Mayrhofen in the Austrian Tyrol has evolved into more than just an ideal family ski resort. It is Austria's capital of freestyle snowboarding – and, every April, becomes the Glastonbury of the Alps
Mayrhofen is a seemingly typical Tyrolean mountain village in the heart of the Austrian Alps. Occupying a position in the bottom of the Zillertal valley, the village has a traditional look and charm that has long appealed to families. What's more, it is only a child-friendly one hour's drive from Innsbruck airport. The Zillertal area prides itself on facilities for children and the ski schools are excellent.
In the past few years, however, Mayrhofen has acquired something of a dual personality. In addition to being affordable and family-friendly, it is now unquestionably the super-cool "free-ride" capital of Austria, a mecca for snowboarders and home to several major snowboarding and musical events during the winter. The spectacular British-run Snowbombing – a free-ride competition and music festival – livens up the town every April at the close of the season… and it keeps on getting bigger. BBC Radio One will transmit live from the slopes during Snowbombing week (3-10 April 2010), when the whole town will be buzzing with street parties and packed with good-natured revellers. Headline bands now perform live gigs in the surreal ambience of the forest just off the main street. For details, see www.snowbombing.com; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mayrhofen is centered around the main street, Hauptstrasse, where all the major bars, restaurants, shops and hotels can be found. However, it has gradually spread out from the main street with the development of more than 20 smart four-star hotels and a plethora of very neat pensions (guest houses) which often offer the same level of comfort you would expect of a very high-standard hotel. Friendly service and good home cooking are the norm.
The village is situated between the two main ski areas of the Zillertal valley – Penken and Ahorn – and the Hintertux glacier is only a 40-minute (12-mile) bus ride away. All three areas are covered on the one ski pass, but they are not linked. Penken is the easiest to access from the Penkenbahn, right in the centre of town next to the Hotel Strass. Outside the hotel is a giant screen showing live feeds of the action high up on the mountain. The jumbo gondola climbs the sheer face of Penken, immediately above the town, and takes you high up above the tree line.
There is no direct route back down other than by gondola, so there are often long queues to get on and off the mountain. The only alternative is to take a bus over to the little hamlets of Finkenberg or Hippach – but the last bus back to Mayrhofen, at 5pm, is rather ill-timed. With all the returning skiers trying to get back to town before the last bus departs, there are long tailbacks and bottlenecks
The other main ski area is Ahorn. Until recently, beginners wishing to ski the (mostly) gentle and sunny runs on the other side of the valley had no direct access from the town. Since the installation of the Ahornbahn, 200m from the village centre, this has become much easier – adding a very welcome new dimension to enjoyment of the mountain.
In a nutshell, Mayrhofen is nestled between Penken (providing thrills and spills on one side of the valley) and Ahorn (offering leisurely cruises and excellent beginners' slopes on the other). Ahorn also boasts the wacky White Lounge igloo development, on the plateau 2,000m above sea level and 400m above the Ahornbahn mountain station. This party and adventure facility allows you to get back to nature with a stop overnight on the mountain (See my picture slide show).
Hintertux, meanwhile, is one of the most snow-sure glaciers in the Alps. Rising from 1,500m to 3,520m, it provides 80km of good, year-round intermediate skiing and snowboarding. Many top international teams continue to train here during the summer months. Snowboarders will also have plenty of fun in one of the best snowparks in Europe. Every year, the SPC summer camp (00 43 5285 62078, email email@example.com) takes place on the king-sized park with its 360m super pipe plus all the usual rails, kickers… and the obligatory DJ.
If dialling from the UK, prefix all telephone numbers below with 00 43 and omit the first zero.
Ski schools in Mayrhofen are excellent, with top-class facilities – and the gentle, sunny slopes of Ahorn make brilliant terrain for beginners. However, the better skiers in your party will want to be elsewhere – which inevitably means Penken mountain, on the other side of town. Meeting up for lunch is therefore difficult, making Mayrhofen a less suitable choice for mixed-ability groups. Of the ski schools, try Mount Everest (05285 62829), Roten Profis (05285 63900), Max Rahm's Mayrhofen Total (05285 63939) and Mayrhofen 3000 (05285 64015).
