Overview of Kitzbühel, Austria
Written by Greg and Heather Burke
Kitzbühel, also spelled Kitzbüehel, is Austria’s most historic and celebrated alpine resort, the oldest – since alpine skiing began here in 1893 thanks to the bold Austrian Franz Reisch, who climbed to the summit of the Kitzbüheler Horn and skied it. Kitzbühel is also the first Alps ski resort with a cable car and five-star hotel in the 1920’s. The most famous Kitzbühel claim is hosting the biggest ski race in the world, the Hahnenkamm Downhill every January since 1931. Finally, Kitzbuhel is a small authentic Alps village, dating back to silver mining in the 16th century. The medieval and Tyrolean chalet architecture blends beautifully in this world-famous ski village of 8,000 locals. Aside from the fascinating alpine history is the view, the Kitzbüheler Alps in Northwest Austria dominated by three major peaks, the Kitzbüheler Horn, Hahnenkamm Mountain and Wilder Kaiser – the wild king.
Kitzbühel’s skiing is huge, with 54 cable cars and lifts, 209 km of well-groomed slopes including the famous Streif, where the annual Hahnenkamm that takes place every. The Streif is the most spectacular downhill ski race course in the world, and it’s open for skiers and free riders to experience the steepness, the huge knolls that ski racers launch off and the compressions below. The Hahnenkamm is the largest most exciting ski race on the planet, the Super Bowl of Skiing, or the Kentucky Derby as it takes two minutes per racer (and includes a huge party at the finish). The Hahnenkamm Rennen is Kitzbühel’s pride and joy to host, attracting as many as 100,000 fans, celebrities, and media for the weeklong event, late January. The Family Streif is a race run designed so everyone can experience this exciting downhill course, it skirts around the extremely steep part of the downhill course, the “Hausbergkante”, but returns to the original racing track at the Seidlalm so you can ski to the finish line.
Though not as high as the other Alps, at 2,000 meters (6,561’) elevation, the slopes of Kitzbühel are grassy and don’t require as much snow as high alpine ski resorts. Kitzbühel has so much skiing, 60 marked trails that are groomed daily (170 kilometers) with a hyper efficient lift system of 54 cable cars – eight and six passenger chairs with heated seats at every turn, and grand gondolas. Kitzbühel has invested heavily in lifts and snowmaking in recent years, aiming to be the first non-glacial ski resort to open in Austria despites its lower elevation. Besides all the well-prepared ski terrain, there is limitless “off-piste” just off the prepared runs, easy to reach and get back to the trails and lifts. If you can see it you can ski it. Kitzbühel terrain is largely located on high farm land, called alm, cows graze here in summer amid the chalets and huts. Kitzbühel doesn’t need a ton of snow coverage to make the grassy fields and bowls ski-able, unlike like the “Rockies”. Still venturing off-piste you should hire a guide, Alpin Experts are very good, to safely explore all of this phenomenal terrain.
Kitzbuhel’s on mountain dining and après ski is legendary, with 56 on mountain ski chalets – independently owned and lovingly operated by families who own this land. Ski in for lunch, a café, or schnapps at these delightful spots, most have sun decks for those beautiful blue sky days and music playing. We enjoyed lunch at Toni Alm skiing to Jochberg near the town of Mittersill in neighboring Salzburg County, the furthest south of Kitzbühel’s ski terrain. The next day we dined at the classic chalet Barenbad for the best goulash soup in this cozy bar, both are reached by the 3s Gondola – an 8-minute ride across the valley (an amazing lift connecting Jochburg to Hahnenkamm peak. If you have non-skiers in your group, meet at the lodge atop the Hahnekamm Gondola, another beautiful panoramic lodge very popular for après ski on Saturdays. Kitzbüheler Horn is an entirely separate part of the ski area, across town with more lifts, terrain parks, and family skiing, currently being upgraded with snowmaking. Kitzbühel was the first Alps ski resort to market a Ski Safari, a circuit to ski the entire region- 100 kilometers reaching nearby SkiWelt, this ski circuit concept has since been emulated by the Dolomite’s Sella Ronda among others.
Kitzbühel’s 8,000 residents have mastered the craft of catering to visitors, providing genuine hospitality to the wealthy ski clientele, without losing their character or their homes. They love to ski too, and successfully share their town with visitors while preserving it. Kitzbühel has 4 and 5-star hotels, we recommend Hotel Rasmushof, and fun après ski where the locals “prost” with vacationers - at Stamperle right on Kitzbühel classy Franz Reisch Street.
The Hahnenkamm race is a metaphor for this historic ski village, true to its roots, timeless, even legendary but ever challenging the new arriving skier from first tracks to off-piste to après ski. Kitzbühel is beautiful, athletic, ageless, and never boring. Also in the Kitzbühel Valley is SkiWelt - the largest in Austria, and Alpbach / Wildschőnau– now called Ski Juwel, all part of Austria's Tyrol.