There’s a certain je ne sais quoi when it comes to skiing in Austria. Compared to the intensive French and Swiss resorts, Austria is just very….laid back, local…and authentic.

Well, that’s what I was thinking when a baby calf was licking my hand, as we walked past a farm on the way back from the Wirtshaus Griena restaurant, close to the centre of Mayrhofen, on our last night in the Zillertal.

A blue sky day for skiing in the Zillertal

After many years of flying around and collecting air miles, I decided it was time to use them up, before my lucrative BA silver status ran out. Six return tickets later, and we were soon enjoying the treats of the lovely Galleries Lounge in Heathrow, Terminal 5.

It was time for one last blow out. Starting with champagne and a Bloody Mary each, we finished with port, Pimms and lemonade, and an Irish coffee. It was a little past 10am.

The flight to Munich was a similar story, as we helped ourselves to more champagne (well, why not!)

Champagne on the BA flight to Munich

After a two hour drive from Munich to Mayrhofen, we unpacked, helped ourselves to some local Zillertal beer, and got ready for the next days skiing.

With ski boots, skis and poles thrown into the back of the car, we drove to the bottom of one of the two lifts in Mayrhofen, and made our way up the Ahorn.

Full of blue runs and a few challenging reds, it was the perfect warm up for the legs.

Mayrhofen  – at 630m above sea level – is a low altitude ski resort, especially when compared to Val Thorens (2300m) in France. The Ahorn ski area is one of two mountains to ski in Mayrhofen. Sadly you can’t ski between the two, but on the Ahorn you can only ski back down into town on a single red piste. Which, with fresh legs, we did gleefully.

The walk between the two ski lifts takes around 15 minutes, so we decided to explore the Penken mountain side of Mayrhofen in the afternoon.

With Mayhofen at 630m and the height of the top lift on the Penken being at 2500m, the conditions on the ground don’t always mirror the conditions at the top. As the gondola swung uphill, we came through the clouds, and skied back down, looking over a scenic inversion.

A scenic, sunny inversion on the Penken, Maryhofen

The Zillertal is a long valley, with ski areas located at various points either side of the river. We made the most of our hire car, and explored several ski areas, including the Zillertal Arena and Kaltenbach, both on beautifully sunny, blue sky days, with amazing views.

A marvellous sunny, blue sky day at Zillertal Arena

I love the outdoors. Skiing is one of the best ways to explore a mountain range, as well as enjoying great views of the Alps.

Simon Heyes skiing in Mayrhofen, Zillertal, Austria

With the sun beating down on your face, you can be wrapped up warm, enjoying a cold beer, with views like this.

The view of the Alps during lunch

One of the staple ingredients of our ski holidays over the last ten years has been fancy dress. Baby onesies, superheros, kilts, Australia Day outfits….you name it, we’ve probably worn it.

A couple of years ago I was charged excess baggage, purely because one of my bags held nothing but fancy dress. As a result, we starting cutting down the number of items we took with us.

But one fancy dress them remained. 80’s, all-in-one ski-suit day.

There’s always plenty of posing, especially lunging.

80s fancy dress ski day - Mayrhofen 2014

It goes without saying, that any good fancy dress outfit wouldn’t be complete without accessories. Bum bags, wigs, 80’s sunglasses, and fluro-coloured garments.

Accessories for fancy dress - it was acceptable in the 80s

Skiing, of course, is only half the story of a ski holiday. The other half is apres ski. And no-one does apres-ski better than the Austrians.

Our apres ski bar of choice, was the Bruck & Stadl, located at the bottom of the Ahorn lift. With DJ Marco spinning Euro-pop tunes from the UK, Germany, Holland and Austria, it was the perfect tonic for sore legs.

Starting each day around 4:30pm, we started with a round of beers. If you bought ten, you were given a ‘metre of beer’ for 30 Euros. Yes, you read correctly, 30 Euros. That’s one of the other bonuses of Austria – the food, drink and especially beer, is MUCH cheaper than ski resorts in France and Switzerland.

Cheaper beer obviously meant we could drink more of it. Sensible logic we thought. So we had fun with the ‘metre of beer’ wooden planks that the glasses were delivered in.

Simon with a metre of beer - Bruck N' Stadl, Mayrhofen

As more beers were drunk, things started getting silly.

Air guitar, metre of beer, Bruck n' Stadl

Soon enough, any loose object became useful for dancing purposes.

Stool air guitar - Bruck n' Stadl, apres ski, Mayrhofen

And then we progressed from a metre of beer, to a metre of Jagerbombs, known locally as flying hirsch.

A metre of Flying Hirsh, Jagerbombs - Bruck n' Stadl, Mayrhofen

The Dutch, Euro-pop continued, until eventually it was time to stagger home.

Austrian apres ski goes hard from 4:30pm until around 9pm, and then everyone goes home, has dinner, drinks some more, and eventually fall asleep. Mayrhofen was probably the first holiday where I never had a hangover.

Which meant I could enjoy my time on the piste each day!

A piste looking down over Mayrhofen
All in all, it was a fantastic week. Lots of great snow, lots of great skiing, great apres, and a fun time had by all. The next time you’re thinking about going skiing, give Austria a try.

Over the past twelve years I’ve skied in France, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Canada and Germany. Whistler was definitely my top experience, but because of the small village feel, wide range of ski areas and it’s cheap, retro, Euro-pop apres, Mayrhofen and the Zillertal make the number two spot 🙂

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