Timid intermediates might be better off on the leisurely blue cruises on Ahorn, as many slopes on Lanersbach are too steep, while on Penken they are too short. Confident intermediates will have a lot of fun on the Rastkogel and Eggalm runs over on the Penken mountain area.
There are some excellent runs for them – especially the "Harakiri", Europe's steepest. Also try the demanding black run under the Schneekar chair on Horberg; the unpisted trail to the picturesque hamlet of Hippach; and the powdered off-piste runs from the top of Rastkogel.
Snowboarders love Mayrhofen – both for its steep mountain terrain with very rare flat spots, and its vibrant après-ski scene back in the village, where their preferred hangout is the Scotland Yard pub. Every March, the world-class Asthetiker Jam takes place – a professional free-style snowboarding competition. This season's event takes place from 10-13 March 2010, rolling into town with the battle cry "The Freaks are back!". Meanwhile, the über-cool snowboard brand Vans has re-designed and renamed the world-renowned park in Mayrhofen; it is now called the Vans Penken Snowpark. Somehow, pro boarders and free-ride fanatics it attracts happily co-exist with the first-timers and families (many of them British) who have become Mayrhofen regulars. There is another superb snowpark on the Hintertux glacier, but that tends to be rather icy unless it is early or late in the season. Nevertheless, it is at its busiest from June to August.
The ominously but appropriately named Harakiri is so steep, you may wonder what possessed you to try it. It's a little short, but a great challenge for the expert. You will find the run under the Knorren chair. The Grublspitze to Vorderlanersbach is a long, enjoyable blue cruise that is often uncrowded and offers spectacular mountain views.
MAYRHOFEN AT A GLANCE
(cable cars 8, chairs 18, drags 22)
Lift capacity 62,250 per hours
Mountain restaurants 28
Longest run 9km
Pistes 52 (120km)
(blue 22, red 27, black three)
Beginner pistes 24 per cent
Intermediate pistes 64 per cent
Expert pistes 12 per cent
Linked ski areas Penken, Eggalm, Rastkogel, Hintertux
Snow cannon coverage 110km
Pros and cons
Snow reliable, with the added guarantee of skiing the Hintertux glacier
Short transfer from Innsbruck
Great for free-stylers, snowboarders and families alike
Excellent ski schools
Major events: Snowbombing and Aesthetiker Jam
No run back into town
Crowded ski runs, long queues for gondola and buses back into town
Too many short runs
Beginners' ski routes are too far away.
Schneekarhütte (05285 64940) This, in my view, is the best place to eat on the mountain. Situated at the top of the six-person Schneekar chair lift on Horberg, it's a popular and classy place to stop for lunch with perks including table service, an open fire, leather sofas and sometimes a jazz pianist. Mains such as spaghetti or quiche start at just €11, while a special four-course lunch costs €49. 50. Everything is well-presented, and the Schneekarhütte also has the best wine list in the valley. Put your feet up for a long lunch.
Grillhofalm (0664 3126426) For sheer location, this is my top choice. Located below the Vans snowpark, it has a big sunny terrace overlooking the park's jumps for outdoor entertainment – so it's a cool place to hang out. Expect lots of freestylers all talking "Snowboardish". The place serves great pizzas and you can choose your own toppings: €8-15 for pizza and a pint. To get there, brave the Harakiri black run or take the Penken 15 red.
Schiestl’s Sunnalm (0664 5414720) With its sunny location beneath the Gerent lift, Schiestl's is a rebuilt farmhouse with a large terrace. It serves tasty grilled steaks and local Zillertal specialities, and prices are reasonable. A steak main course with wine costs less than €25.
Christa's Skialm (05285 63033) Over towards Finkenberg, above the Nordhang chair, this is (as they say) "Klein aber fein" – "usually packed. It serves tasty steak grills and delicious goulash soups, and offers sunny and spectacular views from the outdoor deck. The soup, at less than €10, is a meal in itself.
Mayrhofen has an eclectic mix of restaurants, from very nice hotel establishments to popular, relaxed Tex-Mex places with live music. There are even a couple of decent Chinese in the town, plus a great little deli/butchers (opposite the Penkenbahn lift station) that does great baguettes for eating on the go. It's ideally situated for when you get back down to town.
Wirtshaus Zum Griena (05285 67 67) Set in an ancient farm across the river, Wirtshaus is a romantic restaurant owned by the Elisabeth Hotel. It serves delicious, traditional Austrian specialities. Try the beer soup and farmer's roast – both reasonably priced. Expect to pay €25-35 for two courses with wine.
Hotel Neuhaus (05285 67 03) This small, classy restaurant specialises in traditional Austrian cuisine cooked with locally-sourced ingredients. Prices are modest for food that is really excellent. Booking is essential. Expect to pay €15-35.
Hotel Neue Post (05285 62131) Next to the Nuehaus, this is another cosy restaurant with tempting traditional dishes and a more varied international menu. Choices range from snacks to more adventurous cuisine. Prices are similar to the Neuhaus (above) – so good value.
Mamma Mia’s (05285 67 68) Located in the plush Elisabeth Hotel, Mamma Mia's recreates a true Italian pizzeria. If your taste is for wood-fired pizzas and salads, this is the best place in town. €11-25 with drinks.
Mo’s Bar (05285 63435) For the best burgers, ribs, spicy wings, salads and pasta dishes – plus regular live music – try the popular American-style Mo's Bar. €10-20.
Singapore (05285 63912) at Scheulingstrasse 371. This Chinese restaurant serves the usual oriental favourites. Soup, a starter and a main course costs about €25.
Ciao Café Bar (05285 63299) Located on Hauptstrasse, this small Italianesque café has regular live music and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. It serves various pastas (penne, tagliatelle, green noodles, spaghetti) plus snacks (toast, sandwiches) and salads. €10-20.
Mayrhofen is regarded as one of the best Austrian resorts for partying and après-ski. Things get pretty warmed-up on the plateau, on Penken at the Pilzbar (see below) and back down at the village. As soon as you disembark from the Penkenbahn, there is a packed house and terrace right by the lift station ramp where more Grolsch is said to be drunk than at any other bar in Europe. This is the famous Ice Bar at the Hotel Strass.
Pilzbar (05285 63467) This gets my vote for the best après-ski on the mountain. Located at the Penken cable-car top station, it gets busy from mid-afternoon and does a roaring trade in Jägermeister shots. It's a good job you have to take the gondola back down to town.
Ice Bar (05285 6705) This, undoubtedly, is the best place to start the night. Situated next to the Penkenbahn entrance ramp, it is a Mayrhofen institution. I have been there during Snowbombing week, and I can vouch for the claim about Grolsch consumption (see my après-ski introduction, above). At €5 a pop, it must be adding a sizeable chunk to the Austrian economy. The Hotel Strass has several bars and clubs and is a focal point for guests during the week-long festival. It is also the main base for the event organisers.
Niki’s Schirmbar (05285 62232) This outdoor bar, just across the river along Ahornstrasse, is always packed and buzzing. If you are peckish, schnapps shots are served in edible glasses at the side bar.
Happy End (05285 62333) This bar gets packed out, as it is just across from the Penkenbahn and functions as a good overflow for the Ice Bar across the road. The drinks menu is a little more varied than Grolsch!
Coup & More Bar (05285 69665) Opposite Moreboards on the main street, this is a nice, classy, chilled-out pre- or post- dinner spot – though you can eat good bar snacks here, and there is a varied selection of shots. This is a more relaxed option if the raucous après-ski is not to your taste.
Cohibar (0664 5236 290) This Cuban-style bar is the best place for cocktails and makes a peaceful and sophisticated change of scene for a chilled-out drink or meal.
Scotland Yard Pub (05285 62339) This wins my Best of British award – and you can't fail to miss it, on account of the traditional red English-style phone booth outside. The pub has Brit favourites such as Guinness and Walkers crisps, plus a pool table and darts. A big draw for snowboarders in particular, it gets very busy quickly.
Win Win (05285 6700) at the Kramerwirt Hotel. Believe it or not, the town casino with the positive-sounding name does prove to be a winner for drinkers, serving possibly the cheapest beer in town. What the casino makes out of punters at the tables is presumably in direct correlation to the amount of dutch courage garnered at the bar.
