Mayrhofen, Austria Ski Resort Review
Skiing and Snowboarding in Mayrhofen, Austria
Every year an increasing number of Europeans make Mayrhofen ski resort their seasonal holiday base for a number of reasons. Several are lured back time and again by the area's traditional Austrian heritage, while younger travelers come for the brisk nightlife. Some view it as an utterly self-contained resort, while others return every winter to explore the immense range of smaller resorts along the extensive Ziller valley.
Mayrhofen, it would appear, is all about striking a balance - and yet there are a few aspects of the ski resort that don't fare quite as expected. Beginners are poorly served, irrespective of the excellent tuition on offer: blue runs on the main Penken ski area are just a few and far between, while those on the Ahorn face are more and more neglected because of their immediate inaccessibility. And while accomplished skiers will discover more than their fair share of fresh powder off-piste, those looking for a complete collection of black runs had better look elsewhere.
But perhaps the biggest gripe pertains to accessibility: Mayrhofen has no recommended runs back into the ski resort. Its piste network is solely above the treeline, and while this makes for snow conditions that are normally excellent (the Penken, Horberg and Eggalm districts also enjoy first-rate snowmaking facilities), it also leads in late-afternoon crowds as punters jostle to take the last lifts down. For intermediate riders, the pros dominate the cons. The lift areas are far-reaching; linked with the Rastkogel arena (in turn connected to the Eggalm zone), they're also bigger than ever, and there's always the perennial snow of the Hintertux Glacier hovering ominously in the distance if local conditions are poor.
The primary ski area in Mayrhofen is the Penken (630m-2,095m), which is predictably crowded during peak times (queues of up to 45 minutes are not unheard of; to avoid the crush get buses to either Finkenberg or Hippach, both of which have gondolas getting at Penken). A network of generally red runs weave their way back from Penken towards the valley, bringing you some stunning scenery as they go. There's also a nice black plus a few good reds leading back to the halfway point of the Finkenberg gondola; the runs are longer than most, although the same can also be told about the queues to get back up. Alternatively, catch either the three- or four-man chairs from the top of the Penken gondola and go for one of the two long, winding reds, which connect at the bottom of the nifty six- and eight-man chairs to the Horberg ski area (620m-2,278m). This successively opens up a smaller collection of pistes (most notably one long red and a more challenging parallel black), although it also gives access - through an unpisted trail - to a 150-man cable-car running up to the Rastkogel district (1,300m-2,500m) high above Penken.
Once more, there are a few red runs here, but the region is best suited to beginners, having a wide range of easy-going blues that are longer and more wide-ranging than those on Penken. Another area well suited to newcomers is the Ahorn (670m-1,965m), although the fame of the slopes here is in decline because of issues of accessibility - or lack of it: the Ahornbahn cable-car is a bus journey out of Mayrhofen, and the return service ceases after 5pm. Still, one of the resort's longest red runs leads you back down the valley from here, rarely crowded and well served by snowmakers. Even more snowsure is the year-round Hintertux Glacier (1,500m-3,520m), having 80km of piste alone. The glacier is best ridden at the start and end of the season (it could get a little cold in January or February), and in spite of the lack of black runs intermediates should stay alert. The glacier is also popular with off-piste riders, although the ever-present arsenal of crevasses should put off anybody not familiar with the terrain. More secure off-piste can be experienced closer to Mayrhofen itself: the terrain below the gondola linking Rastkogel with Vorderlanersbach is fantastic in good conditions, as well as the face under the 150-seater cable-car connecting this same area with Penken (this should be tried by experts only, and never without a transceiver). Lastly, regional pass owners must make the journey to the Zell and Hochfugen areas: both are accessed by a free bus and each is a secluded Narnia of powder faces and tree runs ignored by most.
