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TR: Zillertal, 2-8 April 2022

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Base: Finkenberg
Who: me and my 15 year old son
Flights: Lufthansa, Heathrow-Munich
Transfer: hire car

After a planned pre-Christmas trip to Soll had to be pulled at the last minute, week-long trips in January (Flachau) and February (Ellmau) were very good, but I wasn't prepared to declare the season over, especially as our family trip in the February half term had gone slightly pear-shaped as a result of my son's passport not having 3 months left on it on arrival, and the attempted renewal failing to be processed in time. He volunteered to stay with his grandparents and told us to go and enjoy the holiday - but I was determined to make up for the admin error.

Unfortunately due to a big family event on Saturday 9th, we had to be home on Friday night. This didn't cut into our skiing time, but it did force a late return, of which more later.

I looked for somewhere that was familiar but not a recent destination, and with good snow cover likely in April even if it turned out to be warm. Having previously visited Finkenberg on several occasions in the 00s and not since, I was keen to go back to see what had changed. The presence of the Hintertux glacier at the end of the valley was a major plus, and flights to Munich were not as expensive as they could have been despite this being the first week of the Easter holidays.

Finkenberg is not big, which is one of its attractions - easy access to the mountain without the crowds of people on the streets and in the lift stations, and yet with enough options for food and beer in the immediate local area to cover a few evenings out. In parallel, Mayrhofen was staging Snowbombing during the same week, so staying in the centre of Mayrhofen was ruled out on the basis of cost, noise, and potential antisocial behaviour. Unlike Mayrhofen with its valley floor location, Finkenberg clings to the side of the mountain on a steep road with several hairpin bends, which gives a great view down the valley, and entertaining driving throughout the village. The village has a small central core below the lift station, then a number of outlying areas with accommodation which have free buses to the lift station. Persal is the easiest in terms of access, being above the lift station and on the main road, while Dornau on the other side of the river ravine is a bit out of the way. For the adventurous and those in search of solitude, Astegg is a small farm community halfway up the mountain which is reached by a free 10 minute minibus ride.

Finkenberg has a number of hotels with restaurants, but many of them were either only serving food to residents, or were entirely closed over this week. We were saved by the Hotel Neuwirt on two occasions, and I'd happily go there again if we return.

Flights - Lufthansa were one of the few airlines offering flights to Munich with an early departure on Saturday and a late return on Friday, despite Munich being a major hub for business travel. So far, so good - but it was to go rapidly downhill. First Lufthansa cancelled the outbound 0655 flight at 1500 the previous day, then offered me flights on a different day and via Frankfurt taking 4 hours longer, then told me the only way to get to Munich on the Saturday was via Zurich at 0600, then apparently booked me on the standby list for the Zurich flight despite telling me we had seats, then turned me away at check-in because the flight was full, then told me I could fly via Brussels that evening, and only after a direct discussion with the supervisor at check-in were we given seats on a direct flight at 0900. Even then the flight left at 1010, while the return flight was 90 minutes late because there were no gate staff available in Munich to open up for boarding. Now they're taking a long time to process my EU261 compension claim. In short, I'll avoid Lufthansa in future - they were utterly shambolic, and the requirement to call their Service Centre and queue on hold for 20-30 minutes each time was simply unacceptable, especially when they then either lied to me, or were completely incompetent in handling my request.

Airports - I've not flown from Heathrow in 10+ years, because my previous experiences were so dire. The news coverage of delays at passport control, check-in and baggage collection didn't fill me with confidence, but I had little option. Outbound via T2 was OK apart from the Lufthansa interactions, which included a check-in queue separated from the main walkway so that people were joining the front half of the queue while 50+ people were patiently waiting in the rear half to be called forward across the walkway. There has to be a better way. Arrival in Munich was flawless - quickly off the plane, baggage collection was simple including ski collection where staff handed the bag to you from their belt, and we were at the car hire desk in 15 minutes from walking off the aircraft. Our return was less simple - passport control was very quick through the electronic gates, but while Heathrow T2 delivered the standard bag in about 10 minutes there was no sign of my ski bag. In T2, this is delivered on belts 11 and 12 at the end of the baggage hall, and there was no sign of them there and no staff available. After 35 minutes I went to the Lufthansa baggage desk to report it as lost - at which point they asked if there were any bags on the belt. Yes, there were. OK, they said, take them off - until they are removed, no more bags can be delivered. We removed the blockages, and my bag appeared in seconds - what a ridiculous system, no staff to keep the bags moving, no sign to tell you to remove the belt contents to permit more items to be delivered, and apparently no concern at all that passengers might damage themselves or someone else's long/heavy/large items while removing them from the belt. For a flight which was due to arrive at 21:50, we left the airport at 23:20 and didn't get home until 01:30 as a result.

