A Day In The Snow: Snowboarding in Mayrhofen
It all starts at the Happy End Café, located right next to the base of Penkenbahn Gondola. Thomas Eberharter aka „Beckna“ is sipping his morning coffee as we enter the place. Sitting here in front of us is a legend, straight up. Thomas is however always quick to acknowledge that he is just one of those with a love of snowboarding, which is a laughable understatement. A Mayrhofen local by birth, and one of the early pros from Austria, he is one of those who have taken the sport from its humble, grassroots beginnings to its superstar status of today. „Beckna“ has been toting board bags around the world as a pillar of the snowboarding community for many years. And snowboarding is just as fun to him now as it was those almost thirty years ago. Thomas’ life today still revolves around his love for snowboarding. These days you can find „Beckna“ on the slopes of Zillertal Valley - if he is not taking his kids to school, working as a photographer or welcoming guests to his parents’ hotel. Despite his busy schedule, Thomas takes a day off to show us around his hometown, Mayrhofen. But wait, why is he called „Beckna“? We will solve that later; now it’s time to get our lift tickets and hit the slopes.
Harakiri on the Snowboard
The fabulous new Penken Gondola speeds us up to the heart of skiing from the center of Mayrhofen in less than ten minutes. A short chair lift ride takes us to the top of the thrilling double black Harakiri Run. There’s no easy way down… we take it on our way to the terrain park.
The Second Living Room: The Terrain Park at Penken Mountain
We ride the Sunjet Chair to the top of the terrain park. The Vans Penken Park has played a big part in Thomas’ passion for snowboarding—in fact, he and his friends have laid the foundations for today’s park and he calls it his second living room. Thomas started snowboarding in the late 1980ies. From its humble beginnings, he and his friends were the pioneering park designers and shapers. „We’d go and get a shovel and shape hits and build a half pipe. To make it good took a lot of shovelling. It took ten of us and more than one week. I think we spent more time shaping it than riding. We never imagined that snowboarding would evolve that rapidly. Back then, who would have thought that they would even give snowboarders their very own lift, servicing nothing but the terrain park?“
Snow park visitors and sun-seekers cavort at the Grillhofalm.
Today, the Vans Penken Park at Mayrhofen is widely regarded as one of the best terrain parks in the Alps. Almost every recognised rider has been here at least once in his or her career. Without its existence, the Zillertal Valley wouldn’t be the same; it adds to the reason why visitors can’t escape the unique atmosphere of the legendary valley. It’s the reason that Mayrhofen today is to snowboarders what Kitzbühel is to downhill skiers. The Vans Penken Park is standing as the haven of the European snowboard and freestyle scene, and catalyst to a number of careers that either started here or took decisive directions from it. And while there might be bigger and longer parks around the globe, riders and freeskiers get a good amount of shredding sessions here due to the terrain park lift, says Thomas.
Shredding and ripping at Vans Penken Park is sure to work up an appetite. The majority of the terrain park crowd takes a break at adjacent Grillhofalm. However, the ski resort has many more options for on-mountain dining. Thomas suggests us to take a break from the slopes at noble Schneekar Hut. This is the place where he usually feasts on homemade tarte flambée with his family. During skiing hours, Schneekar Hut offers up a variety of gourmet choices served in a contemporary casual environment with locally sourced, organic ingredients incorporated into classic slopeside fare. After lunch, you can sip an organic, Fair Trade brand coffee option whether you like your coffee classic or contemporary. Schneekar Hut is more expensive than some other mountain restaurants but definitely worth the price.
Schneekar Hut offers up a variety of gourmet choices served in a contemporary casual environment.
More on-mountain dining options recommended by Thomas are Gschösswandhaus Lodge, located on a precipitous cliff overlooking Mayrhofen and Zillertal Valley, Christa’s Skialm atop Penkenjoch and Ahornhütte on the opposite side of the valley.
Breathtaking Views from Penkenjoch
Following a few runs down the trails, Thomas savours the views from the top of Penkenjoch.
