It’s a long way from being the most convenient resort in the world – but Mayrhofen’s top-notch terrain park, varied pistes and throbbing nightlife ensure a loyal following. There’s a mind-boggling amount of skiing on offer in the neighbouring resorts of the Zillertal, too.
Lifts: 44 in Mayrhofen, 180 in Zillertal area
Top Lift: 2500m
Ski area: 136km of piste in local area, 508km in Zillertal area
Adult lift pass: 53.50€ per day in local area, 256€ for six days Zillertaler Superski Pass
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Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
At first sight, the popularity of Mayrhofen is baffling. Here’s a resort town set below the normal winter snowline whose ski area is split – unequally – between two separate mountains. You can’t ski between them and you can only ski back down into town on a single piste.
Offering 136km of pistes, the local ski area is modest in size, too. Compared to the size and the ski-in, ski-out convenience of the 3 Valleys, Val d’Isere-Tignes and Paradiski in France, it’s not exactly a compelling package.
But for years now Mayrhofen has been honeypot for British and Dutch skiers and its star shows no sign of waning. Here’s why:
The town is bustling, friendly and relaxed
Unlike many purpose-built resorts in France, Mayrhofen feels like a proper town. It’s not as cute as the likes of Alpbach or Westendorf, but the backdrop of mountains and cliffs is stunning and it’s friendly and relaxed. It also buzzes at night.
It’s easy to get to
It’s an hour and a quarter by coach from Innsbruck airport to Mayrhofen. That’s quick by Alpine standards, although there is always the risk that Innsbruck airport will be closed by snow or low cloud (in which case you’ll probably fly to Verona or Munich and the transfer will take three to four hours).
Mayrhofen’s ski area is more than enough for many people
Mayrhofen’s mid-sized ski area is packed with variety. It’s particularly good for beginners, freestylers, and anyone who likes their pistes steep. After fresh snow, the off-piste skiing here is excellent too, though it’s also very avalanche prone. Hiring a guide is strongly recommended.
Yes, it’s only a quarter of the size of the 3 Valleys in France, but for many skiers – who come for the nightlife as much as the snow, or book a week with ski school – that’s more than enough.
Bear in mind that the slopes immediately above Mayrhofen are just a fraction of what’s on offer in the valley in which it’s set (the Zillertal). There are 668km of pistes to be skied in all, and oodles of off-piste in between. Together they amount to one of the most varied and exciting ski regions in the Alps.
Guide to the Mountain
Mayrhofen has two mountains – the Ahorn to the south, and the Penken to the north. Between them, they offer 159km of pistes – about a quarter of what’s on offer in the ever-popular Three Valleys of France.
Question is – is that enough skiing for a week’s holiday?
Well, it all depends on what kind of skiing you’re planning to do and whether or not you’re prepared to day-trip out of the resort. Here’s who will enjoy Mayrhofen, and who won’t:
Grown-up beginners will have a ball in Mayrhofen
One group which is well-served by Mayrhofen’s ski area is beginners. They get an excellent area of nursery slopes – at the top of the gondola at Penken and set well away from the other pistes.
Then, once they’ve mastered the basics, they can spend the second half of their holiday practising on the Ahorn on the other side of town. The skiing there is on a gentle, sunny plateau near the top of the mountain, and is served up with stunning views of the peaks to the west. What’s more, there are two very cool bars to relax in when you need a break: the White Lounge – an igloo with an outdoor bar surrounded by deckchairs – and a modernist block jutting out over the side of the mountain called the Freiraum.
The only drawback is the walk/bus ride up to the lifts from most of the hotels each morning – but there are lockers at both lift stations. Make use of them, and you’ll save yourself a painful walk in your ski boots.
Freestylers will love it too
Penken Park is one of Mayrhofen’s greatest assets. There’s no half-pipe, but the kickers, rails and boxes are very well-maintained. Even if you don’t plan to try them yourself, it’s well worth checking them out: they’re the setting for some gob-smacking acrobatic displays. Then you ski over to the kids area and have a go on some mini-jumps.
There are some superb off-piste runs
After a dump, there are some superb off-piste runs on Penken. On the north side of the main bowl – opposite Penken Park, there are lots of short and lovely lines through the trees of varying degrees of difficulty: a great place to ski when the clouds are down or the snow’s still falling. Then, when the skies clear, you can graduate to the higher routes above the treeline – but only in the company of a guide. The slopes here are very avalanche-prone.
