Falling levels of snow in Europe have produced a new type of skier: the snow-chaser. These people study forecasts and bookmark web cams like a new religion. Directski.com say one in three of their customers now wait for good snow forecasts before committing their credit card details.
Europe had a huge dump of snow at the beginning of the year, but will it remain? As I write snow-chasers in the know are bookmarking the small town of Kirchberg.
This is a place few skiers automatically think of as the base to a top skiing experience. And there are good reasons for this…
The town is overshadowed by its larger and more glamorous neighbour – Kitzbuhel – a few miles up the road. Also Kirchberg is just 837 metres above sea level so there is a good chance that even if the snow is transforming the mountains into a winter wonderland – the town itself will be grey to the eye and slushy to the boot.
Finally it’s a five-minute bus ride from the hotel to the base gondola – where there can then be a bottleneck at peak times. I hate that! Give me the luxury of ski-in-ski-out any day of the week.
Having said that, if you can put up with these inconveniences, Kirchberg can be a budget gateway to the stunning 164km network – known as the ‘Ski Circus’.
Just look at the starting price tag for this trip: if you stay in a pension it’s under £300 for a full week! That’s flight, transfers and accommodation – phenomenal.
Also – on the plus side – Kirchberg is a fabulous place to learn, there are easy blues up and down the whole of the mountain.
Intermediate skiers can take the cable car across to Resterhohe, which has more red slopes. When the conditions are good, advanced skiers can take the snow shuttle to the top of Stuckkogel and ski down the ungroomed powder.
In fairness, really good skiers are going to find most of the black (difficult) runs unchallenging. Indeed many pistes marked as black would be classed as red in many other resorts.
The restaurants in the mountains are known as “huts” or “hutten” and offer high quality food at reasonable prices – expect to pay £5-6 for a main course. Check out the newly built Barenbadalm, which is all very designer and serves scrumptious dishes that won’t break the bank.
Intermediate skiers could ending at least one of their days on the back run into Aschau – while it’s classed ‘difficult’ it’s nether narrow nor steep and most intermediates will handle it without feeling too challenged.
At the end of the run a swift après in the friendly Landgasthof Falkenstein hostel then pick up the ski-bus (free if you have skis or a snowboard) back into Kirchberg.
I stayed at the three star Hotel Rosslwirt. It’s family run and clean with good basic food, but here the recommendations stop.
If you want a hairdryer you have to order it from reception, the towels have lost any of the luxurious softness they might have once had and there are no facilities for making tea and coffee in your room – horror show!
There is a small sauna in the basement, but a word to the wise, the locals like everybody to be buck-naked in the steam.
If you have the audacity to arrive in swimwear expect to be tut-tuted. You may even be told to remove all clothing or remove yourself.
The small Hotel bar has an authentic Austrian feel and is a regular spot for locals – always a good sign – but the ventilation is bad and it’s a real shock to be surrounded by smokers and boy do the locals like a fag!
A more kicking place is the Boomerang bar just five minutes walk up the hill. The bar is full of beautiful 20-somethings chugging on beer and logging-on to free Wi-Fi. This – apparently – is where the US women’s team hangs out after training.
If you want to splash-out on some fantastic food you will have to take a trip out to Kitzbuhel.
There is a regular bus and train service and a taxi will cost about £12. Chizzo is in the heart of Kitzbuhel and it’s clientele dress like movie stars.
The food is exquisite and the portions generous to a fault – here’s my tip: if you order creme brulee ask for two spoons. After a nice bottle of red, a starter and a main – I had the tenderloin steak (which was excellent) – the bill may come as a bit of a shock.
This is not for every night of the week. My advice: just keep on telling yourself how little you paid to ski and you deserve a few classy nights out.
Kirchberg is a fabulous place for a budget winter holiday – with a few luxurious extras thrown in – having said that, you do need to know there will be snow before you book. Look to the web cams!
Best place to eat on the mountains is Barenbadalm www.baerenbadalm.at
A good place for après ski chilling is the Landgasthof Falkenstein www.falkenstein-aschau.at
Eat in style at Chizzo (you need to book a week in advance at peak times) www.chizzo.eu
Reading: what was The Good Ski Guide has now become The Great Ski Guide (Cadogan £15.99). It’s still written by Peter and Felice Hardy and it’s still telling it as it is.
Directski.com has a week’s ski holiday in Kirchberg from £289 per person, based on two sharing a room in a 2* ‘Snow Pension’ on a b&b basis, with flights and transfers.
A week’s b&b stay at the Hotel Rosslwirt costs from £409 including return Gatwick or Manchester flights and transfers, visit www.directski.com or tel 0800 358 0448