Monday, July 8, 2013

Kitzbühel, Austria 2/15 - 2/18

Our next stop was Kitzbühel, which we reached with a direct 1.5 hour train ride from Innsbruck.
Short train ride from Innsbruck to Kitzbühel.

We had been curious to check out Kitzbühel for a few years after we had first read about its beautiful alpine village. We were especially drawn to the colorful medieval downtown area, which does not allow vehicles. This makes the area much more walkable and family friendly. We noticed the trend of disallowing cars in some of the other higher end European ski towns and we really enjoy it. That being said, roads surrounding Kitzbühel's small downtown area do allow cars. We found that some people like to show off their fancy cars by driving aggressively there, which became a little annoying.
Kitzbühel from our balcony.
Notice these Austrian roofs are flatter compared to their Swiss counterparts.
Kitzbühel's car-free downtown area is known for its immaculately colored buildings.
Eating snow in Kitzbühel.
We were happy with our hotel named Jägerwirt ("hunter host").

Before visiting Kitzbühel, we had read about its glamorous atmosphere. But we were still flabbergasted when we saw women walking around in fur coats and families fully dressed in gaudy expensive snow gear. A day earlier, we had just visited Nordkette in Innsbruck, which was a mountain catering to locals who consider skiing a part of their regular lives. Kitzbühel, on the other hand, was at the opposite end of the spectrum. By and large, they catered to wealthy foreigners (many of them Russian, interestingly) that visit maybe once a year to glamorously enjoy a week of skiing without being too far from high end shops. This was very bizzarre but interesting to us.
These high end fashion boutiques were prevalent throughout Kitzbühel.
Bogner was especially popular amongst those with generous amounts of disposable income.

We found a couple of good places to eat in Kitzbühel. At one such place, I ordered a Tiroler Gröstl, which became one of my favorite Austrian dishes. Gröstl is traditionally made with leftover ingredients including well-seasoned potatoes and pork topped by a fried egg. It is a must-try in anyone's visit to Austria.
Tiroler Gröstl
Che bella pizza!

True to the luxurious style of Kitzbühel, the ski area was no less impressive. The enormous ski area was connected by express ski lifts and gondolas with heated seats and protection from the wind. That's right, ski lifts with heated seats! It would have been nearly impossible to cover the whole resort in one day, especially once you consider the long traditional European lunch. Each day we explored a different area and rarely had to retrace any route.
Kitzbühel's gigantic ski trail map.
Wind-protected lifts with heated seats.
Who would not want to ski with such comfort?
Gondola with great views.

Kitzbühel's ski resort had very good food even by European standards, which is by the way much higher than American standards at ski resorts. The mountains contained several wooden lodges that served proper meals including Glühwein to warm us up.
A typical lodge on the mountains.
The lodges typically had very homely interiors.

We were very happy with the snow quality at Kitzbühel during our visit. Although the area is at a very low elevation (2.6k ft. at the base and 6.5k ft. at summits), it received a lot of snow this season including about half a foot over the first night we were there. As a result, we got some of the best powder of our trip and we were once again happy that Europeans typically do not venture off-piste. That being said, we saw several people with absolutely no avalanche safety gear going into dangerous areas. When we talked to a local guide, he clearly showed his frustration over this type of behavior, which seemed to be somewhat common among inexperienced tourists that come for a week of skiing and obliviously wander off in search for powder. But the lack of awareness seemed to be present even amongst locals because a local kid was buried and killed in a nearby avalanche a week before. The danger level was high and the kid had no avalanche gear or training.

On a less serious note, we covered all the major ski lifts and trails in the three days of snowboarding. We had a lot of fun, although sometimes we struggled to keep moving on flat areas. What can I say? It is no secret that European resorts were made for skiers, not snowboarders.
Here are the GPS tracks of our quest to cover all ski lifts and trails.
Like most of Europe, Kitzbühel is not very snowboard friendly.
This was the first time we found an actual tow rope in a ski resort.
It helped us poor snowboarders.

Kitzbühel is known for its après-ski scene for socializing after a day of skiing. We hung out at a popular outdoor bar at Chizzo restaurant, where we met some people from Greece and also saw the guide we had met earlier.
Chizzo has the town's arguably best Glühwein for après-ski.

Alas, our visit eventually came to an end. We enjoyed the ritzy experience of Kitzbühel and met several nice people there. On our way out, I started thinking about balancing our next visit by spending more time in smaller and more modest villages like some that we had passed while riding the Mont Blanc Express train from Chamonix to Mürren. In other words, I was already daydreaming about our next trip before the current one was over.
Auf Wiedersehen, Kitzbühel!