Off-pisters should consider joining one of the excellent, subsidized and serious-minded SAAC avalanche-awareness courses which are sometimes run in Mayrhofen. If you can assemble a big enough group of like-minded skiers or boarders they’ll even organize a course especially for you.
But you’d be mad not to day-trip to other ski areas in the valley
There are some decent pistes in Mayrhofen – especially for those who like their skiing steep. This is, after all, the home of the Harakiri – one of Austria’s steepest black pistes – as well as a lovely, steady black (number 17) from the top of the Horberg. The lift company has also laid on three timed slalom runs which any intermediate can ski and which are lot of fun with a group of friends.
But that doesn’t alter the fact that, on its own, Mayrhofen’s ski area is no rival of the Three Valleys, the Espace Killy or Paradiski in France. Most of the runs are fairly short, and are concentrated between the 1800 and 2200m – which is not especially high by modern standards. A good number are south-facing, too. Whenever there’s a thaw, they can get pretty slushy.
Many skiers don’t seem to mind. After all, they’re here for the nightlife as much as the snow, and will only put in two or three hours of serious skiing each day. Others will be in ski school, so they won’t need miles and miles of slopes.
Several resorts on one lift pass
But if you are a more accomplished skier, with strong legs and an appetite for variety – then you must be prepared to day-trip from the resort. Mayrhofen is only one of several ski resorts in the valley (the Zillertal), and all are less than an hour’s drive away. They’re all covered by one lift pass too. Together, they add up to a mind-boggling 668km of pistes.
It’s not just the extent of the skiing that’s impressive, either – it’s the variety. There’s everything from snowsure glacier slopes to Utah-style freeriding – with oodles of intermediate-friendly pistes in between (both above and below the treeline). In fact, none of the big French resorts can compete with the variety on offer here.
Of course, day-tripping between different areas isn’t as easy as skiing a single interconnected resort. But many tour operators lay on coach trips for their guests on at least one day of the week, and there are good public transport links too – travel is free if you have the Zillertaler Superskipass.
Here’s a nice survey of what Mayrhofen’s got to offer, courtesy of one of the Tirol’s Chairlift Chats series. Bear in mind, though, that it was filmed in late March – which we think is a bit late for Mayrhofen, unless you’re heading to Snowbombing or the Altitude Comedy Festival. If you’re coming here purely for skiing, you’ll usually get better snow in January and February.
Where to Learn
Competition between them is intense, and it’s kept a lid on prices, which are the same in high season or low season, and given you get both morning and afternoon tuition they compare well with the big resorts in France and Switzerland. Private tuition is less expensive here, too.
The nursery slopes are great for children too, but…
The nursery slopes at the top of the Penken gondola are very good – gentle, and set well away from the main pistes. So you don’t get speed merchants ploughing through groups of children.
However, we wouldn’t recommend the resort for small children – partly because so many of the hotels are a bit of a hike (or a bus ride) from the two lift stations, and because of the resort’s sometimes raucous nightlife.
Where to Stay
For most visitors to Mayrhofen, the Penken gondola is the key lift, and if you stay near it you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle each day either catching buses or hoofing up and down the Hauptstrasse or high street. Oddly, though, most properties are at least a five-minute walk from here.
Hotel Elisabeth is the top hotel in Mayrhofen by a long stretch. It is traditional but has just the right amount of up-to-date design and calm ambiance to make it cool. The building is well located close to the lively main street, but not too close. It has a gorgeous spa and swimming-pool, a good restaurant, and offers free tea and cakes in the afternoons.
Sporthotel Manni is well positioned on Mayrhofen’s high street for those wanting to be in the centre of things, and really close to the Penken gondola. It’s well kept, with decent food, nice public rooms and an outdoor (heated) panoramic pool on the roof: but if you’re going to be bothered by noise (from the shuttle buses during the day and revellers at night) make sure you get a room at the back of the hotel.
Hotel and Sporthotel Strass
Two Mayrhofen hotels that tick the “location” box are the rambling Hotel Strass, and its sister property the Sporthotel Strass, next door. They’re rated four star, and share good spa and pool area, but the decor is dated. The lobby and bar area can be a bit seedy too, because they’re so close to the full-throttle apres-ski scene at the Ice Bar and the Sports Bar. If you plan to get stuck into Mayrhofen’s nightlife, then you won’t care, but anyone looking for a more grown-up atmosphere should give it a wide berth.