Car hire - we booked an "economy" car (listed as a Hyundai i20 or similar) via Holiday Autos, for collection from Global, at a rate which was twice as much as in previous years. Covid and the shortage of new cars has caused a huge increase in rates. All of the car hire desks in Munich are in the centre of the airport, but Global is not one of them - instead, you collect from Europcar, which wasn't immediately obvious. They checked the details, pulled out a Mercedes key and documents, then changed their mind and gave me a VW key. Ah, I thought - a Polo. Wrong - we got to the designated parking bay and found a Caravelle 7-seater bus. Surely shome mishtake? No, the registration matched, and the key opened the door. I wasn't too sure about this - the extra space would be handy for the ski bag, but the fuel consumption was likely to be higher. Keys in the ignition, and the problem went away - a warning light showed for the engine management system, and the display said "Reduce oil volume". Back to the desk, and the vehicle was rejected. Out came the Mercedes keys again - a result! Back to the parking space, and the keys opened up a Vito 9-seater which was even bigger than the VW... Back to the desk - "Do you have anything which isn't a 9-seater bus?" - apparently not, so it was a take it or leave it situation, and thus we gained a tour bus:
Victor Vito (it's a rugby reference...)

Victor was actually absolutely fine, in a slightly odd way - the (automatic) gear selector is on a stalk on the side of the steering wheel, while the handbrake was actually a foot pedal beside the door pillar, but with reversing camera and sensors it was OK to get it into and out of tight spaces. We did discuss setting up a clandestine taxi company to fleece the Snowbombing punters, but a criminal record in Austria isn't on my wish list as I'd like to return regularly for the next 15+ years.

Accommodation - we stayed in a self-catered apartment above Cafe Sennhütt'n, which is very conveniently located opposite the lift station, albeit up a steeply ramped access road. Stefanie and family were very welcoming, and as we were the only guests that week we had a quiet and very comfortable stay. The ski storage room on the ground floor was particularly good, with a powered auto-opening door plus individual lockable heated cabinets for each apartment. While the cafe was open during our stay, we didn't get the chance to sample anything from there as we were always out on the mountain when they were open.

Near the lift...
...and with views of Mayrhofen

Ski hire - the Skischule Finkenberg operates from the ground floor, and Meike and co provided skis, boots and poles for my teen for the week at a discount as we were staying in the building. Good quality Head boots and Atomic skis selected, we simply had to move them to the room next door for overnight storage. The kit was given a thorough workout over the week, and was given the thumbs up very early on.

The ski area - the gondola from Finkenberg gives good access to the whole of the Penken area, via a short connecting track and a return lift which drops you high enough up to ski back down to the Finkenberg middle station. The Penken area consists of a central bowl with runs down from the slopes on both the north and south sides, and then a big cable car (Tux-150) giving access to a higher area at Rastkogel. From the bottom of the Rastkogel area it is possible to ski down a track marked as a skiway to connect into the Eggalm area to the south, with return possible back into the Rastkogel area from the gondola station in the valley. I've always loved the Gerent side of the bowl, with both a great run down the ridge, and a short but fun run over the back from the top of the lift.

Mayrhofen also has the Ahorn area which is self-contained and reached via a large cable car, and while this only has a small number of runs, it does have one red/black run which goes from the top of the mountain to the valley floor, and this is one of the best runs in the area.

Further up the valley the Hintertux glacier offers year-round skiing, though of course the glacier means more drag lifts and a long uplift to get from the valley (1600m) to the peak (3250m) across 3 gondolas. Once up there, the skiing is of fairly limited variety, but the run over the back of the peak and from Tuxer Fernerhaus down to Sommerberg are worth seeking out, and when it is open and in good condition, the 7Km valley run to the bottom of Hintertux is an experience not to be missed.

