Kitzbühel skiing: the Pengelstein tour
It's been three months since I last hit the snow, and nine months since I last went skiing; so today, it was good to be back and to be doing both once again. For my first day of skiing at Austria's magnificent Kitzbühel resort, I took it easy, got back into the swing of things, and began exploring the icy but extensive selection of runs that are on offer.
This morning was my introduction to the feast that is the Snowbunnys all-you-can-eat breakfast. It may not be terribly gourmet, but it certainly floats my boat. Some may say (and sing) that all you need is love; but personally, all I need is cereal. So I ate cereal, with milk. And lots of it.
Due to the forthcoming supermarket closures over the Christmas holiday period, all of us Snowbunnies were compelled to go shopping this morning, and to stock up on everything we'll need for the next three days. When you go on a ski holiday, shopping is best done of an evening (after the lifts are shut): but since everything's closing at 2pm this arvo, that won't be an option. So it was a bit of a pain, having to do morning shopping — and hence missing out on valuable morning ski time — but at least we now won't starve over Christmas.
Since this is the first (or near-first) time on the snow for Craig, Sarah and Kade, all three of them booked full-day beginner lessons for the day, and headed over to the easy-peasy area of the resort for "boot camp". Sarah and Kade are trying out skiing; while Craig is going to try his luck snowboarding. Meanwhile, I simply bought my 5-day lift pass, and headed on up the mountain to explore by myself. I'll hang out with the newbies some other day, once they're slightly less crap on the snow :P.
I began by ascending the Hahnenkammbahn gondola, which begins its ascent right on the edge of town (super-convenient). This was the first gondola ride (i.e. cable-car ride) I've ever been on inside a ski resort: none of the Australian resorts I've been to have them (not Thredbo, Perisher, Falls Creek nor Hotham), and nor does Catedral in Argentina; it's usually all just chairlifts and T-bars. So it was a pretty cool experience! The views were sensational — we ascended a near-vertical cliff face, with the town and the valley spread out below us — and I had a friendly, English-speaking (of course, ja!) Viennese family to keep me company on the way up.
Random Vienna dad and myself, in the gondola car.
My first run of the season was the one that you basically have to take, if you want to get anywhere from the main gondola: the intermediate run from the top of the Hahnenkammbahn, down to the bottom of the Steinbergkogel. And boy, was this first run hard! The run was quite steep; but far worse, it was horribly, ear-screechingly icy. I've skied down icy slopes enough times before; but this has to be some of the worst ice I've ever tackled. Still, I couldn't help but think: are the conditions really this bad, or have I completely forgotten how to ski, and do I now suck? The turning was such a chore, that I started to get some painful foot cramps, before I was even halfway down. Anyway, at least the panoramic views were good.
Setting off from Hahnenkamm.
Sunny weather makes for nice views, but icy conditions.
I continued my solo, warm-up, introductory tour of Kitzbühel, by making my way through the Steinbergkogel runs, and over to the Pengelstein. I did several runs in the upper Pengelstein area, and then snacked on some lunch at the Pengelstein summit. Fortunately, my skiing ability seemed to improve somewhat on these runs — as they say, just like riding a bicycle :P — but the ever-present ice remained an unpleasant challenge.
Chairlift near Steinbergkogel.
I then decided to try out one of the more far-flung runs — it was marked on the map as a black run, but it wasn't that hard — which leads all the way down to the village of Aschau, right at the western extremity of the resort. This run was good fun, and was a little less icy than most of the others I tried today. Only problem: once you get down to Aschau, there are no lifts or gondolas to take you back up! Unless you fancy hanging out in tiny Aschau for the afternoon, your only option is to take a shuttle bus back through the valley, and over to (at least) the start of lower Pengelstein. This is the most ridiculous setup I've ever seen: how can they establish a proper, marked trail that goes all the way down the mountain; but then provide absolutely nothing to take you back up? I've never encountered such poor resort planning before in my life — very inconvenient, and surprising for a place like Austria, where most things are usually so logical and so well-thought-out.
The run of no return: down to Aschau.
I took the bus over to lower Pengelstein, and then spent a little while riding the lower Peng gondola, and crusing down the runs there. After that, I proceeded on to my final mountain sojourn of the day: I caught the bus once again, but this time through the town of Kirchberg (the second-biggest town in the resort area, after Kitzbühel itself), and over to the bottom of the Fleckalmbahn gondola. I rode the Fleckalmbahn to its summit (known as Ehrenbachhöhe), and then skied the long, narrow, icy run that takes you all the way down, and that popped me out exactly where I'd started this morning: on the edge of Kitzbühel!
Valley views: skiing back to Kitzbühel village.
My strongest impression of today's skiing, was that it was really quiet. The slopes were so empty, and the lift queues were so short: what on Earth's going on? What with the lack of waiting, the serenity on the slopes, and the gorgeous sunny weather, I felt like the king of the whole daym castle. This is utterly contrary to my usual experience in ski resorts — where ½-hour queues for a single chairlift are the norm — and I find it quite bizarre. Where are all the people? Is it always this empty? And are all Austrian ski resorts like this?
This is Christmas week: it's supposed to be the busiest week of the year. If this is Kitzbühel at peak capacity, then I'd hate to see it when it's at "low season". Anyway, maybe this is just the calm before the storm: it could be that the hordes are waiting for Christmas itself to pass by, before descending en masse upon the snow. If so, then I guess I should just enjoy the peace and quiet while it lasts. We'll just have to wait and see.
I didn't do anything too crazy today: I really wasn't feeling very confident or very capable; and I just needed some time to get back into it, and to feel at ease on a pair of skis once more. I suspect that my week of snowboarding, back in September, has thrown me off somewhat, and that I need to adjust back to skiing once more.
Also, the snow conditions are seriously sub-optimal at the moment. Although some areas are better than others, it's fair to say that the whole resort is extremely icy right now. There's been no fresh snow for over a week; and for every day that the clear blue sky pours its sunlight onto the slopes, the snow is only getting harder and less fluffy. But then again, at least it's better than last year: apparently, that was Europe's worst snow season on record; for almost the entire winter, Kitzbühel (along with most other ski resorts in Europe) essentially received no snow whatsoever. Unthinkable and unheard of, prior to these dark days of Global Warming in which we now live. Anyway, they're predicting some fresh snow for Thursday — so hopefully I'll get to see what Austrian powder snow is like, after all.