Nearby, and tucked away up a quiet side-street, are two calmer alternatives. First is the Alpenresort Thanner – a small development of B&B rooms and self-catering apartments set in traditional-style buildings. Inside are comfortable rooms and suites decrated in modern Tirolean style and well equipped with lots of attention to detail.
There’s also the well-kept Landhaus Gasser, which also contains self-catering apartments. They’re a canny choice, considering a big Spar supermarket is three minutes’ walk away, so fresh supplies are virtually on your doorstep, and you’re far enough away not to be bothered by the noise of the bars.
The large Hotel Zillertalerhof is very central and just a short walk from the Penken gondola. It has rooms which are decked out in traditional yet light ‘Austrian country house style’. There’s a small spa with saunas and steam rooms, and a nice indoor/outdoor pool and outdoor hot-tub.
Alpendomizil Neuhaus and Landhaus St Josef
Hotel Alpendomizil Neuhaus and Landhaus St Josef are linked by an underground walkway, along with apartments and chalets. The buildings all cluster together a bit like a village within a village. The various properties in the complex all share a gym, bowling alley/movie-bar. During my visit, proper old-fashioned tea dancing was in action in the main Neuhaus building at 4pm.
Stay near the Ahorn cable-car if you want to ski its easy slopes
If you’re on your second ski holiday, and need somewhere quiet and gentle to practise, then the easy-going pistes of the Ahorn are for you. Which means staying near the cable-car station makes sense.
The best of the hotels near here is the three-star Hotel-Gasthof Perauer, which has recently-renovated rooms, good food and a nice spa (but no pool). But avoid booking a room on the north-west side of the hotel, next to the entrance to the Ahornbahn car park, because of traffic noise.
Catered Chalet Stoanerhof is a traditional Tirolean chalet with a range of facilities and great skiing convenience within 200 metres of the Ahorn cable-car. It is also around 10 minutes’ walk to the Penken gondola and lively Mayrhofen village centre. It sleeps 30-43 people and has a bar, a traditional Stubli, sauna and terrace.
As we’ve said, many of the hotels are a bit of a hike from the key Penken lift. There are free shuttle buses, but all the same, it’s a hassle, so rent a locker at the lift station and leave your skis there each night (and change into sneakers at the end of the day too).
Hotel Garni Glockenstuhl
Amongst these hotels, the family-run, three-star Hotel Garni Glockenstuhl has a great reputation for its service. It contains rooms, suites and apartments, and the new Wellness Oasis with several different types of sauna, steam baths and a ‘fresh air room’.
Family-run Hotel Waldheim is in a pretty location away from the Hauptstrasse. It has a small wellness area, and the light and traditional bedrooms range from doubles to family rooms.
If you plan to do lots of day-tripping, why stay in Mayrhofen?
As we’ve outlined in our feature about the Zillertal’s many ski areas, there’s a huge amount of skiing to be enjoyed beyond the slopes immediately above Mayrhofen. Most tour operators offer excursions to the other areas on one or two days each week, but if you plan to explore it properly, it’s best to fly to Innsbruck under your own steam, hire a car and then pick your ski area according to the changing weather conditions. If you do that, there’s no need to pay a premium to stay in Mayrhofen itself.
We recommend Hotel Stefanie in nearby Hippach – especially if you can afford one of its super cool, super-spacious Panoramazimmer (which aren’t much dearer than a regular double in a four-star in Mayrhofen). One of our editors stayed here recently and loved it.
Hotel Sieghart, Hippach
1974 Paula and Johann Eder built the bed & breakfast Alpenland in Hippach with 23 guest beds, and it was considered luxurious in its day with all rooms having central heating and en suite bathrooms. In 1986 their son Sieghard added a restaurant and became the head chef. Then the hotel changed its name and to this day Hotel Sieghard remains a family-run establishment and one of the smallest four-stars in the Tirol – possibly even in Austria – with just 20 rooms.
Where to Eat
Given its middling size, the Mayrhofen ski area is brimming with mountain restaurants. In fact, the Zillertal area has 80 mountain restaunts in total. Prices are pretty reasonable too – although the emphasis is less upon fine dining and more upon hearty, filling food. It will come as a very welcome surprise for anyone used to paying inflated prices in the big-name French resorts.
