Slovenia had been good, but I was looking forward to getting back up to a large resort. Mayrhofen is hailed as a “snowboarders mecca”, which is unsurprising given that it has an impressive and award winning snow park, the steepest run in Europe – the ‘Harakiri’ with a slope of 78 degrees, is home to the infamous Snowbombing Music Festival in April, and is generally a massive playground, topped off with some lively apres-ski.
Mayrhofen lies near the end of the Zillertal valley, along with other well known resorts like ‘Zell’ am Ziller. I got the train up from Kranjska Gora in Slovenia, via Salzberg and Jenbach, then finally up the valley with a slower but regular train to Mayrhofen. All this at a massive cost of €35! Its fantastic value, I’ve grown love Europe’s bus and rail network. I met an amusing Polish girl on the train who confessed she’d learnt a lot of her English from the cartoon “Cow & Chicken”!
I was really excited about this final two weeks in Mayrhofen and St Anton, which I fully expected to be the best of my trip. When I got off the train, and walked up the main street to my hotel, the atmosphere was buzzing with all the new arrivals, and there did seem to be more snowboarders than normal. There was a real youthful vibe (sorry for the expression) which I hadn’t really felt since being in Val d’Isere, France.
I had a quick look on the internet (finding free wifi was difficult, and so I paid for the hotels, and even that was rubbish) to see where the best places to go were. It threw up quite a few popular places – Mo’s Music Bar, The Harakiri Bar, Ice Bar, Bruck’n Stadl and nearby nightclub Schlüssl, and the British-styled Scotland Yard Pub which is a snowboarders hangout… you can guess where I made for.
The weather in Mayrhofen was one of extremes during the week, either perfectly clear and sunny conditions, or foggy and snowy with no visibility – it’s difficult to com pain about fresh snow fall though. And when I woke on Sunday, after possibly spending too long in Scotland Yard, I was completely worn out, my whole body seemed weary and dizzy, even my hands were shaking, and worst of all I totally lacked motivation, especially when I looked out the window and couldn’t even see the mountain. I had been doing a lot of travel, and I couldn’t remember the last time I got a proper nights sleep.
I’ve not had many days off during this tour, even the days away from snowboarding have involved a whole day of traveling, lugging my board bag with me, and generally being unsettled.
I love snowboarding so I was sort of annoyed at myself and my stupid tired body, but I figured we all need downtime! So, with worries of ‘overdoing it’ and ‘burning out’ this near the end – I had a day off, and visited Mayrhofen’s various bars and cafes, and did little else but read a book – don’t worry, I like reading.
Still slightly aggravated at myself, I stupidly went for it the following day, knackering myself for the following day. With better weather conditions I went tearing around the mountain and it felt good. I was slightly disappointed to see that Mayrhofen doesn’t have a “home run” down to the village (unless from the smaller Ahorn area), the main “Penken” area is between 1000m-2000m higher than the actual village, and it’s a strikingly steep bubble lift up to the area, giving good views of the town.
In the bars I was told of “Harakiri”, a short run with a slope of 78 degrees! Seriously, 78 degrees? That’s not far from vertical! But after a few runs, and feeling confident, I went straight for it. You can watch people tackle it from the chair-lift as it takes you up to it, and it doesn’t look that bad… well…
And it’s not, really. Lots of people do it.
It is a steep ‘black’, no doubt, and if you fall (I did the first time) you do struggle to stop until it flattens out at the bottom, but it’s not as bad as I imagined. The worst was a small area in the middle which was nothing but ice, and I was careful to avoid that the second time. It would be interesting to try it with a foot of fresh snow on it! According to the guide, they have to use specialised winch gear to pull the Piste-bashers up the slope…
Having taken on the Harakiri, and survived (you can actually buy that t-shirt), I headed for Mayrhofen’s “Van’s Penken Park”. This is an awesome place, nearly as awesome as the guys doing flips and tricks over the massively intimidating jumps and rails – sadly I’m not one of these screw-loose superheroes. If only.
I’m not surprised that the Mayrhofen park wins awards, it’s an amazing place, and it’s the first time I’ve given the half-pipe a go. My friend Jen has been demanding footage of me in a half-pipe but ruefully she’ll be disappointed if she ever she’s the video.
