Mayrhofen's main skiing is some distance from the town centre - high on the Penken, which rises way above the town and is reached by a large gondola in the centre of town. There's a free bus service to the main lifts, running approximately every 15 minutes, but the buses can get crowded at busy times. There are links with the village of Finkenberg and Lanersbach, as well as quieter, gentler slopes more suitable for novices on the Ahorn across the valley. The Penken-Horberg slopes are all above the tree line - and there are no runs from Penken back down to Mayrhofen. You must download on the gondola, although it's possible to return on snow to Finkenberg or (on an off-piste "Ski Route") to Hippach. Hintertux, one of Europe's most snow-sure and steepest glaciers, is just 19 km (12 miles) away.
Although its principal slopes are not the easiest to get to, Mayrhofen has always had a good variety of snow-sure skiing, and the recent link with Lanersbach made it even bigger. A gondola at the neighbouring village of Hippach, a little further along the Zillertal, provides another entry-point to the slopes. There are 157 km (98 miles) of prepared pistes spread among the Penken, Horberg, Rastkogel, Eggalm and Ahorn areas, with a further 86 km (54 miles) at Hintertux (a 40-minute bus ride). All told there's a grand total of 620 km (387 miles) of marked runs in the Ziller Valley. In the Mayrhofen area, with 49 lifts, sunny and treeless summit slopes, broad carving areas and challenging north-facing slopes, good off-piste opportunities, and gentle slopes for all the family, no-one need feel left out - from freeskiers to beginners. There's extensive snowmaking, covering around 80% of Mayrhofen's slopes. The resort claims the "last gaps in the artificial snow capability have been closed" thanks to new reservoirs in Gerent and Finkenberg.
Mayrhofen has one of the best piste maps in the business. You can see at a glance (the routes are marked very clearly in vibrant colours) the five main ski choices on the menu: the Ahorn Beginner's Route; the "Metre Eater's" Route (predominantly demanding red and black slopes taking in Harakiri, the Devil's run and the Panorama run); the Zillertal3000 Route (a broad sweep across the Penken, Horberg, Rastkogel and Eggalm, and the Harakiri and Panorama runs); the Penken Beginner's Route (including the Hornberg "Baby Tour" and Family run, the Mittertrett draglift area and the Hintertrett Sunjet quad lift); and the "Fun and Action" Route incorporating three race tracks, Harakiri, and the Burton Park. The Zillertaler Superski Pass also covers a handful of other resorts including Zell am Ziller, itself linked with Gerlos and Königsleiten.
In recent years, major investment in new lifts, including gondolas, six-seater chairs and a 150-person cable car to Rastkogel, has opened up all kinds of new options at Lanersbach and Vorderlanersbach. Newly installed in 2004-05 was the Horberg "shuttle" - a magic-carpet lift for beginners who don't want to take the four-person Lärchwald lift in order to ski down the tricky red run back to the top station of the Horberg cable-car.
Also new last year: the Eggalm Nord 6-seat chair connecting with the 150-person Tux cable car, which takes skiers and boarders from the Tappental to the highest point of the ski area, the Wanglspitz 2,500 m (8,200 ft). From here, with wonderful views of the Zillertal peaks, you can ski down to the Rastkogel and further on to the Eggalm - both part of the Tux ski area - and then down the 3.5 km (2.1 miles) long panoramic run back to the slopes on the Penken.
The Ahorn cable car, now more than 25 years old, is expected to be replaced by a new one for 2005/06. And a new six or eight seat lift is planned for the Gerent area - a place where there's often good powder. The Knorrn double chair was recently replaced by a hooded six-seater chair and the Tappenalmlift double chairs have been replaced by eight-seaters. At Finkenberg, the double chairlift from the middle station to Penkenjoch (Finkenberg II) has been replaced by an eight-person gondola.
Every ski area - Zillertal 3000, Zillertal Arena, Ski & Gletscher world (Hintertux) - has its own local pass, which is available from one to three and a half days. The "local" Zillertal 3000 pass includes Mayrhofen, Hippach, Finkenberg, Vorderlanersbach and Lanersbach. The Zillertaler Superskipass is valid on all the lifts in the Zillertal (including the Hintertux glacier). It is available from four to 21 days and there are also price reductions for teenagers and children. Travel on ski buses in the whole Zillertal is included.
The majority of the easy slopes in the Penken area do get plenty of sunshine - always an encouragement for novices - and Mayrhofen claims almost a third of its slopes are suitable for beginners - some 45 km (28 miles). It also says that the 90 km (55 miles) of red runs are so well prepared that beginners can ski on them too. This is probably being a little optimistic.
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Mayrhofen really comes into its own as a classic intermediate ski region, with big, broad, sweeping, above-the-treeline pistes spread across the main Penken slopes - and a wealth of skiing for those happy to invest in the Zillertaller Superski Pass. Although the slopes are on the steep side, even the most timid intermediate will have plenty of time to get ready for that decisive turn. Intermediates can also enjoy some easy, but relatively steep trails on the Tuxer Glacier.
