In May 2016 I visited the Kaunertal Glacier in Austria for the Snowboard Spring Break test event. I went expecting sunshine and slush, but instead got fog and freshies. In this review of Kaunertal snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt I will look at the ski area and the hotel.
Unfortunately due to pretty poor visibility the photos in this review of Kaunertal snowboarding are mainly provided by the tourist board.
If you’ve not heard of the Kaunertal Glacier do not worry, it is a small ski area with a relatively low profile. But what it lacks in media attention it more than makes up for in the length of it’s season and variety of slopes.
During our visit in May snow was still falling heavily and they expected the slopes to stay open into June. As I write this, in November, the lifts have been running for over a month, with the ski season opening with a festival 7-9 of October.
Kaunertal is the youngest glacier in Tirol and a relatively new ski area that opened in 1980. There are around 32 km of pisted runs and vast freeride areas to play in. There is also a huge snowpark including a half mile long jibline – one of the longest in the Alps.
The slopes run from 3,100m down to 2,100m and a top to bottom run is a satisfyingly leg sapping experience. Your lift pass also covers the nearby resort of Fendels, and there are lots of plans to expand the overall ski area, linking to Melag and heading up to 3500m.
The only downside about Kaunertal Glacier is that you don’t stay where you ski. So there is a 40 minute drive, or 50 minute bus journey up a winding mountain road to reach the slopes. There are some nice views along the way, but it certainly adds an extra element of planning to the day.
To get to Kaunertal it is best to fly to Innsbruck Airport which is about 100km away. You could also fly to Munich airport (210km) or Zurich Airport (300km). The nearest train station is Landeck-Zam which is just 25km away.
Lets start this review of Kaunertal snowboarding holiday by dealing with the elephant in the corner. Yes it is a long drive up the mountain, and being honest I would much rather not have to do it. I wasn’t even doing the driving and it got on my nerves.
If you don’t have a car the bus from town to the ski area takes about 50 minutes. During the peak season it runs fairly regularly, however early and late season it only runs once or twice a day so it is recommended to hire a car.
But, if you let the journey up the mountain stop you visiting Kaunertal it will be your loss. The drive up to the ski area means that only the serious bother, so people on the mountain have the right attitude, plus of course it helps stop it getting busy.
There are only 32 km of slopes, which compared to many ski areas is tiny. But it doesn’t feel tiny, this is partly because the slopes are varied and long, and partly because there are a lot of between piste freeride opportunities. Add the huge park and you have enough to keep most people happy.
If you are the kind of person who likes to do different runs the whole time Kaunertal is probably not for you. Personally I enjoy doing the same run many times as I push myself to improve, also you get to know the side hits, how fast to hit lips and where to find a fresh stash of powder.
There is only one gondola and one chairlift in Kaunertal, so expect to use the five T-Bars a fair amount. As drag lifts go they are not too bad – I only had one dodgy moment all trip and that was while laughing at a friend having a hungover drag lift fail.
Near the main car park there is a big restaurant that serves surprisingly nice reasonably priced food. An alternative is the quaint restaurant at the end of the run to the bottom of the ski area, they do great pizzas and it has a more personal feel.
Despite it being May spring had not yet arrived in Kaunertal. It was snowing most of the time, which coupled with thick patchy fog made for challenging conditions. We saw the sun for about two minutes on the first day and everytime I went to the top it was windy, icy and visibility was minimal.
Lower down visibility was a lot better so we mainly stuck to the pistes from the main car park down to the bottom. We also did two laps through the park, which is accessed via a t-bar. Despite terrible visibility I enjoyed the kickers near the top and hit a couple of boxes.
The second day started very much like the first ended with thick patchy fog. However, it cleared long enough for a couple of top to bottom runs in sunshine. We enjoyed most of the 1000m descent in untouched powder off the side of the pistes.
Being able to see I realised there is a huge amount of easy to access freeride terrain to play in. Plus with a little hike there would be loads of backcountry routes to explore.
Although high cloud came in, visibility remained OK for the rest of the day. Again I did a couple of runs through the park and was amazed at the amount of rails, boxes and tables of all shapes and sizes. Kaunertal snowpark is a jibsters dream.
The half decent visibility and fresh snow meant that we were playing off the side of the pistes in fresh powder for most of the afternoon. We also enjoyed the many side hits that on day three were to be used for a competition.
On the third day it was again fairly foggy and at the top it was very windy with minimal visibility. Lower down it was OK but slowly deteriorated until on my last couple of runs I could barely tell which way was down hill.
