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First, geographically: whilst most Austrian ski areas are located in the west of the country, it’s over in the south east, not far from the Slovenian and Italian borders.
Second, there’s its famous connection: my all-time skiing hero, Franz Klammer, calls BKK home and still does a lot to promote the place worldwide. You can even ski with “the Kaiser”, as he’s affectionately known, when you visit. They’re so proud of him that, understandably, one of the best pistes is named after him. In fact, there must be something in the local mineral water – the surprise winner of the downhill at the last winter Olympics, Matthias Mayer, comes from the neighbouring village.
When you actually arrive here you’ll recognise a fairly standard Austrian ski resort, perhaps a mile long, fanning out from the main street with ski areas on each side of that road. What’s a little different, you’ll spot, are two large public swimming pool and spa complexes in the very heart of the resort – because that Bad (“Bath”) in the name isn’t just there by chance: this is a spa resort as well as a ski one and there are several grand hotels, too, dating back to the height of the spa era. Yes, BKK has class!
Indeed, the resort’s motto is “from the piste to the spas” and the spectacular Römerbad (Roman Baths) thermal centre is located right at the bottom of the slopes, with admission included in the ski pass price so you can, if you wish, literally dive straight in after your day on the slopes.
It’s the biggest of more than 20 swimming pools in the village, 21 of them in hotels that are also home to around 50 saunas; in truth, BKK was a spa resort for centuries before skiing was thought of. There are also quite a few 4* and 5* hotels set back from the road. I had not realised before that Bad Kleinkirchheim was a little more upmarket than the average, although still, as it transpired, friendly and relaxed.
The area’s ski slopes extend to over 100km in a large L shape around the resort, one side of the L following an adjacent valley to the neighbouring village of St Oswald, making the distance from one side of the area to the other quite a long trek, giving a real sense of size.
There’s a good mix of terrain, the vast majority of it below the treeline level with classic blue, red and black trails cut through the forested slopes. Most famous is run number 8 directly above Bad Kleinkirchheim itself, the Franz Klammer World Cup run. If you’re lucky enough to be in BKK on one of a few select dates, you may get the chance to ski with the great man himself on that run, and on several of his other favourites.
A vast arsenal of 800 snowguns pointing at 97% of BKK’s slopes helps to ensure good snow cover. There’s a good mix of lifts too, 25 in total, with several gondolas and four quad chairlifts, but also rather a lot of T-bars and old double chairs in need of a makeover.
Having first been a spa town, then a ski resort and a spa town, Bad Kleinkirchheim is now putting the onus onto its other activities to help it diversify. Away from the pistes there’s plenty more to do in the Nockberge Mountains. The list includes a 60km-long well-maintained trail network running throughout this Carinthian winter wonderland or, if you prefer to walk across fields of untouched snow, you can rent snowshoes and work your way through feeling as light as a feather.
There’s also an open-air skating rink under the open skies, a cross-country ski track and four toboggan runs to try. A horse-drawn sleigh ride snuggled under warm blankets over snowy fields and around the soft curves of the Nockberge Mountains is a special treat.
All in all, there’s plenty to keep everyone from beginners to the less demanding expert, as well as non-skiers just looking for a wonderful place to spend a winter holiday, entertained for a week.
If you’re an experienced skier you can ski with “the Kaiser” Franz Klammer on three dates this winter, but you need to be up early!
Participants meet “the Emperor” at 6.30am at the valley station of the Kaiserburgbahn where Klammer will be waiting for guests and will also accompany them to a warm-up breakfast. From 7.30 to 9.30am the programme features free skiing with Klammer on the World Cup slope.
This will be followed by skiing enjoyment part two: an exclusive brunch with specialities from the Alpine-Adriatic cuisine in the Klammerstubn, which was created in the Kaiserburg mountain restaurant in honour of the idol.
It costs €125pp (£113) to join, the cost including breakfast, brunch and a two-hour ski pass. It takes place on 10 and 31 January and 21 February 2017. Places are limited and you should email email@example.com to book.
Inghams offer holidays to Bad Kleinkirchheim with a choice of accommodation including the 4* Hotel Trattlerhof. A historic inn that was first mentioned in records nearly 500 years ago in 1520, it has been managed since 1884 by five generations of the Forstnig family, the latest of whom, Jakob, is a friendly, knowledgeable, efficient and attentive host.
The hotel has large rooms, an excellent restaurant, a spacious spa (which I had to myself when I visited) and its own cosy, separate slopeside bar and restaurant, the Einkehr. There are also adjacent horse riding stables from which sleigh rides are organised. Rather than resting on its laurels with all that history, Jakob and his family are pushing into the 21st century by becoming the first hotel in the region to win the Austrian Eco Label award, installing a charging station for electric cars in the car park.
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