Back down the valley the Zillertal Arena out of Zell im Ziller offers a good day trip or more, while the end of the valley has Kaltenbach, Fugen and Hochfugen which I've never visited.

Skiing - we spent day 1 on Penken in light snow, with good piste conditions on all runs for almost the whole of the day. Temperatures varied from -8 to -3, keeping everything grippy and flat until the very end of the day when a few lumps started to appear. No photos due to limited visibility with the falling snow.

Day 2 was a trip to the glacier as the forecast was for clear skies and warmer temperatures. Excellent conditions all day, with almost everything open and running beautifully, but our day was somewhat hampered by an unexpected treasure hunt - of which more below. Temperatures were down to -15 on top early in the morning with a stiff breeze, rising to +4 at the bottom but maintaining -2 at Sommerberg to keep everything in pretty good condition despite it being a bluebird day.
Hintertux view from Gefrorene Wand to Olperer

Day 3 opened with a bus to the Ahorn in Mayrhofen, and two runs from top to bottom while the conditions were cold and crispy. While the bottom of the run was a white strip through green fields, conditions were great until the last 200 metres as the run is mostly north-facing, and they'd worked hard to keep it open. A quick walk through town to the Penkenbahn took us back into the main bowl for the rest of the day.
The end of the Ahorn valley run, with Penken top-left
Mayrhofen from the Ahorn cable car

We also took the Tux-150 up to Rastkogel, and because the conditions up there were really good we were tempted to ski down to Eggalm while the ski route was open. That proved to be a mistake - the route down was marginal but OK, but then the only way to get back to Finkenberg is on the Rastkogelbahn from Vorderlanersbach, and as that is at 1275m it provided an entertaining challenge after it had been fully in the sun for 5 hours. About 500m above the lift the snow turned to sugar, then we had 15m patches of boilerplate ice, then holes in the piste quickly followed by large parts of it going missing entirely as a 10m wide piste became a 1m wide strip down the edge, and then we had hairpin corners with calf-deep sugar and eventually ankle deep slush and mud as we reached the lift station. I've never been so glad to take my skis off.

Day 4 was an outing to the Zillertal Arena, parking in Zell im Ziller at the Achterbahn. It didn't look good when the home run was entirely green, but the board showed all of the higher runs and lifts open, and the webcams had suggested good conditions, so we gave it a go. An excellent morning saw us playing around Kapauns before heading to Ubergangsjoch to descend through some stunning wilderness in the Teufeltal which I've always loved because of the sense of being in the middle of nowhere, and then to Gerlos. All was well down to a coffee stop at Seppi's, but from there on down the lack of altitude started to show. The long black run down Krummbach towards Konigsleiten is a highlight of this area, as is the return run down from Fussalm, but both were a slushy mess. Once clear of the valley, conditions improved significantly, and both the black run down Falschbach and the area between Larmach and the Gipfelbahn were excellent, and allowed us a very brief foray into Salzburgerland. A short off-piste adventure was quickly and safely aborted as what looked like fields of powder turned out to be breakable crust. The return was fairly uneventful, though downloading on the Zell gondola was impossible to avoid and in fairness the last 500 metres down to it was also fairly challenging later in the day with heavy slush.
Krimml Xpress/Kaupans, Zell im Ziller
The dam on Speicher Durlassboden from above Zell

This photo from the top of Zell shows the valley runs from Kaltenbach and Fugen in the distance, and explains why we didn't consider going there - I know there is good skiing to be had on top, but the freezing level is clearly perilously close to the top of the peaks. We drove past the villages in 15 degree sunshine on the way in, and 18 degrees on the way out.
Kaltenbach and Fugen from above Zell im Ziller

Day 5 was forecast to be cooler, so we headed back onto Penken. Good early runs down Katzenmoos and then a couple of charges down Harakiri in perfect grippy snow gave way to a warm and sunny late morning, and we headed higher onto Rastkogel in search of better conditions. We found them immediately, and stayed there through lunch at Heidi's, but in the early afternoon the skies clouded over and the temperature dropped considerably. We went from hot and all vents open to chilly with everything closed and buffs pulled up in about 15 minutes, and the pistes became crunchy at the end of the day.
Tux-150 cable car, Penken
The main bowl at Penken

