Mayrhofen can be whatever you want it to be. It has a huge, high-altitude skiing area, the infamous Vans Penken freestyle park, an in-your-face après scene, high end restaurants, plenty of kids activities, a short airport transfer and all this set in a picturesque and traditionally Tyrolean town. With over 100 years of entertaining holidaymakers, it really is no surprise Mayrhofen is one of the most popular ski resorts in Europe.
Heavily-timbered and picturesque, the rustic village has strictly maintained its Tyrolean architecture as it’s grown. The busy centre teems with bars, restaurants and shops and is particularly well-known for its vibrant après, more of which later.
Mayrhofen is well within range of Innsbruck and Salzburg airports making it easy to get to, especially when compared to a number of the big French resorts, which frequently involve extensive transfer times. It’s only one hour from Innsbruck and, pleasingly to many, doesn’t include a vomit-inducing climb up a treacherous mountain road. You can even get a train straight into the resort centre via Jenbach with Inter City rail from Innsbruck, Salzburg and Munich.
The resort offers a range of accommodation, from austrian pensions (B&Bs) through to high-end five star hotels, but self-catered options tend to be much more limited than the french counterparts. This can serve to make a budget trip tricky, although not impossible, since many of the pensions are very reasonably priced. A good proportion of the hotels have their own spa facilities and there is the Erlebnisbad Leisure Centre near the centre of town for those that don’t, which has a good-sized pool, sauna and massage facilities.
Despite its popularity, Mayrhofen is not the most user-friendly and is a long way from ski-in-ski-out. The resort sits on the flat-bottom of the steep-sided Zillertal Valley, and is connected to the ski area by two large and modern gondolas. The main ski area is on the Penken mountain, which is reached by the Penken gondola from the centre of the resort. Here you’ll find Austria’s steepest slope, the great Harakiri, and if freestyle is your thing, the huge and award winning, Penken Park, sponsored by Vans. For fresh powder, head up to the top of the Wängl - it’s the highest point in Mayrhofen and you can’t miss its imposing face.
On the other side of the valley is the Ahorn mountain which is a smaller, stand-alone ski area holding the main nursery slopes. It’s reached via the Ahorn lift on one side of the resort and unlike the Penken area, has a ski run back into town. Great for beginners, it also has a number of red runs and suits good-intermediate skiers perfectly. Fortunately, despite the split ski area, the resort is serviced by good and frequent free shuttle buses that drop you right at the gondolas, so it rarely requires a long walk in ski boots.
That isn’t where the skiing finishes, though. Mayrhofen is the centrepiece of the Zillertal Valley, which together create one giant skiable area. The Zillertal Superskipass gives you access to Hochfügen and Kaltenbach to the northeast, Zell am Ziller and Gerlos, right through to the Hintertux glacier at the southern end of the area. Totalling a huge 515km of piste, there is more than enough for one week of skiing.
Oh the après. Where to start? Usually, it starts up the mountain when lunch is hardly finished. Bars surround the top station of the Penken gondola (The Europop-pumping Pilzbar gets our vote) and there are more waiting from the second you get back into resort, with the infamous Ice Bar opposite the bottom gondola station enticing more than its share of late afternoon gaiety.
If you’re skiing on the Ahorn, or manage to descend the Penken Gondola without being seduced by Ice Bar, head to the Brück’n Stadl. It’s loud and lively with DJs and live music, opening mid-afternoon and running right through until 2am. The Arena Club, another late-night spot, is in the same hotel as the Ice Bar and pumps out an eclectic set until the wee hours. Or, for something more sophisticated, try the Harikiri Bar on the main street. Scotland Yard is also a good option for those missing home – a British pub, serving British beer, in what used to be Mayrhofen’s police station. Apt.
As expected from such an allrounder, Mayrhofen has something for everyone when it comes to food, too. For a budget option or those looking for a quick feed, nothing comes close to the Gasser, or Hans the Butcher, as it is locally known. Hans and his team serve up award winning cooked meat from whole racks of ribs to huge burgers and schnitzel sandwiches.
The Wirtshaus Zum Griena is four centuries old and, probably reasonably, claims to be Mayrhofen’s oldest restaurant. It’s a great mid-range option serving steins and a range of traditional Austrian dishes. Mamma Mia, in the five-star Hotel Elisabeth, provides a great high-end option.
Penken Panorahma is a great option for reasonably-priced food on the mountain and as the name suggests, it offers amazing views. You’ll find it at the top of the Hasenmulden drag-lift.
Resort altitude: 633m
Highest point: 2500m (3250m on the Hintertux glacier with a Zillertal Superskipass)
Skiing: 157km (515 km with a Zillertal Superskipass)
Best spot for…
Après-après: Brück’n Stadl
A lavish meal: Mamma Mia
Casual meal: Gasser / Hans the Butcher
Posh coffee: Kostner
Airport transfers: Innsbruck - 1 hour (74km), Salzburg – 2 hours (170km), Munich – just over two hours (196km)
Nearest station: Mayrhofen, in the centre of town, via Jenbach, 55 minutes (34km)