Before it got that bad we had a nice play around on a kicker that someone had made off the side of one of the pistes. Each time we went past and hit it there were other snowboarders hanging around and it was a nice atmosphere with experts were giving tips to less experienced strangers.
Soon after the thick fog arrived and you could barely see 10m in front of you. I mistakenly did ‘one more run’ and ended up missing the last lift. Luckily we were allowed to travel back up the chairlift as they did their final safety checks.
Considering this review of Kaunertal snowboarding holiday was in May we were both lucky and unlucky with the weather. On one hand we had fresh powder when most resorts are closed but on the other hand visibility was pretty poor a lot of the time.
Despite this I still had had a fantastic time. The main top to bottom run in Kaunertal is very good with a great variety of slopes and plenty of side hits. There is also ample off-piste that is easy to access and the lack of crowds means you can ride it all day.
If you are into freeride it is clearly a great resort to properly head off backcountry. Of course you need to have the relevant experience and all the gear, failing that make sure you go with a guide as people have died in avalanches in the area.
And if freestyle is more your thing, or the snow gods don’t deliver any fresh stuff, there is a huge snow park to play in. Personally I am more into kickers than rails and would have liked to see a few more jumps, but if you like to jib you’ll love it.
During this review of Kaunertal snowboarding I stayed at the excellent Hotel Kirchenwirt. I had a single room that although not huge had plenty of room for me and my gear. The room had recently been renovated with a funky contemporary design that is an improvement on normal hotel decor.
The bathroom had a huge powerful shower with endless hot water. Interestingly the walls of the bathroom were opaque glass, this made everything in the room feel bigger and ensured some natural light reached the bathroom.
The rest of the hotel was very nicely decorated, although not quite as funky as my room. However, the staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. I got chatting to the owner who told me the hotel is family run as are most of the hotels, shops, bars and restaurants in town.
I was half board on this snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt, so got to enjoy both breakfast and dinner in the hotel. Breakfast was a fairly typical help yourself affair with both hot and continental options. There was also plenty of organic fruit and breakfast cereals to choose from.
Dinner was a high quality five course menu. It started with a large salad buffet and choice of soups, and ended with a cheese platter – but to be honest the portions were generous and I never made it that far! The main and dessert were inspired by Austrian mountain cuisine but with a contemporary twist that made them look and taste delightful.
Facilities in the hotel include free WiFi that was simple to connect to with a strong signal throughout the building. There is a modern ski room with heated boot rack. You get free access to a gym, swimming pool and spa which are located just 200m away.
The onsite Kiwi Bar is a fairly relaxed place to have a few beers. Outside there is a nice sun terrace, inside is a large and comfy bar area plus a big screen to show sport. They also sell very nice pizzas.
There are various packages for a Kaunertal snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt that include 7 days half board accommodation plus six days lift pass. Off-peak these cost from €498, but even the most expensive week over Christmas is a bargain at just €793 per person.
All in all, the Hotel Kirchenwirt is a great place to stay. They provide a friendly and high quality service all for a reasonable price. If you put this hotel in St Anton or Ischgl you’d probably pay at least three times as much.
A Kaunertal snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt won’t appeal to everyone, which is why if you don’t mind travelling to the ski slopes you are likely to love it. Quiet slopes, cheap prices and a great snow record means those who make it there will love it.
If you are looking for either an early or late season get away Kaunertal is open October until June, so way before and long after most resorts. You are more likely to get proper winter conditions while other resorts are struggling for snow, meaning it appeals to freeriders wanting to extend their season.
Not to be left out, freestylers will love the huge park. If you are into rails the half mile long jibline is one of the longest in Europe. It is the perfect place to get lots of practice in without queues.
There are not a huge amount of accommodation options in Kaunertal, but you won’t go wrong booking a snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt. With great food, excellent facilities, friendly staff and contemporary rooms it quickly felt like a home away from home.
To conclude this review of Kaunertal snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt I’ll ask one question ‘would I like to return?’. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
As a freeride snowboarder the ski area has vast amounts of appealing terrain. To top it off off-piste riding early and late in the season more likely here than most other ski areas, so you can get fresh lines when other resorts are not even open.
I hope you found this review of Kaunertal snowboarding holiday at Hotel Kirchenwirt useful. We flew Swiss Air from Heathrow to Zurich and hired a car. If you would to visit check out the Kaunertal website: www.kaunertal.com and visit the Hotel Kirchenwirt site: www.kirchenwirt.com