North America has its fair share of big mountain resorts. The Tetons, the Sierras, the Cascades and the Canadian Rockies all have a spot or two that can hold their own. But absolutely nothing on that side of the globe, except for maybe Alaska compares to the sheer size of the Alps. Spanning eight countries including France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria, these mountains are unlike anything in the world, and almost any resort out of hundreds makes most places in the United States look like a bunny hill. One of these resorts is Mayrhofen, an area so massive that it has six gondolas, two trams and too many to count six and eight-pack high-speed chairs all over the place. Combine that with one of the best parks in Europe, the Vans Penken Park, and you have snowboarding’s seventh heaven.
Mayrhofen is in Tyrol Austria, about 40 miles from Innsbruck and is one of six major ski areas in the Zillertal Valley. It’s a picture perfect Austrian village, surrounded by rolling green meadows dotted with farmhouses, church steeples, orchards and streams that lie under the forests and the towering peaks above. In town you’ll find more modern hotels, restaurants and bars mixed with classic Austrian architecture and the Penkenbahn gondola that rises nearly 3,800 feet off the valley floor. It’s a combination family tourist town and party place, and like almost all European ski resorts, the après scene starts early and lasts well into the night.
There are several ways to get up on the mountain: the Penkenbahn in town, the Finkenberger north of town and the Horbergbahn near Ramsau. The gondolas alone are impressive, some spanning over 10,000 feet and dangling hundreds of feet off the ground. Once you’re on the hill, a couple more chairs will bring you to the top and you can take in the amazing 360-degree view of the Zillertal Alps. It’s like looking at a hundred Mt. Bakers, with a thousand more hiding out of sight.
Provided there is fresh snow, it’s not difficult to find good lines at Mayrhofen. Most of the skiers stick to the groomers, leaving all the untouched powder for shredders to enjoy. Hug the sides of the runs, jump deep into the trees, or if you’re really adventurous, look for any avalanche zone sign, which are just about everywhere it seems. Ungroomed, natural terrain makes up the majority of the mountain, and it is all open. There are no “closed” signs here or ropes to duck, and very little control work going on. You want to get gnar… go for it. It’s at your own risk.
Any snowboarder could easily spend an entire season (or ten) in Mayrhofen and not ride everything. There’s a reason why it's home base for the Ästhetiker crew, whose members include local legends like Thomas “Beckna” Eberharter, Gigi Rüf and Vans team rider Wolle Nyvelt. Nail it at the right time, and it could just be the greatest resort powder day of your life.
For more photos, check out the Photo Sets 1 and 2 on the Vans Snow tumblr blog.