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A snowHead
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Location: snowHeadLand
Resort: Mayrhofen
Domain: The Zillertal arena (not linked) including the glacier at Hintertux.
Author: Deliaskis

Date: March 06
Our holiday: Me & husband (upper intermediates), big sister 7 brother-in-law (both lower intermediates). It was one of our (extremely rare) package holidays with Crystal as it was very last minute and so the cheapest option was a package.
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Basics : Mayrhofen is situated in the Zillertal valley in Austria, which is off the Inntal motorway between Innsbruck and Salzburg/Munich. Innsbruck is much more convenient than Salzburg for transfers, especially if you’re with a tour op (I swear, never again) as the transfer goes a looooooonnnng way round.

Lift system : The lift system is in general efficient, with mostly chairs and a couple of cables/gondolas and T-bars. The chairs are not all fast although some are. The main gondola out of town onto the Penken can generate queues in the morning, but worse still are the queues of up to an hour to get back down the mountain after the day’s skiing, because you can’t ski back to the resort of Mayrhofen itself. It is possible to ski back to a couple of the smaller villages up and down the valley, which we opted to do a few times, deliberately to avoid the big queue to get home. There is also a big cable car up to the top of the Rastalm section, which can also generate some queues. There are also a couple of flat/uphill sections (with no big run-up) where a rope tow or button wouldn’t go amiss on the Penken.

We didn’t bother exploring the glacier or the other Zillertal areas, so can’t comment.

The terrain : The terrain is quite varied, some pretty tree-lined runs, and some higher areas in the bowls that are more open. These can be really spectacular and offer The extent of the lift-linked area is quite big if you include Eggalm, which you can ski over to via Heidi’s Hut and the Vogel nest restaurant. The mixture of pistes of different levels of difficulty makes this a nice resort for mixed ability groups I would think, and nothing on the Penken is so far away that it would take people hours to find each other.

One of the big drawbacks of the area for me is that you can’t ski back down to Mayrhofen. You can take the cable car down (see above re queues) and you can ski down to Hippach, and from Eggalm and get the bus back, but overall, I don’t think it’s great for convenience. Add this to the fact that a lot of the accommodation is a 15 minute walk or a bus ride from the lifts and you can end up doing a lot of faffing to get on and off the snow.

The Eggalm mountain is much quieter than Penken and has some lovely runs, that you can get all to yourself. We spent quite a lot of time over here to escape the crowds. Just need to take a bus back at the end of the day but they are regular and comfortable so no big problem.

There are a couple of slalom race courses to have a go at, and a big snowboard park.

The famous Harikari piste is apparently the steepest in Austria, and is worth a look if you’re not too faint-hearted. Husband and I skied it, sister and bro-in-law didn’t. I believe that there was a fatal accident there in 2007, so seriously, please ski within your own abilities, as I’m sure most Snowheads do anyway! You get plenty of chances to look at it from the lift going up there, and even from the top, you can still duck out and take the easier route down.

The snow : We had plenty of snow when we were there in March 2006. The village itself is low altitude, at about 700m I think, and so it often rains at village level, but snows on the mountain. The quality and quantity of the snow when we were there was in any case fine, the piste care and grooming was however amongst the worst I have seen. We barely saw a piste-basher all week (apart from the lines of them parked neatly next to restaurants and lift stations), and often saw blue cruisers and even nursery slopes which were torn up into moguls and not even bashed overnight. I am happy skiing moguls, ice, whatever, but I would say that the quality of the piste care here in general is one of the reasons I might not go back. Having said that, as the skiing as at a fairly high altitude, it’s pretty reliable for quantity and quality of the white stuff, and is often open well into April, when neighbouring low resorts are struggling.

Off-piste : Well the whole of the domain was pretty much off-piste when we were there, due to virtually no grooming at all, but that aside, there are lots of opportunities for proper off-piste here, particularly in the bowl areas.

The resort : It’s a large and popular resort with a tourism heritage going back many years. It has also hosted a number of world cup ski races and snowsports are definitely very much part of the town’s past, present and future. The town itself has a nice (but surprisingly not pedestrianised) main street with traditional style buildings on each side, and the atmosphere is friendly and fun.

There is accommodation in this main area, and this tends to be in the more expensive big hotel type realm, but there are also lots of smaller hotels, B&Bs and apartments that are further out and less convenient. There is however a bus that runs from the train station up to the lift stations, so that works well for much of the accommodation.

Most of the big tour ops come here so there are offices for Crystal/Thomson, Inghams, etc. The offices for Crystal have ski lockers and are right next to the lifts to very handy.

Lots of options for buying/hiring of ski equipment, plenty to choose from in every respect.

Food : We ate lunch on the mountain every day, which was all good quality, filling and good value. There are some great little rustic mountain huts in the area, so lots of choice for lunch.

In the evenings, we ate out each night at a different place. There was pizza, Chinese, traditional local cuisine, hotel restaurants, etc. so lots to choose from. The popular places were very busy though and we had to queue a couple of times for a table, and this wasn’t high season.

Accommodation : As the resort has a legacy of tourism going back many years, a lot of the cheaper accommodation is in need of some modernizing. For example, before we booked the package deal, I contacted a lot of Pensions, and many didn’t have en-suite in bedrooms. The place we stayed was called the Birkenhof which was ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’, physically. It was cheap though, as we paid only half the brochure price due to it being last minute. I think I would have felt a bit hard done to if we had paid full price.

There are a number of plush hotels on the main street, Manni’s is one that springs to mind, which seems to have excellent facilities. If I did come back a much richer person, I would probably choose to stay there. There also seemed to be lots of apartments on the way into and out of town, so there will be something here to suit most people’s tastes and budgets.

Costs: We had a cheap package there (about £240 from memory), but I would probably prefer to go and stay somewhere better and closer to the lifts if I went again. As there is a wide choice for bars and restaurants, prices are pretty reasonable. We paid up to about EUR28 for evening meals including wine/beer etc. so value was quite good. For those on a real budget, there are takeaways and supermarkets for self-catering etc.

Conclusion: I’m glad we went to Mayrhofen, and in terms of skiing and resort, it has the potential for a fabulous holiday. I didn’t really enjoy our holiday there as much as others though, as it just didn’t quite work for me - the complete lack of piste grooming, the no skiing back to resort, and the fact that we were in cheap and not very cheerful accommodation mean that I would consider lots of other places before coming back. I know it’s really popular though, and some people keep going back again and again so if the issues I have with it aren’t important to you, then I am sure you will love it.

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