The rest of the weeks snowboarding went hand-in-hand with the weather, the days I couldn’t see anything I really did very little, and then proceeded to hammer myself on the good days when I could.
The mountains and runs in Austria seem generally steeper than the likes of France – at least I think so, and I’m sure I read that somewhere. The aspect I love most, and I’m not alone, is making fresh tracks in new or untouched powder off-piste, and Mayrhofen can deliver this as well, whether through the trees or out in some clear bowl of snow.
I had a slightly sketchy moment when I went up the 150-man Tux cable car and was faced with a bowl with only a few tracks which disappeared down between the mountains. I had no idea if these adventurous sods had gone to their doom, or at least had to walk up or down the mountain at some point to escape. I asked people around me if they’d done it, but nobody had, and the nearest thing to useful was someone saying “good luck”.
Waiting for a moment, some other intrepid boarders went for it, and I couldn’t stop myself. I figured if I got into trouble at least their were some people around to shout on.
The first part was excellent, and if it had been like that all the way down I doubt I’d have done anything else all day. I met the others who’d gone first, they were sitting having a sandwich and enjoying the view – as I passed they commented that I had to stay on my board, “no walking!” And I understood the joke when I arrived at a past avalanche… with rocks of uneven snow everywhere I had no choice but to unclip and walk… well I had no choice after falling a half-dozen times trying.
A moment of panic hit me when I stepped in a covered hole, lost my footing, and went backwards head over foot down the hill, which would have been ok, sort off, if I hadn’t dropped my board. I managed to scramble and catch it just as it stopped in a flatter section – it would have been a bad day if I’d lost it and slid all the way down the hill… a very bad day. The end of the run was very narrow, and ended up taking me out above the park. And with legs burning, I headed to get some coffee.
The Apres-ski is as good as foretold. In general the Apres-ski is more lively in Austria than the likes of France. The IceBar is the nearest bar to the main gondola, and come 5pm its loud and pinned, with people again dancing on tables. Good times.
The other good place I found for a slightly more civilized Apres-ski (if that’s what you want) is the Harakiri Bar – it’s also one of the few places in the whole of Mayrhofen I could find with Free WiFi! The Harakiri would probably have been my favourite bar if not for Scotland Yard.
Mayrhofen, like many resorts, is linked to other resorts and villages, but it’s not like the linking in some of the French/Swiss resorts where a dozen or so places are connected. If you’re willing to take the bus or train in the morning, you can find other area’s down through Zillertal to keep you entertained, like the Glacier which I’m told is excellent, however I enjoyed the Penken area enough not to venture much further.
If you do go to Mayrhofen, and it’s a beautifully clear day, make sure you visit the “Panorahma” for something to eat – the clue is in the name – it’s surprisingly quiet and the view is spectacular.
Mayrhofen is certainly on my list of places I’ll return too. It was just a shame my brother Jason couldn’t make it out as it would have been a blast to have him along.
It might not be the best place to learn to snowboard, but there are still plenty of people who do, and there is a good family area as well – all the usual stuff you’d expect from a large ski resort. But Mayrhofen is ideal for intermediate and advanced boarders.
If I’m honest I had a quieter week than normal, especially when it came to Apres-ski time, but the main reason for that wasn’t just the mayhem of the week before. This coming week I’m heading to the legendary St Anton, where I’ll be meeting up with friends from the UK, and it’s sure to be an immense week!
Mayrhofen’s Official Winter Site – http://winter.mayrhofner-bergbahnen.com
Mayrhofen’s Tourist Page – http://www.mayrhofen.at/en (this includes a useful accommodation search)
The Mayrhofen Webcam and media site – http://www.mayrhofner-bergbahnen.tv/
Van’s Penken Park site – http://www.vans-penken-park.com/
Zillertal Valley site – http://www.zillertal.at/ (there’s a lot to do throughout the whole valley, and it also shows the other resorts near Mayrhofen)
SNOWBOMBING! – http://www.snowbombing.com/en/ (I will go one year… the music festival in April)
Train times and tickets – http://www.sbb.ch/en/home.html (It’s not that expensive just turning up and buying tickets on the train)
Hotel booking was done through Booking.com – http://www.booking.com/
Scotland Yard Pub – http://www.scotlandyard.at/ (it’s worth checking out this site just for amusement!)