Why Austria’s Zillertal Valley is the ideal winter playground

After a summer that, for many of us, was spent largely indoors, winter landscapes beckon us outside like never before.

By Zillertal Tourismus
Published 27 Nov 2020, 11:00 GMT
The Hintertuxer Glacier is Austria’s only skiing area that promises snow 365 days a year.

The Hintertuxer Glacier is Austria’s only skiing area that promises snow 365 days a year.

Photograph by Zillertal Tourismus

A perennial paradise, the cooler season delivers a certain sparkle to the Alpine Zillertal Valley — and it’s one that brings skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports lovers flocking to its 335 miles of pistes, 180 lifts, 80 mountain huts and eight snow parks. The region is separated into four main ski areas, each with its own appeal, characteristics and exhilarating list of highlights that guarantee endless hours on the slopes. Whether you favour practising your carving at a leisurely pace, zipping down sporty valley runs, or testing your metal on demanding expert-level routes — or, of course, if you’re simply there for gourmet food, mesmerising views and lively apres-ski — Zillertal has it all. However, why choose at all? The Zillertal Superskipass, allows visitors access to all four ski regions, each with its own specially designed one-day circuit to make the most of winter’s wonder.

For year-round snow, opt for The Glacier Tour

The Hintertuxer Glacier is Austria’s only skiing area that promises snow 365 days a year, and in winter forms part of the Zillertal 3000 Ski & Glacier World. Here, skiiers and snowboarders of any level can enjoy more than 125 miles of sunny pistes, deep-snow slopes and mogul runs as demanding as they are rewarding. The Glacier Tour brings visitors into the heart of this winter wonderland, with a one-day circuit that covers altitudes ranging from 2,050ft to 10,660ft above sea level, and 70 miles of blue, red and black downhill runs. 

Adjacent to the glacier, the scenic Eggalm ski region is perfect for those looking to carve in tranquil surrounds. This is also an ideal region for snowshoe hikes, and offers some magical vistas of Tux’s dramatic mountain landscapes, including Mount Penken and Rastkogel. After tackling the glacier, consider the scenic return route, which guides guests through the varied terrain of the Rastkogel mountain. Alternatively, hop on the 150-seater Tux cable-car back to the ‘entertainment quarter’ of Penken Action Mountain. And for skiiers who really want a run for their money, the seven-mile descent from the Gefrorene Wand at 10,660ft to Hintertux at 4,900ft is one for the bucket list.

Stop here: The four-mile ‘Schwarze Pfanne’ (Black Hollow) downhill valley run takes practiced skiers all the way from above the treeline, through Alpine forests, and back to Hintertux village centre. Accessible from the Tuxerjoch chairlift, it ends right in front of the luxurious hotels of Hintertux village, making a celebratory drink in one of their cosy spruce-panelled dining rooms pretty much obligatory.

The Zillertal Valley is divided into four main ski areas, each with its own unique characteristics and charm.

Photograph by Zillertal Tourismus

For a brush with the clouds, choose The Altitude Tour

The Altitude Tour, as the name suggests, takes skiing to new heights on a route where the sky truly is the limit. One for serious snow sport enthusiasts, it explores the Mayrhoden ski region and features the world’s most advanced cable-cars. The state-of-the-art Penkenbahn takes just eight minutes to get adventure-hungry skiers to the top of the peak in style. 

The first stop is Penken Action Mountain, one of Mayrhofen’s two main peaks. From here, skiers can test their nerves on Zillertal’s most demanding slope, the Harakiri. This expert-level run is the steepest in Austria, reaching gradients of up to 78%. If you’re not up (or, in this case, ‘down’) for the Harakiri, there’s also the Devil’s Run — a precipitous slope about as wicked as it sounds and regarded by locals as the ‘Harakiri test’.

Reassuringly, there’s also down-time options on this route. Ahorn Leisure Mountain, the area’s other main peak, is — as its name suggests — the mellower alternative to its turbocharged counterpart and the perfect place to catch your breath. Accessible via Austria’s largest aerial tramway, the Ahornbahn, the wide carving pistes of the Ahorn’s 6,456ft plateau are a must for skiers and snowboarders practicing a perfect turn.