Day 6, and our last, was a return trip to Hintertux in the hope of doing it justice after our earlier somewhat aborted day. Although it was a warmer day, the whole area was wonderful, and on a bluebird day we covered all of it, including 3 top to bottom runs down Schwarze Pfanne to the valley station. The last of these was a little sticky, but still fun and better than downloading.
Sommerberg from Moräne
Panorama from Schwarze Pfanne

An Unexpected Treasure Hunt - day 2 was a day of highs and lows in more ways than planned. An early start saw us on the glacier at 9, but beware of teenagers with mobile phones. rolling eyes Around 1030, I was informed at our coffee stop at the Tuxer Fernerhaus that my son's phone was nowhere to be found. It had been in an outside pocket, and the zip had been left open at some point, with the result that the phone had fallen out. It's an older iPhone that was handed down when I upgraded, so not super expensive but likewise not overly cheap to replace. Fortunately, Apple has this covered - the "Find My" app shows me the location of all of the family, so I pulled up the details on my phone and got a location from 30 minutes before which showed it was on the mountain, about half a mile away. However, as both mobile signal and GPS reception on the glacier are a little hit and miss, and his phone has a somewhat aged battery to start with, the position wandered around a bit and it took us a while to work out where exactly it was, since the app shows a generic map without lifts and pistes marked on it. We eventually homed in on its now stable position, and we worked out that it was in a 30 metre stretch of piste just above the Kaserer 2 lift. We walked across that piste for about 30 minutes looking for it, and calling the phone in the hope of hearing it ring. At one point, we knew we were within maybe 5m of it, as the call also triggered a vibration alert on his Fitbit via Bluetooth for the incoming call, but we couldn't find it and then the battery died. Clearly it was under the surface, and now beyond recovery. We headed back down to have some lunch, exhausted from walking up and down a red run in ski boots, and more in hope than in expectation I activated the "Lost phone" function in the "Find My" app - if you have iPhones in the family, check this out as it may save you some day. It marks the phone as lost on the Apple system, and gives you the option to display a phone number and message on it if it is found. We finished the day early, tired and a little deflated, and back in the valley we headed to the Hohenhaus Tenne for some refreshment. Just as I poured my beer, my phone pinged - it told me that my lost device had been found! I could hardly believe my eyes, but then my phone started ringing with an inbound call from a German (+49) number, and on answering I spoke to a nice man who said "Hello we have found your phone. We are returning now to the base station - can you meet us there?". Ten minutes later, the phone was handed over, and having waved away all my offers of beer or cash as a thank you, our rescuers disappeared down the valley. Having found the phone and warmed it up, it had just enough battery life left to power up, connect to a network, and report in. A lecture on the use of inside pockets and care in making sure they were properly closed was of course delivered, but I think the 6 hours without a phone was enough pain for any teenager to realise the error of their ways wink

Mayrhofen & Snowbombing - having planned to avoid Snowbombing, we did brush against its edges on a couple of occasions. We visited the swimming pool in town on Wednesday, and again on Friday for a quick cleanse and change of clothes on the way to the airport, and we decided to eat in town on Monday and Wednesday as well due to the unexpected lack of food options in Finkenberg. The main street was busy, with queues outside many of the more obvious places, but Monday saw us in Mo's for something quick and cheap, and then Wednesday was a more upmarket stop in Manni's - we were surrounded by Snowbombing people in both places, almost all of them English, and it proved to be entertaining in a masochistic way. There was a clear generational gap, and the playlists had obviously been adjusted to suit that week's clientele, but overall it was a friendly enough experience though some of the conversations were a little eye-opening for both me and the teen Embarassed - one group of lads was struggling to work out how to use the mandatory Covid spit test kits they'd been given on arrival, while others were discussing whether they could get Carling or Stella in Austria

The town was essentially full of groups of 8-12 single lads (maybe 75% of the visitors) looking for girls, or groups of 3-4 girls (20%) mainly looking to escape the sometimes unwelcome attentions of the lads, or occasionally mixed groups of 6-8 (5%) who presumably arrived together. With plastic glasses of Gösser being sold on the street for €7 each Shocked it wasn't a great surprise that some of the lads were a little boisterous or unsteady, but overall it wasn't as bad as I had feared.

