I turned 32 this year.
‘What’s that got to do with the price of ski hire in Mayrhofen?’ I hear you ask… Well, it’s my way of saying I’m not as young as I used to be. I can’t stay up as late as I used to – without suffering for it – and the last time I did an impromptu dance whilst cooking our dinner (I believe I was steaming green beans #gettingold) my boyfriend told me I had some great “Disco Mum Moves”. I don’t know what these are, but I believe I’m about to find out as I continue to get less and less young.
Seven years ago when I was less old, I went to the snow and music festival Snowbombing for the first time. Held in the scenic and typically Tyrolean resort of Mayrhofen in Austria, you should not dismiss the “bombing” part of the word as it is a serious weapon of a festival that tests your stamina and physicality through almost 24 hours of non-stop festival fun for five days. I survived (just) and returned to “The Hof” for Snowbombing in 2009 and 2010. During the 2010 festival I rescued an Australian snowboarder as he fell off his bar stool and four years on I’m yet to get rid of him. We’ve often talked about doing Snowbombing again for old time’s sake but I’d by lying if I said my body (specifically my liver) shudders at the thought.
That is why I was very intrigued by Altitude, a comedy festival which preceeds Snowbombing by a week and offers snow and comedy as opposed to clubbing. Surely laughter comes with less risk of inury that screwfacing to grimey basslines until 5 in the morning? Well, I was about to find out.
Described as “The Funniest Show on Snow” Altitude Festival combines comedy with snowsports in a much-loved ski resort. Offering five nights of comedy beginning with the Apres Ski set in the “Pistetakers Bar” to the main event Gala shows and on into the early hours with the Late Show. The comedians are predominantly from the UK and Ireland so performances are in English, though there is a night of German comedy.
Days are spent in the snow on either one or two planks depending on your preference. We are one plank snowboarders though we actually did try two planks during our time at Altitude Festival, in an attempt to create our own comedy during the festival. More on that below.
There are a number of ways to get yourself a ticket to Altitude either by buying a Festival Ticket + Accommodation package or by just buying the Festival wristband and sorting out your own accommodation. All attendees will need to book their own flights and ski passes and ski hire are additional costs, though you can organise these through Altitude.
Altitude also offer a VIP access package where you pay an additional amount and have access to special seating areas at the Gala Show as well as invitations to the press party and to take part in the Clown Hill Race, an unofficial comedian’s ski and snowboarding race down my favourite run, the dreamy no. 7 red run.
Our days at Altitude looked something like this.
Wake up in a very comfortable Austrian hotel room, see sun shine through the window, pull on some snow clothes, swish-swish our way downstairs for a delicious breakfast, digest while pulling on snowboard boats, get ourselves to the ski lift and head up the mountain.
Take time to admire the view.
Snowboard for a few hours. Have a hot chocolate, a beer or maybe a glass of Schiwasser (raspberry syrup and water). Snowboard some more. Eat schnitzel or gulaschsuppe.
Take time to admire the view.
Watch some crazy snowboarders and skiers do things you once dreamed of doing when you were much, much younger.
Snowboard some more. Have a beer. Maybe two. Spot John Bishop and chums doing the same.
Take time to admire the view.
Indulge in some apres ski on the mountain or head down to catch the Apres Comedy Show ruled by the Kings of Improvisation, the International Impro All Stars.
Grab a bite to eat at “Hans the Butcher” opposite the Penkenbahn. Head back to the hotel to shower and change. Bump into Al Murray wondering down the road.
Make it to Europahaus for three hours of comedy in a giant sauna of a stage lined in light wood panels. Be amazed that they let you drink from real glasses. That certainly never happened at Snowbombing. Leave with a stitch and extra wrinkles from laughing too much.
If we’re not yawning too much we pop into the underground Arena venue, a much more familiar venue for comedy.
Go home, sleep. And repeat.
Currently tickets to the full line-up of six nights comedy from 23rd – 27th March 2015 cost £150. This is an early bird ticket price and is exceptional value because during the festival tickets for individual nights were being sold for around €40 (£32). The prices will certainly go up (they cost £180 in 2014) and remember this doesn’t include ski pass, flights or acccommodation.
In 2014 Altitude Festival teamed up with Outgoing to offer accommodation + ticket packages that began at £359.00 and I’m sure they’ll do something similar for 2015.
In my opinion a ski holiday is never a cheap holiday. Depending on whether you have your own gear and how far you have to travel a ski holiday – without comedy – can cost between £500 and £750 per person so to be able to pay the same amount of money and have access to the festival is excellent value for money.