Apropos (05285 64830) A dive bar that gets going well after midnight, this place is very popular with snowboarders and locals. You will find live music and lots of happy, shiny people. Happy hour 10-11pm.
Schlussel (05285 622320) Over the bridge by the Hotel Brucke. Typical Austrian disco usually packed with Austrian and German revellers bopping to a Euro-trash beat.
Best one-stop shop
The Hotel Strass (05285 6705) Right on the main street, in the dead centre by the Penkenbahn, this offers several après-ski and late-night entertainment options all in one location. These are listed below:
Sports Lounge – Daily live music, always busy.
Lobby Bar – Try here for great cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere.
Sport Hotel Terrace – Tyrolean music and live cabaret.
Speak Easy Lounge and Arena – A huge disco to end the night, very busy every night of the week. It features all sorts of music, a huge dance floor and a range of reasonably-priced drinks. Opens at 9.30pm.
Mayrhofen has a good mix of places to stay, with at least 20 four-star hotels plus affordable and comfortable "pensions" – mostly across the river Ziller, on the other side town.
Hotel Elisabeth 5* at Einfahrt Mitte 432 – quite simply, the best hotel in town. Just a minute's walk from the main street, it has spacious rooms with balconies and all the amenities you could wish for. The excellent Mamma Mia pizzeria is here, as well as a health spa, a large indoor pool, a bar and a casino.
Hotel Zillertalhof 4* at Marienbrunnen 341. This is a subdued, stylish and relaxed place to stay, with modern amenities but a traditional inn style. Excellent health spa and indoor pool. Ideal location for peace and quiet.
Hotel Manni's Sporthotel 4* at Hauptstrasse 439. The rooftop swimming pool is a neat touch and has spectacular views – and there are also spa facilities, a sauna and a steam room. The food is highly recommended, and the service is friendly.
Hotel Neuhaus 4* at Marktplatz 202. Good-value, restful and very comfortable with a high level of service. Beautiful ambient interior. Two excellent restaurants.
Hotel Neue Post 4* at Haupstrasse 400. This traditional historic hotel has nice spacious rooms and modern comforts including pool, sauna, whirlpools and solarium. It has a fine, atmospheric and rustic restaurant.
Hotel Strass 3* at Hauptstrasse 470. This is the perfect place for partygoers – but not recommended for those who want peace and quiet! The Strass has some of the best bars and a nightclub within its walls, for easy access to the music and dancing after skiing. Other on-site facilities include a spa and swimming pool. The main Penken gondola is right on the doorstep.
Gasthof Brücke 3* at Ahornstrasse 850. This very smart, stylish and comfortable gasthof has all the quality of a small hotel, plus an excellent sauna and "wellness" area. Rooms are well-furnished and of a good size. There are two popular après-ski spots on site – the Brück n' Stadl Tyrolean bar and the Schlüssel Alm nightclub.
Pension Austria 3* at Waldfeldweg 643. Good-value and newly renovated, this place has comfortable rooms and is quiet. In a nice central location, it is just a minute's walk from the Penken gondola. Perks include a relaxing sauna and sunny terrace.
The nearest airports are Innsbruck (60km from the resort), Salzburg (170km) and Munich (190km). For car hire from the airport try Alamo (0870 400 4562, www.alamo.co.uk); Avis (0844 581 0147, www.avis.co.uk); Budget (0844 581 2231, www.budget.com); Easycar (08710 500 444, www.easyCar.com) and SIXT (0844 248 6620, www.sixt.com).
There is no direct route; connections are made at Jenbach.
From Munich, use the A8 signposted to Salzburg, Nurnberg and München. Then take the A93/E45 to the Austrian border, then the A12/E45/E60 to Exit 39 and follow signs for Zillertal. From Salzburg, enter Austria via the A93, then use the A12/E45/E60 towards the B169.
See www.tumbl.it/airporttransfer and www.tumbl.it/airtransferats.
For taxis, try Kroll (05285 62260); Franky's (0664 2500250); and Reini's (0650 463 7575).
Tourist office (05285 67600, www.mayrhofen.at). Open 8am-6pm Mon-Fri; 9am-noon, 2-6pm Sat; 10am-noon Sun.