The resort of Kitzbühel in the Austrian Tyrol offers ski lessons and so much more, including top-class food and drink
There are worse places to learn to ski than Kitzbühel. There may be better places to learn to ski too but, arriving in the little Austrian Tyrol town with snow-capped mountains and picture-postcard shops all around, you’d be hard-pressed to think of one. It’s so typically Austrian that you can almost hear yodelling echoing from the mountains, and you wouldn’t be surprised to see Julie Andrews running down a nearby hill.
It’s from this beautiful little town, around one hour by car from Innsbruck airport, in the Austrian Tyrol, that the tour specialists Inghams operates its ‘New to Skiing’ programme, a new package for the 2014/15 ski season that promises to take absolute novices and turn them into capable skiers – or, perhaps more accurately, have them conquering a green – or even a blue – slope or two confidently and without incident.
As well as an instructor, ski and boot hire is included in the package, as is a lift pass – although you won’t be needing that straightaway. The learning begins on a gentle slant, not even worthy of the term ‘slope’, but just as challenging when trying to put on skis for the first time. Once that hurdle has been mastered, the instructor gets down to basics, teaching students the essentials – including how to snowplough and, rather importantly, stop – in simple, bite-sized chunks.
From there – and only when the group feels confident – it’s on to the nursery slopes to put your newly learned skills into action. Admittedly, going from shuffling a few metres along a gentle incline to whizzing down an actual (if relatively gentle) slope is scary but it’s also exhilarating and, once you’ve got the hang of it, incredibly satisfying. No matter how old you get, nothing beats the feeling of having successfully learned a new skill.
As the days go on, more skills are added to pupils’ repertoire, including traversing and the use of ski poles to navigate, push off and maintain balance. Granted, there can be challenging moments – the feeling of being in the way as seasoned skiers whoosh past you is one; trying to master the rope lift is another – but the moment that you stop concentrating fiercely on getting your snowplough right and, just for a second, realise that you’re actually skiing makes it all worthwhile.
All this learning is hungry work, and luckily there are plenty of slope-side restaurants ready and willing to help you refuel at lunchtime before hitting the slopes in the afternoon. Serving a mix of typically Austrian (think sausages, goulash and, of course, Wiener schnitzel) and European fare, this is hearty, much-needed grub – they may make it look effortless on the TV, but skiing is HARD WORK. Rasmushof offers a lovely terrace on which to kick off your ski boots (be warned – you may never want to put them back on again) and lap up the Alpine sun while enjoying a small beer with your lunch. Or, alternatively, try Streifalm, where great frankfurters plus the kitchen’s renowned homemade ravioli await.
In addition to putting your skis to use, an equally important lesson perhaps is to be learned from the tradition of après-ski. Having descended the mountain, the day’s skiers gather at the bar located at the bottom of the ski lift to start their evening of entertainment, before moving on to enjoy all that Kitzbühel has to offer at night.
If you’re looking for a unique and authentic Austrian dining experience, a trip to Rosi’s Sonnbergstuben is a must. It sits 400 metres above the town, and you can expect a warm welcome from the owner, who is more than likely to be decked out in full traditional Austrian dress. Rosi Schipflinger built her restaurant on the site of her father’s farm, and has turned it into the area’s go-to celebrity hotspot. Pictures of the cheery blonde embracing stars from the worlds of sport, music and film, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Boris Becker, line the wooden walls. As guests enjoy typical Tyrolean treats such as tafelspitz (a cut of boiled beef served with potatoes, creamed spinach and horseradish), and Rosi’s famous duck, served with red cabbage and dumplings, the lady of the house whips out her guitar and wanders from table to table, singing/yodelling as she goes. Throw in friendly, attentive staff and one incredible kaiserschmarrn pudding – sugared pancakes with melt-in-the-mouth plums – and you’ve got a homely atmosphere and a fine way to spend an evening relaxing after a day on the mountain.
After a long and tiring day of skiing, eating and drinking, the four-star superior Hotel Schwarzer Adler is the perfect place to lay your head – or else sneak in a nightcap by the fire at the hotel bar. This boutique hotel has everything you’d want from a post-ski hideaway – chic, contemporary and comfortable rooms featuring balconies with a view from which to take in deep breaths of mountain air; a choice of two great on-site restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Neuwirt (although the hotel restaurant is definitely worth a try); and, perhaps most importantly, a rooftop swimming pool and adjoining spa where your aching muscles can be massaged, sauna-ed and relaxed away.
In short, Kitzbühel has it all – beautiful views, top-rate dining, world-class skiing and now, thanks to Inghams, a brilliant learn-to-ski programme. If you can name a better place to be a beginner, send your answers on a picture-perfect postcard please.
Inghams offers seven nights half board at the four-star superior Hotel Schwarzer Adler from £944 per person, including return flights to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Inghams’ New to Skiing package is new for 2014-15 and costs £204, including six days’ ski and boot hire, six days ski school and the use of all beginners lifts. The winter season starts 20 December 2014. For more information about the Austrian Tyrol region head to visittirol.co.uk, or for information on Kitzbühel visit kitzbuehel.com.