Spotlight on: Kühtai
Chris Taine takes a spin around Austria's highest alpine village
The pint-sized Tirolean resort of Kühtai hosts the annual SIGB Ski Test, where dozens of UK retailers and media gather in Austria to check out next season’s kit. The varied terrain and snowsure slopes of Kühtai make it an ideal arena for testing – but what else does the resort have to offer?
The sunny side of Kühtai
Words and photos by Chris Taine
When next year’s shiny new skis are dutifully packed away into colourfully-decalled vans by ski reps and product managers, it’s finally time to explore beyond the test centre and the Hohemutbahn (or is that Groundhogbahn?) and see what Kühtai is really made of.
Kühtai might be small, but this little resort in the heart of Austria’s Tirol region comes with something with a reputation. With a resort base and village at 2020m, it’s Austria’s highest wintersports village. The altitude – along with the hugely varied terrain, pretty vistas and proximity to Innsbruck (just a 45min drive) - make it a ski touring El Dorado. The mountains surrounding the village, well byond the reach of the lifts, are marked with the zig-zag of skinning tracks. Because of Kühtai’s lofty perch, tourers don’t have to go far to find themselves in a huge variety of backcountry terrain; from wide open bowls to narrow couloirs, from highly-exposed alpine steeps to playful lines through the trees.
However, the resort has plenty to offer those who are content to ride the lifts too.
A single road runs east to west through Kühtai, dividing the resort in two. The south-facing side of the resort catches plenty of sun – making restaurants like Zum Kaiser Maximilian extremely popular. Get there early if you want the prime pots. But the sunny side of the valley is not just about working on your goggle tan. The rolling red pistes from the top of the four-seater Hochalterbahn and the Kaiserbahn gondola are quality runs top to bottom, covering 500m of vertical. The off-piste terrain on this side is perfect when it’s been softened by the sun, but it’s the other (shady) side of the valley where most will head when there’s fresh snow on the ground.
From the centre of Kühtai (well, near the highest concentration of hotels) a pair of T-bars whisk skiers up the steep north-facing slopes. The no-nonsense black pistes here are short and sweet, but head a little wider and the off-piste is gentle and inviting – the perfect place to hone your technique is you’re venturing into the powder for the first time.
Powder under the Dreiseenbahn
Sunset from the Alpenrose Hotel
For more serious off-piste, head a little higher up on the Dreiseenbahn and there’s a great mix of terrain, from steeper pitches at the top to playful gullies dotted with trees at the bottom. The north-facing Hohemutbahn keeps the snow in great condition, with steep black pistes, gentle off piste, sidecountry powder stashes and an immaculate snow park (used for the 2012 Youth Olympics Games) all easily accessible from the top.
Those that are accustomed to the expansive inter-linked resorts found elsewhere in Austria or in France might find a quiet and compact little resort like Kühtai rather limited, but if you’re willing to explore there’s more than enough skiing for a long weekend getaway, especially given it’s got one of the shortest transfer times of anywhere in Europe. If you’re spending a week in the Innsbruck area then a trip to Kühtai can be combined with visits to other interesting areas like Axamer Lizum (which hosted Alpine skiing events in 1964 and 1976) and resorts in the Stubai Valley. Hochoetz, a resort similar in size to Kühtai but at a lower elevation, is included on the same lift pass and can be easily reached by shuttle bus.
Although there’s a selection of hotels in Kühtai (and to be honest there’s not much more than that), one of the best bets is the Alpenrose. Situated at the base of the Dreiseenbahn and Hohemutbahn, it’s a fifteen minute walk down the hill from the village proper, but they serve up enormous buffet breakfasts and dinners, so at the very least you’ll ski that little bit harder to justify those second helpings. The real selling point though is that the best terrain is right on the doorstep, so you can make the most of this little slice of Tirol – a place where the skiing is all about quality over quantity.
Kühtai is included in the Tirol Snow Card, which provides access to 4000km of pistes, more than 1000 lifts and 86 ski areas throughout Tirol.
Innsbruck Airport is served by easyJet flights from London Gatwick, Bristol and Liverpool. AutoEurope offer affordable car hire options that allow you to fully explore the mountains and resorts surrounding Innsbruck.
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