The vast majority of Austrian pistes are now supported by snow making equipment. This is good, in that you can now rely on decent snow cover in the lower resorts during the main part of the season. However, the downside is that, even though snow making technologies have improved over the years, natural snow is generally better to ski on.
One of my favourite pistes is black 56, also known as Schwarzkogel, at the far end of the Pengelstein area in Kitzbühel. In German Schwarz means black, and Kogel is an Austrian word meaning wooded mountain top. Although the Schwarz part of the piste name may be a slight overstatement (I can think of several red runs that are more demanding), the Kogel part of its name is very descriptive as the piste sweeps through the trees on its way down to the valley. There is very limited snow making on the length of this piste, I think only a handful of snow cannons that keep the paths that link the main sections of pistes open. The slope is southwest facing, so a warm spell can quickly bake the snow away, but when the piste has good cover, it is one of the best in the area to ski on.
I enjoy skiing the Schwarzkogel for many reasons. First, it is a long, fun run – varied and interesting, steep enough to get the adrenaline going, without being scary. Second, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Being at the far end of the ski area means it is generally quiet, but the fact that there is no gondola or chairlift at the end of the piste keeps many people away. Third, at the end of the run (right next to the bus stop) is Gasthof Fritzhof, a charming Italian restaurant serving great food at low prices.
The Fritzhof menu includes many traditional Austrian dishes as well as pasta and pizzas. The pizzas are my favourite – thin and crispy with great tasting toppings. If you do ski down here, you need to plan your trip to fit with the bus schedule. You can check the bus timetable on your mobile. Go to bergbahn-kitzbuehel.at and follow the link to Ski Bus and Train Timetable. You then want the “From Aschau“ section. If you have turned roaming abroad off on your mobile, you can still check out the bus timetable, as there are free Wi-Fi points all over the Kitzbühel ski area. The first time you log in you need to register, but it’s free, and will subsequently connect automatically. Buses from the Fritzhof are usually every half hour, but there are a few longer gaps through the day. It is worth noting that in the five minutes before a bus leaves everyone in the restaurant will try to pay their bills, so it is worth paying when your meal arrives to avoid a last minute panic.