In considering this week, I'd taken on board some comments that not everyone who attends Snowbombing is there for the snow sports, while those who are tend to have a later start because they're also likely to have "gone large" the night before. We found the slopes pretty empty, so I guess this holds true - there were some groups on early lifts, but by and large they were either very inexperienced (e.g. one group had 7 pairs of gloves between 8 lads because one thought he wouldn't need any despite it being -4 on top), or were occasional skiers - one group of girls were comparing notes on where they had been before, and the most experienced had done 3 weeks in total over 10 years, the last of them in 2018. The standard of skiing and boarding on the mountain was not particularly high as a result - another group of lads were assuring their mate that he didn't need snowboard lessons as they took him up onto the Ahorn. We spotted them 45 minutes later after we'd lapped the mountain twice - he'd apparently gone about 50 metres down the hill, and all of his mates had abandoned him. He fell over 4 times in about 3 minutes - but credit to him for dumb persistence.

Covid Restrictions - in theory masks were supposed to be worn in gondolas and enclosed spaces, but despite the occasional lift operator asking for a mask, many people either ignored it or did it really badly, including those with their nose uncovered, really badly fitting masks, buffs worn instead of the FFP2 they were supposed to have, or most annoying of all, the chin warmer brigade who had a mask but couldn't be bothered to wear it properly. No signs of infection on our return, and since the teen and his sister had been at secondary school throughout the preceding term, there was arguably more risk at home.

Fixed Costs -

- Flights, £261 per person
- Heathrow parking, £117 for 8 days
- Car hire, £254 (ouch!) via Holiday Autos
- Accommodation, €744, booked direct
- ski passes, €287 adult plus €230 youth ticket
- youth ski and boot hire, €100
- fuel, €45

Daily expenses were about €30 in total for lunch, €15-20 for apres drinks and the occasional strudel, and €30-50 for an evening meal.

Overall - despite warm days and slushy conditions at times, this was an excellent week and I'd go back without hesitation. I already knew the area fairly well, so while some things have changed (better lifts, smoke free alms and restaurants, Covid), others were just as I remembered them. I've improve significantly as a skier since my last visit, which made the whole place seem a little smaller than I remembered before, but that's no surprise really. My son was very impressed with the area, having previously only visited Saalbach-Hinterglemm with some day trips to Hochkonig, and the glacier was a significant experience for him in more ways than one (!) as that high alpine scenery and the level of cold and wind it can produce were new to him. We will return!
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@ousekjarr, cracking report.

We had a not dissimilar experience in T2 baggage reclaim. 2 ski bags go on the belt in Geneva at the same time, at T2 one was already in terminal reclaim before we got there or the normal bags, we think were in luck we’ll be away double quick, then the second take ages. How do they do it? Of course no-one around, not that they give a monkey’s anyway.

PS. I didn’t know about that Lost Phone function. Interesting!
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
It's on the Devices tab inside Find My - select a device, and you get these options:

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Thanks for posting ousekjarr. Great report.

We were in the Zillertal for a week in early April. We stayed in Fügen (apartment on a farm in a sleepy location) and had a great time. Great ski areas (Zillertal Arena, Höchfügen, Kaltenbach, Mayrhofen and Hintertux) and enjoyed 2 great powder days at Zillertal Arena.

Bit surprised to find that the Mayrhofen ski area has been renamed 'Mountopolis!' What's that about? An awful choice in my view Confused
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@mountainaddict, yup, another no doubt expensive marketing solution looking for a problem rolling eyes
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the Mayrhofen ski area has been renamed 'Mountopolis!

That's awful. I've never skied in Mayrhofen but camped there, many years ago and we were entranced by the promise of "festivities in the woodlands" in the English version of the "welcome" leaflet at the camp site.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
we were entranced by the promise of "festivities in the woodlands" in the English version of the "welcome" leaflet at the camp site.
You can't leave it at that
pam w Laughing We need to know if the woodland festivities lived up to the hype! Laughing
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
No, I was about 13 and was full of high hopes.... but it was all very quiet.
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