Stop here: Pause at the summit station of the Penkenbahn cable-car, where the Panorama Terrace invites sitting back and drinking in the staggering 360-degree views from the comfort of a deckchair.

Zillertaler kaiserschmarrn (smashed pancakes), is a traditional and comforting dish eaten throughout Austria. 

Photograph by Zillertal Tourismus

The Leisure Tour offers food with a view

Whether you’re looking to find your feet in the snow or want to ease into discovering the most active valley in the world, Zillertal’s ‘Leisure Tour’ is designed for languid exploration, ample breaks to drink in the 360-degree views and — best of all — plenty of restaurants. Encompassing the regions of Hochzillertal and Hochfügen — including the family-friendly Spieljoch resort — before finally bringing you back to the picturesque mountainside municipality of Kaltenbach, the snow beckons with 70 miles of impeccably groomed pistes and ultra-modern ski amenities offset by the rustic charm of the dozen villages located at the entrance to the valley and their numerous lodges, restaurants and chalets that cater for just about every taste.

Directly accessible via a breathtaking ride on the Hochzillertal cable-car, a day on the snow is best fuelled by a hearty breakfast at the first of the route’s pit stops — the eye-catching and sustainability focused Firnhütte. Most of the pistes crisscrossing the peaks are easy to intermediate; however, the route also has two black runs. These steep and challenging options will appeal to the daring, more experienced skier.

Stop here: Choosing just one place to stop on this leisurely circuit defeats the purpose of its laid-back nature, but if there’s one departure point not to skip it’s the award-winning Kristallhütte. Having held the lofty title of ‘Ski Hut of the Year’ for several years, it’s a space as cool as its Alpine surrounds that offers high-class experiences worthy of its 7,045ft altitude: think jazz brunches, live DJs, wine tasting and more, all with panoramic views to boot.

There are dozens of ski schools, kindergartens and children’s programmes in Zillertal, meaning childcare is easily arranged.

Photograph by Zillertal Tourismus

The Arena Tour will create picture-perfect memories

Encompassing four cross-regional mountains, 91 miles of downhill runs, 1,025 acres of ski slopes and stretching from Tyrol to Salzburg, Zillertal memories are made, quite literally, on the Arena Tour. With five SkiMovie pistes, four Speed Check runs and four souvenir photo points, this route is all about being able to take the highlights home with you, making it ideal for family groups.

Starting and ending in Zell am Ziller, the route takes visitors into the heart of the Zillertal ski region, with the opportunity to ski or snowboard across two Austrian states. Here, numerous snow parks have been established for youngsters (or the young-at-heart). The Action-Park Kreuzwiese’s Fun Run calls for prowess on the powder with its assortment of steep turns and jumps, while its bag jump challenges the fearless. The Gerlos snow park, on the other hand, is a freestyle hotspot, with more than seven acres of sunny south-facing runs. 

The Arena Tour packs in the superlatives too, sporting the country’s longest valley run, which starts at the summit of Übergangsjoch and covers 6,330ft of altitude on a continuous piste to take you all the way from summit to basin. The area also has the longest toboggan run in Zillertal. The action starts at an altitude of 5,415ft, with the course staying illuminated until 1am, because pulling into a few of the rustic taverns along the way is a must.

Stop here: Celebrate a day of skiing and mark your triumphant return to Zell am Ziller with a dinner at the Schulhaus Restaurant. Formerly a school, this space has now been converted to a stylish guesthouse and high-end eatery with a focus on sustainability, seasonal menus and impeccably prepared local fare.

Essentials


The Zillertal Superskipass is an all-access passport to each of Zillertal’s four main ski areas for anywhere from two to 21 days. Flying in? Innsbruck (30 miles), Munich (100 miles) and Salzburg (90 miles) are your destination airports. From here, rent a car or opt for one of numerous public transport options — or simply hop onto the Four Seasons Travel shuttle service. With dozens of ski schools, kindergartens and children’s programmes, childcare in Zillertal is easily arranged throughout the region. The Zillertal Arena App and the Mayrhofner Mountain App are both must-haves, and are available on Apple and Android devices, offering important information, navigation advice and insider tips for these ski areas.

To find out more, visit zillertal.at or call +43 5288 87187

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