Altitude Festival is a great way to do a skiing or snowboarding holiday a little bit differently. Whether you’re in a couple, like we were, or in a group of people, it’s a great way to organise your evening entertainment before you even get there. Snow holidays are so much about being sociable and enjoying life, it makes complete sense to throw additional hours of laughter through comedy into the mix.
I met many people who were Altitude veterans. They ranged in age, background and skiing ability, which brings me to the good point that you don’t have to be a skiing pro. There are a number of ski schools in Mayhofen speaking a range of languages and having now had snowboarding and skiing lessons there, I would say they’re very professional and good value for money.
Mayrhofen is also one of those resorts that caters to all. There are nightclubs and apres-ski bars, but there are also lots of things for families to do and a good mix of restaurants, cafes and eateries to suit all budgets and tastes.
This was my fourth time snowboarding (and skiing!) in Mayrhofen and I have to say it’s still one of my favourite places to go. There are ski buses shuttling you to the gondolas, there are ample spots to stop at and try great Austrian food on the mountain and the slopes cater well to beginners, intermediates and advanced. Indeed, Mayrhofen is home to the steepest groomed piste in Austria, tellingly called Harakiri, a devilish run with an incline of 78%. (I did it on our first day there; once was enough!)
We spent a day as beginners on skis (which was a bit of a lie as I used to ski, nearly ten years ago) and found the beginner and intermediate slopes we hadn’t yet explored in a great condition considering that it was already April and end of season was approaching.
Die-hard skiiers will get fed up with the necessity to get a gondola up the mountain (either the Ahornbahn or the Penkenbahn) before you’ve even got your skis wet, but for me this has always been part of the experience. It’s in that gondola that you meet people – especially when there’s a festival going on – and it’s in that gondola that you can see views across the whole valley and up to the tops of the mountains.
It’s true that there isn’t as many kilometres of piste as at the bigger resorts of Europe and it is annoying that you can’t ski back down to resort but it’s never been a deal-breaker to me. Personally, for a holiday that is as much about fun as it is snow, I think Mayrhofen is the perfect size; big enough to never do the same run twice in a day but small enough that you can get to and from the main gondola in just a few runs.
For those with a penchant to jump off things, your needs will definitely be satisfied at the Vans Penken Park, one of the biggest snow parks in Austria. You will always find brave saisonaires throwing themselves of 20 metre high kickers and if you fancy a go yourself they regularly have professional photographers on hand to take your picture.
It’s hard to find a highlight in a festival that made me laugh so much I forgot what it was like not to smile. Comedy is an underestimated commodity in this world and a festival dedicated not just to this but to an activity that people adore is a dreamlike combination. And I haven’t even mentioned the beautiful views on offer. Or the schnitzel.
While we laughed harder at some comedians than others (read about my five favourite “clowns” here), and I am no expert in assessing the ability of a comedian, the standard was consistently high. In other words, we laughed until we feared the breakdown of a bodily function.
I’m talking about crying, of course! (And that was Exhibit A demonstrating why I’m not a comedian.)
One of the things that is really special about Altitude Festival is how the comedians mix among “the mortals in Mayrhofen”. On ski lifts, in bars and at tables in restaurants, there’s not much distance between the performers and the spectators at Altitude and so if you like the idea of buying your favourite comedian a Jaegermeister, this is the festival for you.
Here are my tips for getting the most out of Altitude Comedy Festival.
Book early. Take advantage of that Early Bird Ticket price. And reserve your accommodation before the hotel you want to stay in is all booked up. There are hotels and guest houses to suit all budgets in Mayrhofen and if you book early the chances are you’ll get a better deal.
We stayed in the four-star Hotel Edenlehen. It was without a doubt the best hotel I’ve stayed in in Mayrhofen. We also loved having a pool and spa to relax in after the snowboarding and it definitely helped to refresh us when we started to feel a little tired towards the end of the week!
The nearest airport to Mayrhofen is Innsbruck (which has one of the most picturesque runways) but flights to Munich and Salzburg are also worth considering. There are a number of transfer options from these airports including public transfer buses or trains. We flew to Munich and then hired a car to get us to and from the resort. This was fairly affordable but also necessary because we had early morning flights and although Mayrhofen has a train station (which is very unusual for ski resorts in Europe) but the train times didn’t work out.
Organise your ski hire and ski pass prior to arrival (I think Altitude will offer to do this via their booking site) then you can pay off this expense before you get there.
Pack sun cream and forget your thermals. Late season skiing can be very sunny and you will spot the tell-tale panda eyes tan of those who have already enjoyed these conditions. All being well you’ll have plenty of sunny opportunities to join them!
Check out the best flights for you on Expedia. You can find out more about the festival on Altitude’s website and check out Mayrhofen’s website for more information about the skiing and snowboarding.
Photos by Frankie Thompson and Anthony Upton.