Midway down the eight-man Tappenalm chairlift (between Penken and Horberg) is Josef's Biohutte, with a delectable range of regional specialities concocted from their own-grown organic produce, and an extensive selection of home-made schnapps. The Schneerkarhutte, further up in Horberg, is a good place for more formal sit-down meals, featuring surprisingly fresh seafood and a few excellent wines, while the nearby Grillhofalm is the place to grab great pizzas at high altitude, and having action views over the adjoining snowboard park. Neighbouring Hilde's Skitenne makes a nice line in desserts, while Vroni's Skialm and the Penkentenne are famous for their roasted and grilled meats, and both offer spanning views from their respective vantage points atop the Penken.
There's a great ski terrain park in Penken (accessed via the four-seater Sun Jet lift); it's well maintained all of the time, with a huge range of variously sized kickers, quarter-pipes, hips and rails. There's also a half-pipe here, but it's less dependable: avid pipe-riders should alternatively head to the Hintertux Glacier, where there's a 360m-long super-pipe for serious aerialists. There's also an adjoining terrain park, but the sheer cold can cause landings to be a bit icy in deepest winter. A popular option to propping up the bar in bad weather is to go to the pool (or ride the flumes) at Mayrhofen's extensive Erlebnisbad water park. More spectacular are the paragliding flights; beginners can get a tandem flight and staff will even land you directly in front of your hotel in favourable weathers. Back on ground level, there's nine-pin bowling at La Fontana and squash courts in the Hotel Berghof, although outdoor-sporting types should go for the Mayrhofen Tennis Centre. More seasonal activities are available courtesy of an artificial ice rink set near the water park or hour-long horse-drawn sleigh rides for up to five people, and there are also two separate 2.5km toboggan runs.
One of the best places to sleep in is the Wirtshaus zum Griena, a 400-year-old establishment dishing up smashing krapfen (a type of regional doughnut) as well as more filling local meals, and oozing historical appeal from every wood-paneled pore. Even more intimate is the Grillkuchl, with barely a handful of tables and as many pets hanging around as staff, while at the other end of the scale sits the architecturally incongruous Rundum, all pastel colors and modernist curves, and serving an appropriately colorful range of light meals and snacks. There's also Singapur Chinese Restaurant for some alternative dishes, while a bundle of Italian eateries keep the pizza contingent satiated: the best of these is Mamma Mia's in the Elisabeth Hotel, with topnotch pizzas, a wide variety offish and meat dishes and home-made ice-cream, although the smaller Manni's is also worth visiting.
Recommended for riders fresh off the mountain tends to be either the Ice Bar or Niki's Schirmbar; both are bustling from mid-afternoon onwards, the former normally rocking to the sound of German 'oompah' songs and the latter firing up shenanigans by serving schnapps in edible shot glasses. Snowboarders tend to head for the Scotland Yard Pub, barely the resort's most picturesque retreat but catering to the British community with loud music, pool and darts facilities and Guinness on tap. Apropos is another darling with pool players and music lovers, although once last orders are called, thrill-seekers find their way to one of a handful of late clubs, including the Sports Arena and the notorious Schlussel Aim: turn up expecting drunkenness in the first degree, and you won't be frustrated.
Mayrhofen's accommodation caters to the more upmarket end of the scale and none of it more so than the Elisabeth Hotel. Featuring an onsite health spa, a huge indoor pool, two restaurants, a bar and even a casino, the Elisabeth is the place for solvent skiers to lay their heads. You'll find more four-star hotels than you are able to shake a ski pole at. Top among these is the Zillertaler Hof, which contradicts its wedding cake structure with a uniquely calming atmosphere and an great health spa, while the Kramerwirt is one of the area's oldest and most authentic hotels; initially a grocery store and now home to a farm that stocks the hotel's kitchens. The Hotel Manni has an outdoor pool on the roof which is heated, while the Rose is handy for the pistes. The Pramstaller is a great choice for families, with good children's facilities and free toboggans.
Appartments Zillerpromenade sits on top with a beautiful panorama and is easily accessible by mountain railway. Its nicely furnished apartments make guests feel like home.
Eckartauerhof is a family-friendly hotel which was renovated in 2010. It offers a total of 28 rooms, lift Access, a cafe, bar, children's playground, bicycle hire and wireless internet access.
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