Skiing Galore at the Kitzbühel Ski Circus
In winter, the emphasis in Kitzbühel, 702m (2,303 ft.) above sea level, is on skiing, and facilities are offered for everyone from novices to experts. The ski season starts just before Christmas and lasts until late March. With more than 62 lifts, gondolas, and mountain railroads on five different mountains, Kitzbühel has two main ski areas, the Hahnenkamm and the Kitzbüheler Horn. Hahnenkammbahn (cable cars) are within easy walking distance, even in ski boots.
Skiing became a fact of life in Kitzbühel as long ago as 1892, when the first pair of skis was imported from Norway and intrepid daredevils began to slide down the snowy slopes at breakneck speeds. Many great names in skiing have since been associated with Kitzbühel, the most renowned being town native Toni Sailer, triple Olympic champion in the 1956 Winter Games in Cortina.
The linking of the lift systems on the Hahnenkamm has created the celebrated Kitzbühel Ski Circus, which makes it possible to ski downhill for more than 80km (50 miles), with runs that suit every stage of proficiency. Numerous championship ski events are held here, such as the World Cup event each January, when top-flight skiers pit their skills against the toughest downhill course in the world, a stretch of the Hahnenkamm especially designed for maximum speed. Its name, Die Strief, is both feared and respected among skiers because of its reputation as one of the world's fastest downhill racecourses. A ski pass entitles the holder to use all the lifts that form the Ski Circus.
More Winter & Summer Pursuits
Skiing, of course, is not the only winter activity here -- there's also curling, ski-bobbing, ski jumping, ice-skating, tobogganing, hiking on cleared trails, and hang gliding, as well as indoor activities such as tennis, bowling, and swimming. The children's ski school, Schischule Rote Teufel, Museumkeller, Hinterstadt (tel. 05356/62500), provides training for the very young skier. And don't forget the après-ski, with bars, nightclubs, and dance clubs rocking from teatime until the wee hours.
Kitzbühel has summer pastimes, too, with activities including walking tours, visits to the Wild Life Park at Aurach (3km/2 miles from Kitzbühel), tennis, horseback riding, golf, squash, brass-band concerts in the town center, cycling, and swimming. For the latter, there's an indoor swimming pool, but we recommend going to the Schwarzsee (Black Lake). This see, about a 15-minute walk northwest of the center of town, is an alpine lake with a peat bottom that keeps the water relatively murky. Covering an area of 6.5 hectares (16 acres), with a depth that doesn't exceed about 8m (26 ft.), it's the site of beaches and Seiwald Bootverleitung, Schwarzsee (tel. 05356/62381), an outfit that rents rowboats and putt-putt electric-driven engines in case you want to fish or sunbathe from within a boat. Rowboats rent for 8€ ($13) per hour, and small-scale electric engines rent for 15€ ($24) per hour. Obviously, everything is shuttered down tight from September to mid-May.
One of the region's most exotic collections of alpine flora is clustered into the jagged and rocky confines of the Alpine Flower Garden Kitzbühel, where various species of gentian, gorse, heather, and lichens are found on the sunny slopes of the Kitzbüheler Horn. Set at a height of around 1,830m (6,004 ft.) above sea level, the garden -- which is owned and maintained by Kitzbühel as an incentive to midsummer tourism -- is open from late May to early September daily from 8:30am to 5:30pm, and it's most impressive during June, July, and August. Admission is free, and many visitors see it by taking the Seilbahn Kitzbüheler cable car to its uppermost station and then descending on foot via the garden's labyrinth of footpaths to the gondola's middle station. (You can also climb upward within the garden, reversing the order of the gondola stations, although that would require a lot more effort.) The Seilbahn Kitzbüheler cable car (tel. 05356/6951), 16€ ($25) round-trip, departs from the Kitzbühel at half-hour intervals daily but only operates in the summer.