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02 January 2017

Beyond the Streif: Kitzbühel

As the 77th edition of the Hahnenkamm approaches, we look back at Kitzbuehel's place in skiing history

Kitzbueheler Horn
Kitzbueheler Horn.

All (skiing) eyes turn to Kitzbühel each January, as the famed Hahnenkammrennen welcomes the world’s fastest alpine ski racers. The World Cup’s most prestigious downhill race will celebrate its 77th edition this year, but in fact the history of alpine skiing in Kitzbühel actually goes back much further…

The view from Kitzbühel’s medieval centre is dominated by the angular Kitzbüheler Horn, which whilst it may not hold the same status as some other alpine peaks, it is by no means unspectacular! The ‘horn’, clocking in at 2000m, can be instantly recognised from almost any vantage point throughout the surrounding Kitzbüheler Alps. And despite its modest size it has played a crucial role in the development of alpine skiing and winter tourism.

These days, Kitzbüheler Horn is just one part of the sprawling Kitzbühel lift system, which straddles the provincial border between Salzburgerland and the Austrian Tirol. Within this vast snowsports arena, the horn is known as a quiet area where beginners and novices can hone their skills on a wide, sunny, south-facing plateau. Those ambitious skiers wanting to follow in the tracks of legendary skiers such as Franz Klammer, Hermann Meier and Didier Cuche stick to the Hahnenkamm mountain across the valley. This is where the ‘Streif’ is located, the most famous and feared downhill race track in the world.

Franz Reisch
Ski pioneer Franz Reisch.

Amongst the glitz and glamour of Kitzbühel and the exhilarating twists and turns of the Strief, the Kitzbüheler Horn is sometimes overlooked. However its place in alpine skiing history dates back to the late 19th century, when local man Franz Reisch, inspired by reading the accounts of Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, ordered himself a pair of ski planks from Norway, and set about figuring out how to use them. On 15 March, 1893, Reisch went up to the top of the Kitzbüheler Horn and successfully skied back all the way to the valley. His ensuing account of the descent was the very first documented record of alpine skiing in the Alps.

In the decade that followed Reisch’s historic Abfahrt (downhill descent), the popularity of skiing and winter tourism grew rapidly in Kitzbühel, as it did throughout the Alps. As a direct result of the rising popularity of skiing, and Reisch’s passion for the wooden planks he imported from Norway, the Kitzbüheler Ski Club (KSC) was established in 1902, and it remains one of the most successful, storied and historic ski clubs in the world.

Kitzbuehel Streif
Action on the Streif during the Hahnenkammrennen....
Kitzbuehel Hahnenkamm
...and during quieter times.

That brings to mind another ski club established in the early years of the 20th century. The Ski Club of Great Britain was formed in 1903 by a group of enthusiastic Brits who had caught the skiing bug. In the decades that followed, influential Britons such as Arnold Lunn would play an integral role in the development of alpine skiing and in the formalisation of alpine ski racing. The growth of ski racing saw the first international race take place on the Hahnenkamm in 1931, and despite the constant evolution of ski racing equipment and technique, the fearsome course continues to fascinates ski racers just as it has for close to a century.

As a ski resort for mere mortals, Kitzbühel is really a sheep in wolves clothing. Best-known for the famous Hahnenkamm, it’s also an extensive family resort with 170km of pistes and plenty of intermediate terrain. It boasts a traditional yet cosmopolitan town centre, sophisticated nightlife and raucous après. There’s even some surprisingly good off-piste and touring potential right on the doorstep.


Kitzbühel is included in the Tirol Snow Card, which provides access to 4000km of pistes, more than 1000 lifts and 86 ski areas throughout Tirol.

Wilder Kaiser Mountains
View of the Wilder Kaiser mountain range from Kitzbuehel.
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