A couple weeks ago, we joined a group of friends heading to Mayrhofen, Austria to go on a weeklong ski trip. The week was incredibly fun. We benefited from some awesome weather which certainly helped make our trip a success.
Our flight left Dublin on Saturday afternoon. The group of us included Diane and I, Aaron and Christine, Diarmuid and Bea, Jeremy, and Bryce. Half the group had the earlier flight, with Aaron and Christine being on the later flight with us. Our first surprise on the trip: our 2.5 hour flight to Innsbruck with Austrian Airlines included a meal! I don't think I had ever had a free meal on a sub 5 hour flight before. So it was a pretty pleasant flight over (although Aaron had an incident with a glass of red wine during the meal).
We arrived at Innsbruck airport, and met our tour operators who directed us to some buses taking us the hour or so drive to Mayrhofen. The procedure was swift and well organized which meant that we were soon at our hotel all settled in and being served our first multi-course meal of the week. Having purchased the package that we did, the flights, accommodation, breakfast, and dinner were all included leaving just lift tickets, rentals, and lunches as the necessary costs of the trip. So despite arriving at the hotel relatively late for dinner, we were promptly served a two-course "snack".
The next morning, we got up relatively early to get in the queue for ski rentals for the week. Our hotel had a ski rental shop next door so that was nice and convenient. Having got our gear, we joined the giant queue for the main gondola up to the Penken mountain. The queue formed a multi-level spiral which you had to shuffle along slowly. Not a very comfortable way to start the day, particularly in a pair of ski boots, but hey ... we're here to ski right? The Penkenbahn gondola is ridiculous. Between the start and end points, you gain 1200 meters of elevation, and between those two points, there are just two structural towers supporting the cables that carry the gondola cars up that far. The amazement didn't really leave me throughout, despite several rides in that gondola on the way up and down over the week. It was ... well ... ridiculous.
The sky was cloud-free and the sun shone down on us all day. It was a gorgeous first day for skiing. Apart from an hour or so stopping for lunch, we hit the slopes pretty hard - exploring various parts of the mountain. The area is pretty vast, but there were also a lot of people in the common areas, causing there to be some pretty massive queues at the numerous chairs around the hill. So in the afternoon, we ventured a little farther away which helped with the queues.
One thing that was pretty amazing about this hill. In Canada, the best chair lifts I've been on were the high speed quad chairs. For me, high speed quad was what they were -- but at this hill, there was a couple of quad chairs, but they mostly had 6 or 8-man high speed chairs. Woah! Not only that, a lot of the chairs had conveyer belts which helped get everyone to the line where the chair would pick people up. At first I thought it was weird, but the conveyer belts really helped ease the process of getting on the chair which meant less stoppages for people who failed to get on the chair properly. So all in all a pretty solid improvement.
One of the downsides to skiing on Penken is there isn't a skiout from the mountain to the Mayrhofen townsite. There are two skiouts to neighbouring towns, but this didn't seem like a palatable choice so at the end of the day we shuffled back into a giant queue for the gondola on the way back down. Of the things that went on that week, the lineup for the gondola on the way down was the most miserable. You don't really have much to do except deal with a bazillion other people in the line all shuffling along. At the end of a lengthy day of skiing, this wasn't all that fun. But if that's the worst part of the trip, that's a pretty good trip, I think!
Having made it back to our hotel, we returned back to the gondola area where we entered the "Ice Bar". The bar didn't really have anything to do with ice besides being next to the gondola, but it was a pretty hopping place. We tried our first mulled wine (or Glüwein) on the trip there while listening to catchy german songs -- many of which we had heard at Oktoberfest, and other singable well known songs. Partway through our visit, a guy dressed in a polar bear costume jumped up on one of the stands and started dancing. A few minutes later a girl jumped up on another one and started dancing as well. This was apparently one of the features of this particular establishment since on ensuing nights we would see various people dancing above the crowd of people in the bar.
Having polished off our Glüwein, we returned back to our hotel where we enjoyed its rooftop pool (an event that would be a nightly occurrence all week). The hot tub there would've been awesome if it was actually hot ... but the pool was pretty nice and warm, and having a rooftop pool with the mountains all around was a pretty awesome experience!
A fairly late dinner followed the pool. The food at our hotel was pretty good in general. There was a few misses, but there was some pretty darn good food -- and the soup every night was fantastic.
The next day we got started a little later without the need to beat the lineup at the rental store. The queue at the Penken gondola was still ridiculous, but after making it up that, we got started skiing. I've always found that the second day skiing was really rough. My knees take a beating when skiing, and after one full day of skiing my muscles really have a hard time getting going. But we were there to ski, so I pushed pretty hard to keep going. It wasn't easy though!
That night, the Crystal Ski tour operator put on a pub crawl touring some of the bars in Mayrhofen. So we started at the "Movie Bar" and proceeded to visit half a dozen or so bars. Each was a bit more hopping than the last, and after a shot of (terrible) Schnaps at the first 3 bars and a few rounds of beer ... well lets just say we were pretty buzzed. Before leaving from the airport in Dublin, a set of funny Irish hats were purchased, and they made their appearance on the pub crawl. They were pretty popular, and got a fair amount of attention! Some of our party even went so far as to start doing the leprechaun heel click. At one of the bars, we even got the security guard to do a heel click!
The next morning we were in no great shape to get up early. Diane and I were the only ones to make it to breakfast, and it wasn't until after noon before we made it to the gondola. On this particular day, we decided to go check out a neighbouring mountain called Ahorn accessible by another ridiculous gondola. This particular one was much newer and only had two cars: each holding between 120 and 160 people! Ahorn is a pretty friendly mountain for beginner skiers with a beautiful long-ish gradual slope heading down to an octachair. There's a bit more advanced skiing from there, but not a huge amount of it and its basically all serviced by a single double chair.
It's a good mountain though. One of the cool features of it is the White Lounge at the top which is a big igloo with a bar inside. On that particular day, it was absolutely gorgeous out and we spend a fair amount of time at the top lounging on beach chairs/bean bags enjoying the sunshine with a beer. We did a little bit of skiing, but there was a lot of time spent relaxing in the sunshine too. The other cool feature of Ahorn is that there is a ski run right back into town. It was a bit icy in spots, but it made for an excellent way to get back to the town without waiting in a lineup for the gondola.
That was our first three full days in Mayrhofen, Austria. Hopefully I'll get around to posting about our last three days soon.