There is plenty of off-piste potential although in these litigious days the resort is at pains to remind skiers and boarders that venturing off-piste is at their own risk. There are also two unprepared but marked "Ski Routes" - one from the Penken down to the bottom station of the Horberg cable car in Schwendau 3 km (2 miles) from Mayrhofen and one from the Rastkogel to the Eggalm. These are only opened if there is enough snow.
The Harakiri, close to the Knorren lift, is hyped as "Austria's steepest ski piste" and is one of the main attractions among Mayrhofen's black runs. The 'Devil's Run' beneath the Schneekar lift on the Schafskopf is another exhilarating black run. Altogether there are 22 km of black runs. The resort's longest run, the 5.5 km Ebenwald piste down the Ahorn, is said to be "the longest artificially snow-covered valley downhill run in the Zillertal" from almost 2,000m to the valley floor - a challenging vertical descent of 1,335 m, which provides some much needed excitement to revive interest in the Ahorn area, which, by general consensus, has lost much of its original appeal - partly because it's an effort to get there.
In recent years, Mayrhofen has hosted a number of major snowboarding competitions, including the British Snowboarding Championships. Mayrhofen's Burton Funpark, one of the most popular in the Alps, has recently been extended, and now offers new facilities for both skiers and snowboarders. There are three different lines (pro line, medium line, and novice line with various jumps) as well as a halfpipe and rails which are shaped daily. The novice line features some new small jumps and rails, as well as a banked slalom. Hintertux is a big summer attraction. Beginning in May each year, boarders can participate in a summer glacier camp on the nearby Tuxer Glacier.
There's a choice of almost 30 huts and bars spread across the Mayerhofen slopes. At Josef's Biohütte only own home-grown organic produce is used - along with a variety of home-made schnapps. Although it's perched high on the slopes at 2,000 m (6,560 ft) the Schneekarhütte specialises in seafood: prawns and salmon steaks are menu favourites, along with fine wines. Christa's Schi-Alm, a restaurant near the top of the Nordhang chairlift, has a splendid outdoor grill area and outstanding views across the surrounding valleys and up towards Tux. For instant refreshment, there are many umbrella and snow bars scattered across the region.
Mayrhofen is a bustling and picturesque community, dotted with authentic Tyrolean chalets, some dating back centuries, near the end of Austria's Ziller valley. It's a small town as much as a resort, but attractive - with around 4000 year-round inhabitants. The main street is predominantly pedestrianised. It has its busy times: queuing can be a problem at the Penken cablecar in high season, especially in the morning from 9 to 10am and in the afternoon from 4 to 5pm. The streets are busy with people too - in celebratory mood. Mayrhofen is big on après-ski!
Mayrhofen is renowned for its après-ski - nowhere more so than next to the Penken cable-car top-station at the Pilzbar and the Elchbar at the Bergrast where the partying starts before you've left the slopes. Because the Penken cable car runs until 5.00pm (sometimes until 5.30pm) these bars enable skiers and boarders to make the most of some high-altitude festivity. In the valley, the après-ski is at usually at its busiest at the Sporthotel Strass, in the Ice Bar next to the Penken gondola and sometimes doesn't end until the hotel's cellar bar closes at dawn! The Scotland Yard pub (aka Scotti) is popular with snowboarders and serves British beer. Happy End (run by Uli Spiess) is a quieter alternative. The Speakeasy bar in the Hotel Strass has live music. The Garage (open late) and Schlusselalm are all popular. Apropos is another late night favourite. There are two main night-clubs: the Arena and the Schlussel. Away from the life behind and in front of bars, there is a three km toboggan run.
There's an almost unlimited selection of restaurants. The Bar'n'Grill serves Mexican food, the pizzeria at Manni's Hotel is popular, and Mo's Diner has an American menu - including an array of cocktails. Grill Küchl is more up-market. The Café Rundum serves light meals - and hidden away in the cellar is the intimate Trödlkeller bar. The 17th century Hotel Neuhaus Restaurant has a delightful little dining stube, but booking is essential. The Neue Post next door also has a number of small dining areas. The ancient Wirtshaus Zum Griena, an authentic Tyrolean restaurant run by the Hotel Elisabeth, is an old farmhouse said to be 440 years old. It's just out of town, so you might like the idea of hitching a ride there on a horse-drawn sleigh. Skiers in search of a good Chinese restaurant will head for the The Singapore.
There are tobogganing, sleigh rides, bowling, cross country, winter walking, snowshoeing, ice skating, swimming, sauna, curling, squash and paragliding. Also in the pipeline and subject to permission, a new tobogganing run is planned from the Ahorn down to Mayrhofen.