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Tirol: Over the edge

Do you dare tackle the world's scariest downhill ski run?

Tirol: Over the edge
Kirchberg. Image: Kurt Tropper

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Just looking down on the ‘Streif’ is enough to make my heart stop. Teetering on the edge of this notorious, nail-biting ski course, I soon understand why it’s widely regarded as the toughest and scariest downhill ski course on the planet.

Named after the Streifalm meadow on which it sits, the Streif is a wicked, twisting snake of a run filled with blind drops, huge high-speed jumps and bumps, and at one point plummets to a terrifying 85% gradient where daredevil racers can reach speeds of over 85mph. Each January, the world’s top skiers gather in the scenic medieval town of Kitzbühel in the heart of Austria’s Tirol to compete in the harrowing two-mile Hahnenkamm race on the Streif.

The Hahnenkamm is a highlight of the World Cup skiing circuit and no other race provokes such feelings of dread, joy and fascination among the sport’s elite. Austrian skiing legend Franz Klammer famously once remarked, “Everyone who gets down in one piece and finishes the race is the winner.”

Sadly I don’t share Klammer’s gung-ho spirit on this day and settle on the less stomach-churning Family Streif, following flatter, straighter parts of the course together with kinder loops that pass through snow-covered pine forests down to the charming town. With an evening of world-class food and wine ahead of me I want to make it off this mountain with all my faculties intact.

Later, in the quieter, less glitzy neighbouring town of Kirchberg in Tirol, the tranquil, theatrical dining at the Relais & Châteaux Rosengarten feels a long way from the boot-quaking terror on the slopes and the bustling après bars of Kitzbühel. The sleek restaurant, hotel and spa resort is the brainchild of regional super-chef Simon Taxacher. In 2009, aged just 33, he became the first restaurateur in the Tirol to have been awarded two Michelin stars.

Unfortunately for Taxacher, Michelin no longer publishes an Austrian guide, but the chef’s wonderfully creative French and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine (made from regional Austrian ingredients) clearly hasn’t lost its starry appeal.

I sit down to splurge on the Rosengarten’s seven-course Taste the Flavour menu in a long and carefully choreographed evening celebrating Taxacher’s culinary ingenuity and influences. A light and elegant first course of foie gras with ripened beets and perfectly cooked red mullet is followed by savoury pumpkin miso with Périgord truffle, sweet Cape gooseberry and huchen (Danube salmon) and mouth-melting Wagyu beef with celery and barberry.

Every ingredient and flavour feels perfectly balanced and executed in a showcase of contrasting tastes, textures and fragrances, where Taxacher’s attention to detail is nothing short of meticulous. The chef’s strength lies not only in his skill but his evident dedication to each dish — something made even more palpable by the fact the restaurant is closed unless he’s there to cook himself.

Up on the hotel’s top floor, amateur chefs can attempt their own culinary masterpieces with a meet-and-great with Taxacher and his team, who share their knowledge during a lunchtime cooking and tasting session. But as I savour a final, intricate course of petite fours, including rose hip lollipops and tamarillo marshmallows, I’m glad I’ve left the cooking to the experts — just as as I’m happy to leave the Streif to Tirol’s skiing elite.

Three-night ski breaks at the Relais & Châteaux Rosengarten cost from €549 (£391) per room per night, including ski lift pass and transfers. Dinner at the resort’s restaurant, Simon Taxacher, from €165 (£118) per person.

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