There’s lots of choice on the mountain, and good value too
On Penken (the main area of lifts and pistes) the Penken Panorahma Restaurant is a rather cool and funky place set on a sunny ledge. As its name suggests the views are fantastic, and there’s lots of room (on sofas as well as at tables) to spread out and soak up the atmosphere. They do good stone-baked pizzas, but the chicken burritos are the locals’ favourite.
On the other side of Penken, on uncrowded red piste 27, (where the snow is almost always in good nick), the Unterbergalm (+43 664 2049 49777) is a recent addition to the restaurant scene, and serves Schnitzel, burgers and the like – as well as a delicious Kaiserschmarrn (chopped-up pancakes sprinkled coated with butter and icing sugar and served with stewed fruit).
Nearby, the Schneekarthutte (+43 5285 64940), near the top of the Horberg, is instantly recognizable by its pointy, witches-hat roof. This is the resort’s fine-dining mountain restaurant – and it has a good wine list. Prices are higher than elsewhere.
Meanwhile, over on the Ahorn, the Ahornhutte is the place to go for soups and cheap and cheerful sausage, Sauerkraut and dumpling: although we’d much rather eat at the super-cool next to the top cable-car station Freiraum. A long, narrow concrete box of a restaurant, which juts out from the side of the mountain, it offers stunning views down into the valley.
Finally, if you all you fancy is a sandwich to stick in your rucksack, drop into the deli opposite the Penken gondola in the middle of town.
In Mayrhofen itself, the Wirsthaus zum Griena is the place to go
Most holidaymakers in Mayrhofen stay in hotels on a half-board basis, so there’s not too much demand for restaurants in town. However, one place you must try is the Wirsthaus zum Griena (+43 664 4871292) – a restaurant set in the rooms of an old farmhouse which serves scrupulously traditional and delicious food. This is old-fashioned Tirolean grub – so expect lots of meat and dumplings: but the chef is no fool and the flavours are clear, bright and well-balanced.
Go for Zeral mit Sauerrahm as a starter (potato and cheese cakes with sour cream and cranberry) and the Wilderer Pfandl as a main: a big pan of venison stew with dumplings and red cabbage. Oh boy, even the memory of this food is making your correspondent’s mouth water. The Wirsthaus is hidden away on the Dorf Haus side street, on side of town – but it’s marked on Google Maps, so there’s no excuse for not finding it. Otherwise, there are several pizzerias and cafes on the main street.
Pushing the boat out? Head to Hippach
For a blowout meal, jump in a taxi to the neighbouring village of Hippach, and the fine-dining restaurant at Hotel Sieghard”>Hotel Sieghard, which has 15 Gault Millau points and two chef’s toques for the quality of its cooking. Don’t expect revolutionary food here: but there’s no doubting the quality of the ingredients, or the deftness with which they’re cooked. Welove2ski ate some superb ricotta and olive ravioli here recently, followed by a succulent filet of beef. The service is charming, too.
Where to Party
Once upon a time, Mayrhofen had a reputation as a family-friendly ski town – but it is also known for its jet-propelled apres-ski scene. In part, that’s because of the success of Snowbombing – the annual, full-bore debauch-athon which takes place in April (and attracts 5,000+ people) and grows more popular every year.
In part it’s because of the bars themselves. There are two stars of the local scene: the White Lounge up on Ahorn – an igloo-hotel with an ice bar outside and a laid-back afternoon vibe – and the Ice Bar at the Hotel Strass, next to the Penken gondola station in town.
The afternoon usually works like this. On a sunny day, skiers and snowboarders stop at the Penken or the Ahorn and have a couple of drinks in the bars up there – before heading back into town and falling into the Ice Bar at about 4.30pm. They stay there till 7.30pm.
There’s then a break for dinner, before the action spreads out to the bars along the triangle formed by the Hauptstrasse, Scheulingstrasse and Pfarrer-Krapf-Strasse. Look out for Mo’s, Scotland Yard, the Piccadilly (+43 650 3417751), and a bar called Funky’s. Several have live music, and the atmosphere in most is pubby and unpretentious. If you’re looking for something less beery, head upstairs to the lounge-y and relatively chic Harakiri bar on the Hauptstrasse.
Much later the scene shifts again, up to the Hauptstrasse, where you’ll find two discos on the Ahornstrasse – the Brück’n Stadl (+43 5285 62232) and the Sports Lounge.
Also see our resort report for the Zillertal in summer.