According to Rob Stewart, the snow-sure, high-altitude Austrian resort of Kühtai is so much more than just the dependable late season venue for the annual industry ski test.
Cow Valley – well that is the meaning of Kühtai apparently, although in this high-altitude valley a short drive away from Innsbruck Airport, there are no cows to be seen.
And that’s a good thing, because snow-sure Kühtai, with its village level at 2017 metres, typically has snow stacked right up against the buildings all winter – not such a welcome sight for cows but skiers won’t be disappointed. Indeed, that’s why the ski industry picks the resort for their annual ski test.
Even so, Kühtai doesn’t seem to feature in those lists of famous Austrian ski resorts, such as St Anton, Kitzbuhel or Ischgl. Perhaps it’s the size – the village is quite small, the ski area is relatively small and the nightlife limited to a couple of bars along the main road.
But a ski destination’s merits are so much more than just one of these measures; and I think Kühtai has that rare blend of many qualities that combine to make a well-seasoned ski destination.
Hiking through snowy surfaces in Kühtai. Photo: Markos Mant, Unsplash.
Kühtai’s 80 km’s of slopes straddle both side of the high-mountain pass that runs through the village. There’s a north and south facing side, both offering a very different feel, with the sunny south side flowing with long and sometimes challenging red runs and the north side presenting a huge variety of terrain that includes reds, blacks and some interesting off-piste possibilities that are easily accessible.
The description ‘stunning’ is perhaps an overused word when writing about the Alps, but in Kühtai’s case it’s apt because here you’re fully surrounded by majestic peaks pushing towards the 3,000 metre level, with plenty to appeal to ski tourers and eagles alike. There’s a special feel here too; a sense that you’re exploring an exclusive mountain kingdom, which is not claustrophobic, but welcomingly protective.
In terms of the skiing, first-time beginners might struggle a little here. There’s decent nursery slopes and the local ski school has an excellent reputation, but the progression is restricted and the terrain more suited to intermediates, who will benefit from the variety of red runs so ubiquitous across the area.
Experts and off-piste enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them happy, especially those into ski touring – I once bumped into legendary British Mountain Guide Nigel Shephard in the resort who called Kühtai “ski touring paradise” with a big smile on his face.
But Kühtai is also a family resort. The sheer convenience of the accommodation, mostly located right next to the slopes, and the fact that all runs lead back to the valley, make it a safe and enjoyable destination, especially for families who have skied before.
Kühtai village is mainly dominated by large four-star hotels, but what it might lack in traditional Austrian architecture, it more than makes up for in the quality and excellent value for money of the accommodation. The Austrian’s certainly know how to do hospitality, with most offering half or full-board options. The latter works so well as the hotels are so easy to ski back to for lunch.
Both the Sport Hotel and the Astoria are owned by the same family and are available throughout the winter period. The two hotels are large four stars, with traditional ‘wellness’ centres (spa, pool, sauna) for those who want to take a break from the slopes or relax after. The food is a high standard, with four-course evening dinners, healthy lunch choices and an extensive buffet breakfast.
Austrian ski resort nightlife has a formidable reputation to live up to, so relatively Kühtai isn’t a resort you’d have on the top of the list when it comes to après ski, but of course there’s still some fun to be had if you insist. There’s the Kaos bar, located in the Hotel Tyrol building on the main road, which is occasionally chaotic, but mostly fairly civilised. The Igloo village close to the Hotel Alpenrose in the lower part of the village offers an alternative and fun venue, with its natural ice bar and warm cow skin rugs. Otherwise there is the bar at the Hotel Konradin and the restaurant Kühtaier Dorfstadle. But for most, Kühtai will offer a couple of drinks with like-minded guests in the welcoming, comfortable surroundings of their hotel.
So what is the X factor here? What am I staking my reputation on by saying Kühtai is a place you should be considering for your next ski holiday?
Well, the small but perfectly formed valley is a place that I’m very much looking forward to travelling back to again for the 7th year in a row, and if that’s not enough to persuade you then perhaps you’ll catch me in one of the cosy hotel bars this winter where I’ll talk about it until the cows come home.