A skier’s hidden destination

Austria Kuhtai

Mention Kühtai and people often respond with a puzzled look. At 2020 metres, it is Austria’s highest ski village and sits on a high pass between the Innsbruck and Otztal Valleys and is easily reached within a 40-minute drive from Innsbruck airport.

With a fast-growing off-piste trend at the moment, I wanted to improve my off-piste skiing. So during a recent visit to Kühtai in the Tirol region of Austria, I signed up to a free SAAC course – Snow and Avalanche Awareness Camp (www.saac.at), educating skiers and boarders about avalanche awareness when skiing off-piste.

Kühtai  is a smaller, lesser-known resort but is fast becoming a favourite among skiers for being the most snow-sure destination in the Alps.  The easy going family resort may not share the same high profile as nearby party-going Sölden, but its wide choice of slopes are ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers, and there’s plenty of ‘on’ and ‘off’ piste action for the more adventurous skier or boarder. Kühtai’s best surprise?  There are no long lines for any of the lifts.

The friendly Inghams Chalet Hotel Elisabeth is conveniently located at the start of the village. The hotels closeness to the snow is a luxury. It’s a ski-in/ski-out residence with a small, dedicated team of 10 enthusiastic English speaking staff, who provide a friendly yet professional atmosphere.

The hotel conveniently backs onto the slopes, where there’s a small 2-man chair lift that offers access to the beginner slope and acts as a feeder lift to other larger chair lifts that carry skiers and boarders high into the mountains. Kühtai’s ski area spreads either side of the road that passes through the village. The top lift reaches a spectacular 2520m and boasts over 37 km of skiable terrain.

Kühtai receives a lot of snow, and the evidence lay deep in front of us. After a quick warm up run, we headed up the mountain for some fun in the powder. Sporting big smiles, we glided through the fresh snow sending powder in all directions.  We stopped only for lunch at the piste side Kaiser Maximillion Hut for some local Austrian alpine food. I ordered 2 tasty spinach dumplings that turned out to be the size of tennis balls and provided plenty of fuel for an afternoon on the snow.

We spent the rest of the day in the company of Egon Anderle, an instructor from the highly rated Kühtai Ski & Snowboard School, who took us off-piste to take advantage of the fantastic powder conditions. We skied over flats and down steeps, clocking-up a lot of snowy miles. I barely saw my skis all day; they were so deep under the thigh high snow.

We skied hard until 4pm, then called it a day and returned to Hotel Elisabeth for tea and freshly baked cake and later still, a hearty dinner to warm our cockles! Dinner was a delightful, charming, historical affair at the Jagdschloss Kühtai. Once an imperial hunting lodge, this family heirloom was handed down over the centuries and is now home to Christian Graff, Count of Stolberg-Stolberg.

We filled our hungry tummies with delicious beef dishes, beautifully prepared deserts and exquisite local wines. The Count’s motto is, ‘come as a guest and leave as a friend’ – our experience in a nutshell.

Snow fell during the night and into the day. No skiing this morning. Instead, we joined expert mountain guide Stefan Roessler from the SAAC – Snow and Avalanche Awareness Camps (www.saac.at).  If you are thinking of going off-piste for the first time, it might be worth taking a few hours with a pro to learn about safety measures – it could save lives.

After a fab day learning the rules of off pisting we braved the cold evening temperatures and headed to the Igloo Village for a warm Glühwine, before snow-shoeing 45-minutes through woods and deep snow to the Graf Ferdinand Hut for dinner. On arrival, we were presented with 2-huge hot stones and a vast plate of uncooked bacon, chicken and steak. We tossed the meat onto the hot stone and watched it sizzle. Potatoes, fries, and vegetables accompanied the pile of meat on my plate. It was a meal fit for hungry skiers and tastefully washed down with local Austrian wine.

Our journey back down the hill was slightly faster. It took 10-minutes to toboggan down the trail on an old fashioned toboggan, speeding round corners and almost disappearing into a 10-foot wall of snow. Lots of fun.

Kühtai is a special place, a high, hidden gem with something for everyone. Just don’t tell too many people about it!

Book your trip with Inghams who offer 7 nights at the 3.5* Chalet Hotel Elisabeth, Kühtai, Austria on a catered basis (skiers breakfast, afternoon tea, coffee and homemade cake, 5 course dinner with unlimited complimentary wines, tea, coffee and chocolate) with prices starting from £549 per person, including flights from Gatwick to Innsbruck and resort transfers. Flights are also available at a supplement from regional airports. Ski packs can also be pre-booked. For more information and bookings visit www.inghams.co.uk or contact 0208 780 4447.

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