it's not easy finding many Americans in Austria's Ziller Valley. That's a shame.
Frances McCullough, a resident of Lancaster, Mass., grew up skiing at Wachusett Mountain. Her husband Brian was raised in Knoxville, Tenn., and did his formative skiing at Snowshoe, W.Va. Their friend, from Simsbury, Ct., Sara Leadbetter, honed her skills at Mount Snow in Vermont.
But their sons, both 4, Nicholas Leadbetter and Tate McCullough, had just finished a day of ski lessons and fun in Mayrhofen, Austria, and wanted to know when they could go back.
The McCulloughs, the Leadbetters, two other young American couples, and their various pre-school children, currently work and live in Germany.
Frances McCullough took her grandmother from Cape Cod to Mayrhofen in the fall to celebrate her 82nd birthday, and was charmed by the Alpine community in the Ziller Valley.
She talked the others into returning for a January ski vacation, and the three adults, interviewed on the main street, were as delighted as their boys.
They all cited the convenience of Mayrhofen, where hotels, restaurants, shopping, and the lifts serving two huge and distinctive mountain complexes are within easy walking distance.
They had dropped Nicholas and Tate off at 9 a.m. with English-speaking staff, spent the day enjoying the snow, and picked up the boys at 3:30 p.m.
These four couples had rented a house together. Mayrhofen offers a variety of lodging possibilities, most of them family owned. We stayed at the Neuhaus Hotel & Spa, an assemblage of five inter-connected buildings, the oldest of which dates to 1649.
Members of the family which operates the Neuhaus have three other nearby smaller hotels, and chef and owner of the locally-acclaimed Wirthaus zum Griena, Clemens Thaler, started his cooking career at one of the hotels. His uncle owns the Neuhaus. (See below)
Thaler and his sister Elisabeth have their restaurant in a building which is 440 years old, all wood. “This is farmer food,” Thaler said, created from “old recipes. It’s special, but not too expensive.” The clientele is a mixture of tourists and locals.
The largest number of tourists to Mayrhofen comes from Germany. Guests from the Netherlands, Britain, Russia, and day-trippers from Austrian comprise the bulk of the rest.
There are rarely Americans. Some in the tourist trade attribute to this to the fact that Americans often choose resorts famous for movie stars, major ski races or the Olympics, while others cited a lack of promotion by Austrian tourism specialists.
Thaler said the absence of Americans should make it perfect for those in the U.S. “It will be the trip of a lifetime. You can brag about it over the water cooler.”
The Ziller Valley, like much of the European mountains, provides seemingly endless possibilities for skiing and riding, all accessible by free ski buses or a train line (if you’re lucky, you catch the steam train) from Mayrhofen. Our group skied at five different complexes, each with its own personality, in five days.
There is extensive snowmaking.
The Zillertal SuperSkipass runs from two to 21 days, and offers access to 171 lifts and cable cars which serve more than 80 kilometers of what Europeans designate black runs (difficult), 415 kilometers of reds (intermediates) and 166 kilometers of blues (easy,) up to a height of 3,250 meters. (See below)
There is year-round skiing on the Hintertux Glacier.
Three major airports serve the Ziller Valley: Munich, 170 kilometers; Salzburg, 150 kilometers; and Innsbruk, 50.
Non-skiers in the group, or snow enthusiasts taking a break from speeding downhill, can pursue cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, winter hiking (the Neuhaus has a guide on staff who leads expeditions five days a week), para-gliding, and hot-air ballooning.
The Ziller Valley boasts the five-star restaurant Wedelhutte, at 2350 meters in the Hochzillertal area; a cheese museum/factory which serves cheese platters and wine; the family-run Gasthaus Karlsteg, 12 kilometers outside Mayrhofen, which specializes in deer, red deer and Alpine chamois; and what are deceptively called “huts,” restaurants on the slopes, like Seppi’s at the Gerlos ski area or Kristalhutte on the Ofelerjock at 2147 meters, voted “best” three years in a row.
Off the slopes, there is the wonderful indoor water park, Adventure Spa Zillertal, which happens to be across the street from a restaurant at a wood mill, and the beautiful little museum in Fugen devoted to “Silent Night” and all aspects of local history and culture.
More adventurous visitors, there are a Natural Ice Palace and the Spannagelhaus Cave Complex, both on the Hintertux Glacier, to tour. There are eight ice-skating rinks in the valley, numerous sledding areas (three of them lighted), curling, and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
You can take the tram from Mayrhofen to the Ahorhorn Mountain if you prefer your ice in drinks from an ice bar, sitting at tables of ice on icy stools. The bar is part of a complex of igloos. There are also igloos for guests to sleep, a traditional Alpine restaurant, a brand-new gleaming restaurant/bar, and opportunities to walk around, enjoy the views and take photos.
We traveled with an American tour operator, Alpine Adventures/Ski-Europe.
For more information: