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The Zillertal Valley
By Bob Enzel

*See Photo Gallery at the Bottom -- Photos By: Fred McKinney

It was just over a decade ago when the photographer and editors of "The Blue Book of European Ski Resorts" - published then in hard copy - toured the Zillertal Valley. We stayed in the charming Austrian village of Mayrhofen and skied the Valley’s local areas of Ahorn, Penken, Fuegen, Kaltenbach, and the Hintertux Glacier at the east end of the Valley just across the border from Italy.

Some of the crew of The Blue Book now published on the Internet - returned this season to a much different Zillertal skiing experience.

The Zillertal ValleyThe Hotel Neuhaus where we lodged was perfectly located for strolling the village, and Mayrhofen while still Austrian and charming has become a small town and the Zillertal Valley is now replete with a variety of skiing circuses. We thought we’d recall the town and the skiing. Wrong!

Small downhill areas have sprouted into several major ski complexes, such as, the Hochzillertal-Kaltenbach ski circus with over one hundred ski runs.

Nearly all T-bar lifts and slow chairs have been replaced by state-of-the-art heated chair lift and in another a ten passenger gondola-eight-chair combination for skiers and hikers that serves the village resort of Mayrhofen. The trite expression, “What a difference a day makes," can be applied to Mayrhofen.

The sometimes very cold and windy chairlift ride to the top of the Hintertux Glacier has been succeeded by a 3-step gondola ride that allows skiers to choose their starting point. The first stop has a lovely dining area, where we feasted on excellent ski resort food. It’s hard to go wrong on Austrian cuisine and deserts, such as my favorite--Strudel with schlag.

Some of us also slipped in a visit to the “ice cave" at the top of the Hintertux Glacier. It’s a 50 ft. climb down (and up) icy ladders into the glacier and not recommended for the weak of heart.

One snowy day restricted visibility at the top. A few of our die-hard skiers didn’t come to Austria to be wimps, so out they went to ski, but very carefully. It is easy to get disoriented in a whiteout. Others in the group opted to stroll a half mile down to the Zillertal Dairy for a private tour of the cheese making process. This high-end operation allows all visitors to self-tour leisurely around the  entire plant, with video explanations of the activities on the other side of large glass windows.

The cheeses we viewed in the making were, Graukaese (grey cheese), Bergkaese, Alpkaese, Bergtilsiter and Edelweiss Fresh Cheese. We learned that milk they use comes from cows who live above 3,000 feet. While the cheese takes a year to age, the milk is on store shelves within 24 hours.

After the tour a fair-sized dining room offered cheese, fresh butter and bread for dining. The skiers came back sort-of-happy, but we returned with full stomachs and expanded knowledge. Not wanting to waste the afternoon, a few of us took a fun 2- hour ski train ride from Mayrhofen, past Zell a. Ziller to the end of the line at Zillertal and back. We found this to be a wonderful, leisurely way to see the countryside. Or, get off in Fuegen and visit the Heimatmuseum where the famous Song, “Silent Night, Holy Night" had its beginning. Merely, catch the next train and continue the journey.

We skied a different resort each day, but our plans adjusted with the weather forecast. For example, we skied the glacier a day early to avoid incoming snow.

On another day we hopped a bus over to Gerlos, a charming Austrian Village we’d visited and skied years before. It was fun returning to past memories and trying to figure out what changed in the 10 years between visits.

By the time we’d skied, eaten and drunk our fill it was time to pack up and leave the lovely Zillertal Valley with its majestic peaks of snow, farmland and colorful Tyrolean houses and hotels.

Not many Americans visit Mayrhofen and the Zillertal; they opt for Austria’s better--known resorts. For those who want true Austrian gemuetlichkeit, but like to speak English with natives who welcome Americans, the Zillertal Valley is a wonderful place to visit.

Some of our group headed home, but a dozen of us opted to visit Paris, France. We returned to Munich and hopped an Air France flight to Paris. It was a special treat for those of us who had been in the elegant city years ago. For those who gazed at some of the world’s great sights for the first time, it was a tour de force.

Some Contacts:

 *(click on thumbnail for larger image)




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