Schneekar Hut is disappearing in a sea of clouds. However, if the weather is clear, Schneekar is an amazing lookout point, says Thomas. „From here, you can enjoy 270 degree views of the Zillertal Alps. Catch your breath, not from climbing but from watching a continuous reel of premiere showings starring the Alpine Main Ridge. Looking beyond Penkenjoch, there are in-your-face vistas of Tristner Mountain, Grünberg Peak and Zsigmondyspitze Summit. And although I was born and raised here, these vistas still slack my jaw on a bluebird day, with the snow glistening in the sun. They never cease to captivate, inspire and intrigue me.“ This deep love and passion for the place he calls home is what you will feel upon browsing his Instagram site called becknaphoto – this is where Thomas regularly posts new, amazing photographs showing the incredibly beautiful scenery of Zillertal Valley. Along with spectacular snowboard snapshots, of course.
Ski slope in Mayrhofen.
Beckna’s Choices for Outdoor Enthusiasts
Thomas at the Mountain Shop with Patrick Hörhager.
„The Mountain Shop on the main road, owned and operated by the Hörhager Family, is the place to go for all things sports. They love to get outside and play, and they know first-hand the importance of quality outdoor gear. Whether you’re new to outdoor adventure or a seasoned pro, they will equip you for the adventure,“ says Thomas. Junior manager Patrick Hörhager is a passionate paraglider pilot himself and has competed—and won—tough relay and endurance races such as the Dolomitenmann in East Tirol and the RISE&FALL in Mayrhofen. „They enjoy the outdoors as much as I do, which means they know what I need,“ adds Thomas, „I think that’s authentic and that’s the way it should be.“ The Mountain Shop is as well the place where Thomas has bought his avalanche backpack with airbag system. Patrick explains how the airbag system works in case of an avalanche. Plus, they carry the (almost) unbreakable eyewear line of Gloryfy, designed and created in Tirol.
Afterwards, we meet a good friend and snowboard crew member of Thomas Eberharter, Wolfgang Nyvelt aka „Wolle“ who has found his own mix of evolution by riding strapless: Here in Mayrhofen, Wolle has invented the Äsmo Pow-Surfer, a board where he has ditched traditional snowboarding bindings for the freedom of riding pow just like a surfboard. Using this pow-surfer means riding the deep and the steep…bindingless—provided you are able to ride this board, which is second to none.
Beckna’s Coffee Shop & Lodging Recommendations
Thomas could often be found early mornings at Bäckerei Kostner, enjoying his morning coffee after he has brought his kids to school. Recently refurbished, the bakery and pastry shop offers an elevated coffeehouse atmosphere with exquisite cakes and friendly service. And, this is just the right place to explain his nickname. Thomas’ grandfather and uncle were bakers, ‘Bäcker’ in German, and this inspired his snowboard crew to call him „Beckna“.
From high-end luxury and typical rustic mountain lodging to quaint B&Bs, Mayrhofen offers lodging for every taste and budget. If you can stretch to it, staying at the four-star Hotel Elisabeth is Thomas’ lodging recommendation number one. Owned and operated by the Moigg Family, it is a short walk from the center of Mayrhofen. “The best of both worlds is available here – it’s traditional style with a contemporary twist. It is authentic and has a casual, laid-back feel to it. To me, this is the classiest and most comfortable billet in town. And it is worth every penny,“ says Thomas.
Our day at Mayrhofen comes to an end at Landhaus Carla, the three star hotel that is owned by Thomas’ parents. It is conveniently located right opposite to the end of the historic, steam-operated Zillertal Train line. This is our terminus, too. The atmosphere at Landhaus Carla is unpretentious and inviting.
And Thomas gives his guests the inside scoop to the perfect ski vacation in Mayrhofen: „What sets us Zillertal residents apart from others is that we always strive to exceed our guests’ expectations. For us locals, providing hospitality is a way of life. Of course, the valley is very touristy. Nevertheless, we treat everyone as a friend. In the mornings, I am here to help answer any questions they may have while they are on holiday. Snow and weather-dependent, I tell them where to find the best snow and the most memorable rides. It seems as if they appreciate this little extra service.“ Well Thomas, that is a laughable understatement once again.
Here you can see the video of our visit to Mayrhofen: