Most Brits book a package ski holiday rather than plan independently, and the biggest tour operator is Crystal. In this review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen I rate the overall package and discuss snowboarding in Zillertal Valley.
Every ski holiday from the UK starts with a journey. While there are more options than ever to avoid flying – you can get the Eurostar with Crystal – most people still head to an airport.
Crystal Ski are part of TUI so we flew TUI Airways from Gatwick to Innsbruck. Crystal offer flights from 18 airports the length and breadth of the UK. They fly more people out on ski holidays than any other tour operator.
Check in was surprisingly quick. Previous package holidays I have been on have involved big queues and long waits. But we were through in just a few minutes with everything working very efficiently. There was always a queue of around 10 people but it moved very quickly.
The flight was not fully booked so passengers were allowed to spread out. I felt there was more legroom than most budget airlines, and the sale of extras was not rammed down your throat.
On arriving in Innsbruck ski and snowboard bags were delivered outside, while normal suitcases are on the conveyor belts. We were through in just a few minutes and the first on the transfer bus. The drive to Mayrhofen took about an hour, we were the last stop.
It was on arriving at our hotel that we experienced the first problem. Our accommodation at Gasthof Edelweiss had not been booked.
Now I should add that we were on a press trip so the accommodation and travel had been booked separately for us by different TUI departments. A problem like this would never happen on a Crystal Ski package holiday.
However, it gave us a great opportunity to see how the staff deal with issues during this review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen. I was very impressed with the speed, helpfulness and the resolution.
We called the Crystal Ski helpline back in the UK who put us in touch with the head rep for Mayrhofen. They spoke with us, the hotel, and then head office again and everything was sorted in around 45 minutes.
Meanwhile we sat in the Edelweiss restaurant and had excellent pizzas and a few beers! The self catered apartment that had been arranged for us was made ready while we ate and before long we were in our rooms.
I didn’t fly home with the rest of the group as I went onto Saalbach by train. However it was snowing heavily on departure day and their flight from Innsbruck was diverted to Salzburg due to poor visibility.
It meant a long delay and a much longer transfer, however Crystal organised it all. If the holiday had been independently booked trip my friends probably wouldn’t have found out about the flight moving until they got to Innsbruck.
It would have been a much bigger issue particularly if they had to return a hire car. As it was Crystal arranged everything and my mates still arrived home the same day just a few hours later.
Unfortunately it had not snowed in Mayrhofen for a couple of weeks. On the plus side we had a week of almost unbroken sunshine. Temperatures were a little above normal with a couple of very warm days followed by colder weather where the temperature stayed below zero.
All of this meant that off-piste was out of the question during this review of Crystal Ski holiday. The pistes were in good condition but they were very hard and pretty icy. On south facing slopes they softened up a little in the afternoon but they stayed bullet hard in the shade.
Overall it was conditions for riding fast and carving. There were lots of great side hits to get air and do tricks but due to the conditions there was no room for error.
After the first two days jumping on hard pistes I ended up with an inflamed achilles tendon. So I took a day off and knocked airtime on the head while snowboarding in Zillertal Valley!
With 139 kilometres of slopes, all of which have snowmaking, Mayrhofen is a large and snow sure ski area. The ski area combines Mount Penken with Finkenberg, Rastkogel and Eggalm to provide huge variety.
Reaching up to 2,800m there is 1,800m of vertical to play in. Around half the slopes in Mayrhofen are classified as reds, a little under half as blue and there are a few blacks. To be honest some of the reds would probably be blacks in other resorts.
Some of the blacks are pretty steep. For example the infamous HaraKiri is 78 degrees (33 degrees by British measurements). When on the chairlift above the slope it looks crazy steep, but it’s not that bad when you are on it.
In the icy conditions every piste was a little tougher than it would usually be. Perhaps this made them feel steeper, but on the whole I’d say many of the Mayrhofen blue slopes are almost reds and some of the reds would be black elsewhere.
Our local lift was the Penken Gondola from town. The runs directly above this are probably the easiest in the ski area. There are some nice cruisey blues that are in the sunshine all day.
Dropping off the back of Penken the slopes, including HaraKiri, are generally quite steep and in the shade. They give access to the snowpark and to other areas including Rastkogel via the large telecabin and Horberg via a couple of chair lifts.
Horberg has a good range of slopes, although I don’t recommend black number 12 at the end of the day after a couple of beers… There is an easy but fun boardercross track and some good reds. I really liked the black down to Mosl.
Most of the Rastkogel area is in the sun. For that reason it can get quite busy. There are enough slopes for everyone to spread out and on the whole they are not as steep as elsewhere. There is a fun red that gives access to the Eggalm area.
Eggalm is well worth visiting. We found the slopes here to be much quieter and a lot of fun. They are mainly reds with a couple of blues. The area looks small on a piste map but there is 1000m of vertical so plenty to explore.
The Penken snowpark is quite well known and looked excellent. Usually I would spend quality time on the kicker line but the icy conditions combined with my achilles injury meant I gave it a miss.
However, we snowboarded through it a few times and took the lift above at least once a day. The pro line is massive, with house sized kickers. Even the easy line had fairly daunting jumps. There is also a jib section and a couple of beginner jumps all accessed by a dedicated chairlift.
Mayrhofen would be excellent in fresh snow. There is a lot of open space between pistes particularly in the Rastkogel, Horberg and Eggalm areas. There are a couple of dedicated freeride zones, plus some unpisted ski routes.
However, Mayrhofen offers much more than just it’s immediate ski area. Any multi-day lift pass is for the entire Zillertal Valley. The Zillertal Superskipass includes 535 km of slopes in four areas. It costs €266 for six days.
In addition to Mayrhofen you can explore Hochzillertal-Hochfügen-Spieljoch, the Zillertal Arena, and Gletscherwelt Zillertal 3000. All are linked together by buses and trains with your travel included in your lift pass.
Due to our plans we needed to spend most days in Mayrhofen so we only made it to the Zillertal Arena. However, speaking to other visitors all the ski areas sound like they are worth a visit.
One day we took the train to Zell am Ziller. It takes about 10 minutes but they leave every half an hour so check out the times. From there we caught a bus for five minutes to reach the gondola to go snowboarding in Zillertal Valley.
It’s a slight faff but well worth it as there are 322 km of slopes to explore! It is the biggest lift linked area for skiing and snowboarding in Zillertal Valley.
There are a couple of snowparks and a boardercross. It’s a must visit during a ski holiday in Mayrhofen.
The slopes here have a very different feel to Mayrhofen. Rather than being a series of linked bowls all leading to the same places it is more of a journey across different interlinked valleys.
You can ski or snowboard from Zell am Zimmer to Gerlos and onto Gerlosplatte and Königsleiten. You feel like you are getting somewhere, runs are long and everywhere was much quieter than Mayrhofen.
Also the snow conditions were quite different. Considering they are very close we were surprised to find the pistes were less icy even first thing in the morning. Perhaps it is because they are less busy so had not been as compacted.
During this review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen the day we spend snowboarding in Zillertal Arena was probably my favourite. But this is mainly because the conditions were a bit better and the slopes quieter.
As previously mentioned we were staying in the Gasthof Edelweiss. They have both traditional hotel rooms and self catering apartments. We had a two/three bed apartment that could sleep up to seven people. For the three of us there was plenty of room!
The apartment was fairly basic and a long way from being luxurious. However it was very comfortable, with big rooms, comfy beds and plenty of areas to relax. The kitchen was small but had everything you need to cook a meal or two, including washing up cloths and liquid etc.
The two bathrooms were a good size, one with a bath that includes a shower. The other with a walk in shower only. Unfortunately the shower screen on the bath leaked, but that is often the case in hotels the world over.
The TV has hundreds of channels including a few British. We found ourselves watching Only Fools and Horses one evening! The only downside was the WiFi is a bit sporadic, only certain rooms seemed to pick it up and at times we could not connect.
In terms of location it is about a ten minute walk to the Penken gondola and most of the apres bars. It was also a 10 minute walk to the train station. There is a bus stop right outside the hotel in case you don’t want to walk – the buses are free.
For one night of this review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen we decided to stay up the mountain at Schneekarhutte. It is an excellent restaurant during the day – more of that below – but also a small but upmarket hotel with a spa.
The rooms were fairly small but absolutely lovely. And the three course meal in the evening was stunning. Watching the sunset from atop the mountain after almost everyone else had left was a rare treat and something I thoroughly recommend.
The spa is not very large but includes a sauna and steam room plus relaxation area. From the sauna you could look out onto the mountain. I watched the piste bashers doing their job.
Possibly the best thing about spending a night in Schneekarhutte is that you get the mountain to yourselves in the morning. The perfectly pisted slopes were an absolute delight and the corduroy actually made it feel much less icy.
We hit the slopes at 7:45! The lifts open at eight but because of the way Mayrhofen is laid out it takes skiers a while to get up onto the mountain. We had an excellent hour and a half barely seeing anyone.
At around ten in the morning we returned to Schneekarhutte for a late but lovely breakfast – I recommend the Eggs Benedict. If you are going to be snowboarding in Zillertal Valley a night at Schneekarhutte is a great experience.
There are plenty of places to eat lunch on the mountain in Mayrhofen and while snowboarding in Zillertal Valley. But by far the best we tried was Schneekarhutte. With a vegan in our group it was top of our list as it offers some specialist dishes for non-meat eaters.
Having lunched their twice I recommend the vegetarian gnocchi as both a filling and incredibly tasty dish. I also had the lovely vegan curry which is a little like a thai red curry, although not as hot.
When in Zillertal Arena we ate at the Kreuzwiesen Alm on the slopes below the snow park in Zell am Ziller. They serve traditional Austrian mountain food with a lean towards meats.
They still catered well for my vegan buddy who had a choice of veggie pizza without cheese or pasta with vegetables. I had a stunning rack of ribs with a delicious spicy BBQ sauce. Well worth a visit.
A review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen would not be complete without talking about the apres ski. It begins on the mountain with quite a few restaurants cracking out the beers and up the music from around three.
At the top of the Penken gondola it gets pretty lively with everyone downloading on the last lift at five. At the bottom there are a large range of apres venues to enjoy. Brück’n Stadl, Eisbar, Harakiri, Hans the butcher and Happy End are all popular.
At the end of the first day snowboarding in Zillertal Valley we popped into Brückenstadl. On entering your senses are immediately assaulted with the sound of Austrian ‘Oompah’ and the smell of sweaty skiers and spilt beer.
It wasn’t that busy so we nabbed a table and over a couple of beers it filled up. Before long it was rammed and we were joined at our table by a group of German’s.
From here things went fairly crazy and the memory is hazy… The German’s were teaching us the actions to the songs and at one point I was leading a conga around the bar… We stumbled home about 10 pm.
On another day we visited the HaraKiri. It is a great venue but it was almost empty. I think we were probably a bit early as it doubles as a nightclub.
We also checked out the Happy End. It has a slightly different atmosphere to Brückenstadl with a more British crowd. We found Brückenstadl to be more fun but both were rammed.
With bad hangovers one night we headed to the Mayrhofen cinema. It is a quaint cinema with loads of space. On Tuesday nights they show a film in English. We watched Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – so films are very current.
The Scotland Yard pub just around the corner from our hotel is well worth a visit. They often have live music and most evenings it was rammed with a friendly atmosphere, but not crazy apres. A lot of locals seem to go there.
This was my first time snowboarding in Zillertal Valley and I hope it won’t be my last. While the conditions and an injury restricted the riding to blasting around the piste I still had a great time in both Mayrhofen and Zillertal Arena.
The parks look great, in fresh snow the off-piste would be excellent and there are slopes for all levels. The apres is mental, but the town is not defined by it – you can easily find quiet bars and restaurants and never see more than the outside of the apres bars.
For my first package ski holiday in a few years I have to say I was very impressed with Crystal Ski. When everything goes smoothly it is easy to say the service was great, however when things go wrong you find out what a company is made of.
Crystal Ski solved all the problems that came up quickly and efficiently. If it had been an independent trip without the support things would have been much more difficult.
To conclude this review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen. I would say Crystal are much more than the largest and often cheapest ski tour operator. They are popular with good reason.
While a lot of the in resort staff are young and inexperienced there is good organisation behind it. This ensure their ski holidays run smoothly and means they are much easier for their guests.
I hope you found this review of Crystal Ski holiday in Mayrhofen useful. Costs start from just £315 per person per week in Mayrhofen, including flights, transfers and accommodation. If you want to go snowboarding in Zillertal Valley then check out the Crystal options here: www.crystalski.co.uk/mayrhofen