The Alpine area in Kitzbuhel, Austria, is now making a major push to attract new Irish skiers this season. We travelled to the area prior to Christmas courtesy of the local tourism authorities in St Johann and Kirchberg, along with Aer Lingus.
There are a great variety of resorts on offer and it’s possible to visit one village a day if one opts for a week there, all made convenient by excellent bus connections.
During our pre-Christmas trip, we took in three resorts over three days, and despite the lack of snow that week, snow-production technology made up for what nature couldn’t provide, as long as the temperature remain below freezing on the more important slopes.
The lower level slopes, such as St Johann, was adequately stocked and are ideal for beginners and families. The season extends right up to Saint Patrick’s Weekend, with special Irish themes to be held across the resort that weekend, when the world goes green.
During our stay, we found the village of Kirchberg the most enjoyable, with Westendorf, a popular haunt with Waterfordians, a close second.
Skiing, particularly for beginners, is not without its pitfalls so one has to be prepare for a few tumbles, and while we got a few knocks, none of them diminished our enthusiasm for the piste.
Away from skiing, St Johann features Panorama, the superb community facility, which features indoor and outdoor pools, along with a superb spa, the ideal location for a post-ski wind-down.
There, one can enjoy different saunas and steam rooms, a cool room and even a silent reading room. All tastes are catered for, including a Finnish sauna and bar on the upper floor, which comes highly recommended by locals.
The centre of St Johann is also enticing on a non-snow or rest day, you could spend hours there. But follow local etiquette as the supervisor tells you what to do. A visit to the local Huber Brewery for beer connoisseurs also comes highly recommended. Walking through the town of 9,000 people, we found a Christmas market in an old army barracks, full of good shopping options, be they clothes, nick knacks or fine Austrian quality souvenirs.
The villages we visited are very charming in terms of architecture and beat other competing countries along the range. They boast good hearty food and a lively pub/après ski culture ideally suited for the fun-loving Irish.
The are many cosy ski huts in these parts where one can dine or enjoy coffee while downtown hostelries such as the Ice Bar also are also well worth checking out. When we visited, with the TV3 cameras in tow, the place was hopping, with a ski lesson dance, including bar staff, cranking up the craic by a few notches.
Meanwhile, in Westendorf, a favourite among the visiting Irish, we got a great welcome at the village from the Ski School’s chief instructor, who explained how they teach the various levels of skiers, and are particularly well accustomed to Irish, British, German and Dutch visitors. He told us how much he loved the Irish and the way they fit in so well to life here – we know regulars from Tramore that go there annually.
English is well spoken here and our ski instructor is married to a Dublin woman from near Skerries: she came here to ski and ended up with a husband! Life is an idyllic place and they made for a most happy couple.
Westendorf is similar to an Irish village, where everyone knows one another, with the British-run Village Inn, along with the Mosquito very popular with Irish visitors, as are many local pizza joints and restaurants.
From a skiing perspective, the only negative we found on the run was some ice near the bottom towards the end of the day, but it the views on top were fabulous; it really was picture post card stuff and has to be seen to be believed.
Our group (which even paused for a ‘Mannequin Challenge’ pic!) were fairly experienced so there was a good pace, although we were slowing down on the last day as the terrain got tougher.
Machine snow can be quite tough to ski in and you must look for the softer stuff when you turn, a trick we leaned way back and put to good use.
Hard ground can mean a hard landing if you do fall, so watch the speed and don’t go flying down, unlike some youngsters we spotted!
Of the three slopes, we liked Kirchberg most given its more open runs and varied runs which proved a great challenge, negotiating some of the tougher runs thanks to the guidance provided by Sam, our instructor.
Afterwards, we caught the bus with the help of some locals, one of the regulars even recognised us form the hotel and assisted on which stop to get off and return the ski gear.
Our tour guide took us then to the Ice Bar where we swapped stories of the day in a great après ski atmosphere. It really was a day to remember and we enjoyed the skiing, the scenery, the cuisine, the atmosphere and the company, with the combination of the locals’ English and our grasp of German really lending to the visit.
A ski pass comes in at between €40 and €50 daily, or €250 for a week (approximately). Skilled kiers would be best served by availing of the Alpen card for value. Ski buses to the town centre and hotels are free with the ski pass, while the Adler Hotel in Kirchberg, and the Explorer and Post Hotels in St Johann come recommended.
We departed with a very positive feel for the Austrian Tirol and will return there in the future. A visit there comes heartily recommended. The locals ‘get’ the Irish and we get on very well with them, which makes for a happy mixture! Their culture isn’t too different, while language issues are minimal. All this makes for an entertaining travel prospect.
Connections to Austria are available via Aer Lingus’s twice daily Dublin to Munich connection while Aer Lingus also runs charter flights to Salzburg during the ski season. Check out Topflight and Crystal Holidays for further information on packages.
* See TV3’s Morning Show this weekend, January 7th and 8th with Lisa Cannon for her report from the trip.