Best Ski Areas in the Alps: The Zillertal
Hochfugen in Zillertal – virtually unknown to English-speaking skiers. Photo: © Skiresort Hochfügen While many British skiers are familiar with the Austrian resort of Mayrhofen, most know nothing about Zillertal – the valley in which it is set. As a result, they are missing out on one of the best ski resorts in the Alps. Why? Because this 42km valley, just off Innsbruck, is home to not one but three ski resorts with over 150km of runs. In fact, a total of 668 kilometers of groomed and marked trails will be skied in the Zillertal – and countless trails in between. It’s more than France’s acclaimed Three Valleys, not just an impressive amount of skiing. Diversity is what really matters. It’s got everything from Europe’s best-service lift glacier skiing to a tree-lined, Rocky Mountain-style ski run – as well as a high-quality terrain park and a mountain top. mountains are more or less for beginners. There’s some pretty cool infrastructure. Don’t forget that Innsbruck (population: 120,000) is just around the corner – and Munich is a few hours away by car. As a result, Zillertal absorbs a lot of the energy and creativity of the big city, and in the midst of the mountains you’ll find some pretty cool bars and restaurants – as well as plenty of fast elevators. This is how the resorts are laid out.
View Zillertal Ski areas in a larger map Is there a downside? Yes – because skiing isn’t all in one compact unit, like in the Three Valleys. The only viable way to sample it all in a week is to book a rental car and go for the day. Furthermore, despite the presence of glaciers, most of the slopes are below 2500m and are therefore susceptible to melting. But don’t let that discourage you – especially if you’re the type of skier who’s tired of the old resorts. Plan a mid-winter visit (before the end of February), book a hotel with easy access to the main areas, and ski in a new place every day. At the end of the week, you’ll feel like you’ve rolled five days off into one. These are the five main ski areas in the valley.
A piece of American freeride culture in the Alps.
Hochfügen is Zillertal’s big surprise – a place where off-pisters are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to be self-sufficient. Amenities include a transceiver check point – where you can check your avalanche beeps are receiving and transmitting – and information boards to let you know the type of terrain ahead. It’s a pity they don’t ride the pig and secure the slopes against avalanches, like they do in the North American resorts: but all the same, the culture is closer to what you would be found at Snowbird in Utah, rather than a regular Alpine resort. The terrain is also quite similar to Snowbird’s. The ski area is located in a small valley to the west of Zillertal, and is home to a number of hotels (one of which is Sporthotel Lamark, which has an excellent restaurant). It is also connected by a gondola to the neighboring ski resort of Hochzillertal (see below). Together, they offer 171 kilometers of trails.
More information: hochfuegenski.com. Check out my Hochfugen blog, too.
An easy ride above the treetops – and a great mountain restaurant – bar – hotel cum sauna cum igloo.
Most of the trails in the Hochzillertal ski area overlook the Zillertal valley. They’re roomy, confidence-boosting and – for the most part – above the trailhead. It’s a great place to stay on a sunny day if you’re intermediate, looking to do your technique: but less enjoyable when the clouds go down, visibility drops to almost nothing and you must ski more or less by sense of smell. At that point, it’s time to hop on a gondola to neighboring Hochfugen in search of tree-lined slopes. Or you can land in Kristallhutte, one of the coolest mountain huts in the Alps. By the way, the link to Hochfugen is a godsend: it not only increases the number of interconnected ski runs to 171km of trails, but it also increases the variety of terrain on offer. Ski both Hochzillertal and Hochfügen in one day and you’ll feel like you’ve been to two different mountain ranges.
More information: ski-optimal.at. Check out my Kristallhütte blog, too.
When it’s busy on Mayrhofen, this is the place to be.
Blink and you’ll miss them: two gondola stations mark the main access point to the Zillertal Arena. There is no “resort” here – just a parking area tucked between the mountains and the main road through the valley. But that shouldn’t stop you from spending at least a day here. This is another huge area (166 km of trails), and it offers a lot of variety, too, as it heads east along a few trails towards the neighboring federal state of Salzburgerland. Most of the slides are rated either red or blue, for intermediate items, but there’s also a lot of freestyle that’s easily done between slides when conditions permit. The slopes are considerably quieter than in nearby Mayrhofen (see below), just 10km away.
More information: www.zillertalarena.com.
Nature center for freestylers and night owls.
Three things about Mayrhofen are world-class: the noise at the Ice Bar when the elevators close; freestyle dance at Vans Penken terrain park; and a free and detailed avalanche awareness training program offered in the resort from time to time, with permission from SAAC. There’s other cool stuff, too – check out our main Mayrhofen resort report for more details. But it would be crazy to come here just to hit the trails without exploring at least one of the other ski resorts in Zillertal.
More information: winter.mayrhofner-bergbahnen.com. Check out my Harikiri blog from the resort.
Snow coverage for the entire valley. So is the slope.
Wherever you’re skiing in the Zillertal, it’s nice to know the Hintertux Glacier is at its end. It is open 365 days a year and offers a rich variety of runs that are cold, soft, and chewy during the winter. As for glaciers, they’re pretty steep too – that’s why so many national ski racing teams train here late in the summer in preparation for the World Cup to begin. However, if the snow is good elsewhere in the valley, I would not recommend making the journey to Hintertux. Save it for days where there is a thaw elsewhere in the valley and make sure you get right to the top of the lift system. Oddly enough, the slopes here are generally quieter than those down below – oddly this is where you’ll find the best snow.
More information: winter.mayrhofner-bergbahnen.com. Check out our Hintertux resort report too.
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