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
The Vans 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 the Vans 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 Harikiri – one of Austria’s steepest black piste – 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 the Altitude Comedy Festival. If you’re coming here purely for skiing, you’ll usually get better snow in January and February.