy everyone's round of drinks. We saw this game in numerous bars, kinda strange, but we were game! Joe was a master at playing Stump & Nageln.

Another great spot is Toni Alm on Piste 77, the Kitzbühel Alps panoramic run. The food is fantastic, and this spot is a little off the beaten trail so it's secluded with a lovely view of the mountains. We were there for Winter Beach, which included a special Veuve Clicquot Airstream popping bubbly for everyone. The blue sky and sun were perfect for our beach day! Another tip: make sure to bring your sunscreen, the sun shines bright here!

There's a very special place for lunch on the mountain called Sonnbühel. We made reservations (highly recommended, this place is in-demand) and enjoyed a lunch of beef cheeks and tuna goulash, not your typical slope side fare! This is the place for a leisurely gourmet lunch and impeccable service on the terrace overlooking the peaks of snow-covered mountains, and with the live music you might never want to leave!

During our ski lunches, we kept seeing people drinking glasses of bright pink liquid and we couldn't for the life of us figure out what it was. So we decided to do a search on the internet and discovered skiwasser or ski water. Turns out this is an Austrian favorite in the Tyrol region, and is a "sports drink," if you can consider raspberry syrup, lemon juice, and water a sports drink. Apparently, the skiers here love it!

We decided to try a glass at lunch one day, and even though we thought it would be sickly sweet, it was actually quite good!

Another favorite drink here: Jägermeister. Jägermeister must love this town because it seems like everyone has a small bottle in their hands. There's no such things as shot glasses, everyone just drinks straight from the bottle, you'll even see pyramids and Jenga stacks of bottles piled up on tables waiting for takers! And it seems like everyone is a taker!

After a day of skiing there are lots of opportunities to unwind, and the après ski scene here starts on the mountain and ends in town. The Hahnenkamm Pavillon bar is right off the gondola and as the music gets going, you'll find people standing on tables and stools in their ski boots singing at the top of lungs to Austrian ski songs and other international songs everyone loves (we must have heard Sweet Caroline and Country Roads twenty times in our month here). This spot gets crazy, with buckets of champagne on tables and confetti guns. Two spots for live music, The Londoner and Spoho Alm, are dramatically different but both tons of fun. One looks like the inside of a British pub and the other is, literally, a log cabin chalet, and they're right next to each other.

The Londoner was our favorite, with the house band playing for several hours nonstop every Thursday through Saturday evening. They are more than just a two-man band; they are ringleaders turning the crowd wild and inspiring sing alongs and frantic dancing. Revving up the crowd is more than just talk for these guys. Between every song they are hoisting their drinks for group toasts with the crowd and between every second or third song was a shot of Jäger or some other local favorite shot. These guys are nuts and a ton of fun; of course, there was singing and dancing participation from us!

One of the things we love about skiing in Europe is meeting people from all over, and we loved meeting, laughing, singing, and dancing with people from Austria, Germany, The Netherlands, Greece, England, Norway, and even...Breckenridge, CO (she noticed my t-shirt and came over to chat). We even bumped into some folks from the Cape Cod Ski Club that were part of a group of 70 skiing Kitzbühel. There's no such thing as a stranger on the slopes or après ski, just new friends!

Side trip: One day in Innsbruck, Austria

On a day off from skiing we decided we'd take the train to Innsbruck to check out Tyrol's capital city, Innsbruck. Austrian trains are au-somefast, new, clean, and always on-time. In just 1.5 hours, we arrived in this home of winter sports (it hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976). It was a little gray and rainy out, so we made our first order of business a warm, cozy cafe for some Austrian sweets. We enjoyed apple strudel, sachertorte (the chocolate cake invented by Franz Sacher), a cappuccino, and hot chocolate at Katzung Cafe and by the time we left the sun was out!

The Golden Roof was right outside the cafe, and, although this is the city's most famous symbol, we found it a little underwhelming. Completed in 1500, the Golden Roof is decorated with 2,657 gilded copper tiles, and it served as a balcony for Emperor Maximilian and his wife. We took a photo and were ready to move on to the Inn river for a great view of the mountains, and then popped into the Markthalle to check out the fresh fruit, meats, and baked goods for sale (we always love a fresh market for local purveyors). From there it was on to the Cathedral of St. James (Innsbruck Cathedral), a beautiful18th-century Baroque cathedral.

The weather was lovely and all of the cafes had moved outside so we sat and enjoyed the old town before heading to Bergisel Ski Jump. The first competitions were held here in the 1920's, and the current hill was completed in 2003. The hill has hosted the Olympics and hosts the prestigious Four Hills Tournament each year. There is a restaurant up top, so we decided to go for a drink and the view overlooking Innsbruck. Of course, when we got there we learned that the funicular wasn't working...but we were welcome to walk the 400 steps up to the elevator that would take us to the restaurant! So, that's what we did, and were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow over the entire city below us. We could also look down the run the ski jumpers make, and decided there is no way we would ever do that!

On another day off we decided to spend the day relaxing at Kempinski Hotel Das Tirol, followed by a fondu dinner. For years we've wanted to try an authentic fondu meal, and finally we did! We chose the fondu chinoise (meat) and didn't really know what to expect...until a cart was rolled to our table with plates and bowls filled with so much food! Vegetables, the biggest bowl of French fries and roasted potatoes we've ever seen, beef, veal, shrimp, salmon, and so much more. By the time the dessert came we had to force ourselves to eat the Kaiserschmarrn, which is a traditional dessert of caramelized, shredded pancakes with cherries and powdered sugar. The word actually translates to Emperor's mess, after Kaiser Franz Joseph I, who apparently loved the dessert. We left stuffed and ready to work off our meal on the slopes the next day!

For some reason both Whistler and Kitzbühel had tons of moguls on the runs, so we spent two months reciting our new mantra: Make friends with the moguls. By the end of our time in Austria we had a ton of new friends and had conquered the moguls. Our knees were thankful to be taking a three-week break traveling to Luxembourg and France before we head to Breckenridge, CO to end the season with two months of spring skiing...and more moguls.

We loved our time in Kitzbühel and would definitely return to ski and enjoy this lovely Austrian village again. Hopefully, next time we'll get to see the racers ski down the Steif, cheer them on, and take part in the Hahnenkamm's unique, and thrilling, ski experience. Was our month in Kitzbühel worth the 25 hours of travel? Absolutely, yes.

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Enjoy a taste of our travels with drink recipes on Instagram - Worldwide.Cocktails.


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