Located roughly halfway between Salzburg and Innsbruck, Kitzbühel is a cosy little mountain village that has nowadays evolved into one of Austria's premier ski resorts. Kitzbühel has traditionally been a very relaxed place to ski, but it's been going much more upmarket in recent times. I've been told that it's now considered "the Aspen of Austria" — however, although you do see a lot of flip-top sports cars and fur-lined coats there, I think that that comparison goes a bit too far. I spent a week here over Christmas, skiing hard all day and partying even harder all night.
In Australia, we dream of a white Christmas. Well, this year — as of now — I for one am dreaming no longer: here in Kitzbühel, Christmas has arrived; and Christmases don't come much whiter than this. What with the snow, and the cold, and the cosy Austrian mountain village atmosphere... in a nutshell, I believe that this is how Christmas was meant to be. What could possibly be better than Dec 25th in Austria? I may be Jewish, and I may have never properly celebrated Christmas (or any other Christian festival) in my life; but I've been exposed to it my whole life, and I know something special when I see it. To all my readers: wishing you a very merry Christmas; and wherever you are, try not to be too jealous of me. Bwahahahaha.
Ziss is how ve do things in Osstria: after ve go skiing, ve have some fun, ja! And as they say: when in Austria... you know what I mean. For my first-ever European "après-ski" evening, we didn't do anything too big. It was a fairly relaxed evening at Snowbunnys: the place was rather quiet tonight (much like the slopes during the day), so it was mainly just the crazy swedes, the Aussie amigos and myself. I tried out the Snowbunnys après-ski shower for the first time, and I was impressed. Us Aussies cooked up some shared pasta napolitana (with a side of mash) for dinner, which was delicious and quite filling. And once again (like last night), we hit The Londoner pub once more, for a couple of drinks and a quick shmooze.
Nikolas and Viktor are two blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys from Gothenburg, Sweden's second-largest city. The two of them are positively nuts about skiing: one of them has worked as an instructor before (for an entire season), and the other was formerly involved in competition-level skiing races; they've both skied for as long as they can remember. They're currently studying engineering at university, back home in Sweden; and they're here in Kitzbühel for what they call "a very short season", a mere three weeks. I met them at Snowbunnys this week; and when I had the courage, I did on occasion go up the mountain with them, and attempt to keep up as they tackled every insane slope they could find.
Back in Argentina, I commented on the hi-tech lift ticket system that they now use at Cerro Catedral. At the time, I was quite impressed. However, I now have to say that the Catedral tickets aren't so funky after all: Kitzbühel's redefine the notion of funk altogether. Instead of merely sporting scannable barcodes, the tickets here at Kitzbühel are true RFID devices. No need to pull them out of your pocket, wave them under an infra-red reader, and wait for the beep. No, sirree! These babies require no effort whatsoever: you just leave them in your pocket, and walk right through the turnstiles — they register as soon as you reach the barrier, at which point you hear a little beep, and in you go. As long as you make sure to keep your ticket in your left pocket (as all the sensors seem to be on the left side of the turnstiles), it's as easy as pie.
The colour-coding of ski trails, according to level of difficulty, is generally sensible and familiar. "Green" for beginner runs, "blue" for intermediate runs, and "black" for advanced runs (with some variations — e.g, the addition of "yellow" for super-easy runs, and of "double black" for expert / semi-suicidal runs). An international standard — or so I thought. But not here in Kitzbühel. Apparently, the Austrian way is to mark the trails "blue" for beginner runs, "red" for intermediate runs, and (thankfully still) "black" for advanced runs. Extremely confusing, and contrary to what I've now become intimately familiar with, over my several years of Aussie skiing. Argh!
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.
We made it: here we are now, ready to go skiing in beautiful Kitzbühel! This evening was really just about settling in for a week in town. I'm lucky enough to have gotten a 6-bed dorm room all to myself at Snowbunnys: apparently, there'll be nobody to share it with until Wednesday. Craig, Sarah, Kade and myself had no trouble finding ski gear and clothing for hire this evening: the hire shop next door to the hostel was very busy (everyone preparing for the Monday run), but they had plenty of good-quality gear for everyone; and it wasn't too expensive either, especially with a 10% "Snowbunnys discount" :P. Plus, we managed to find The Londoner — one of Kitzbühel's most famous pubs — and to relax there over a few Flying Hirsches, while enjoying the pleasant sounds of the pub's shameless "fake band" (about 80% of the time, they were just pretending to play or to sing, with a backed recording actually doing most of the work).
Along with his Bulgarian wife, Dave is the crazy owner and manager of Snowbunnys. He's been living in Kitzbühel and running the place for several years now. Dave has possibly the driest and the most sardonic sense of humour I've ever encountered: so much so, that even calling it a "sense of humour" at all is quite a sketchy issue. Dave's managed to get on the wrong side of virtually everyone else in town; and it usually doesn't take him too long to do the same with his guests, either. Nevertheless, there are those who claim that "you just have to get to know him" — I didn't achieve this during my week at his hostel; and I'm guessing that even had I stayed a year, I'd still be struggling to work him out.
Snowbunnys is more than just a hostel. It's an institution. A warm, cosy, crazy, and very Aussie institution. Owned and run by Dave the crazy Kiwi, Snowbunnys is also something of a miracle: a budget backpacker retreat, in the heart of one of Austria's fanciest and most upmarket ski resorts. The TV in the lounge provides illegal hacked access to hundreds of satellite channels: Dave will show you which are the porn channels, but will warn you "don't watch them, you'll be embarrassed when I walk in and see you". The clothes-drying room in the basement provides space to air your clunky boots and to dry your smelly socks; and the garage out the back has capacity for all your ski-gear needs. Plus, vegemite is sold at the hostel for €4 a jar. And, of course, it's the friendly fellow guests of the place that really makes Snowbunnys feel like home. I spent six nights here over Christmas, but I wish I could have stayed longer.
Today was goodbye to Salzburg, goodbye to Yoho, and goodbye to some very good friends. But it was not goodbye to Craig, Sarah and Kade: because they too said goodbye to all this; and together, us four Aussies hopped on the train to Kitzbühel. Destination: winter wonderland, Austrian Alps. Mission: have a white Christmas, spend a week carving up the mountains, and engage in some serious après-ski. All that stood in our way: a mere 2-hour train ride. Easily tackled.