Mayrhofen’s Penkenbahn mountain railway and the Penkenjochhaus, the restaurant cum hut situated at the lift’s top station have never been favourites of mine. My memory of the aforementioned refuge echo the thoughts of Cecil Davies in his seminal work Mountain Walking in Austria(published by Cicerone), who described the Penkenjochhaus as “a vulgar place, with loud canned music”. More of a mountain restaurant than a hikers hut in its purest form, the only effort visitors need to expend is to literally walk from the Penken’s top station to the restaurant, a matter of yards apart. The Zillertal and its myriad villages offer some wonderful walking opportunities, many presenting a not inconsiderable challenge but I cannot help but feel Davies’ dismissive view of the Penkenjochhaus could quite easily describe Mayrhofen as a whole.

On my last trip to the Zillertal I was disappointed to see tourist tat for sale in the shops on a scale hitherto not seen in Austria. Well known for sweating their assets, Austrian tourism centres are expert at extricating money from the deepest of pockets but I felt, having seen phallic-shaped ornaments and ephemera being shamelessly retailed in some of its shops that Mayrhofen had become something akin to Blackpool. I have always known Austrian resorts to not be bashful when marketing the same merchandise found in every resort, differentiated only by the towns name in question stamped upon it. To find though some shops resorting to selling effluvia indicates that in their attempts to chase tourists’ euros(€) they have crossed the line, and going way to far.

It is with some interest today that I note that the Penken lift is in line for an upgrade, with work due to commence mid-April after the current winter season draws to a close. The interesting part of this story for me is the comparison on how things work in Austria and Slovenia, where situations at first glance are not completely dissimilar. Granted, the Bohinj 2864 project is perhaps on a slightly larger scale than the refit and expansion of the Penkenbahn but whilst finance is harder to come by in Slovenia and, landowner issues present a real barrier to the Bohinjska Bistrica based project from becoming reality, such problems in Mayrhofen, whilst being very much in evidence are successfully overcome during a smaller time-frame. Now, whilst there have been significant issues with landowners, a rather ominous term emerged in the Tiroler Tageszeitung article. I think most people would regard “forced concession” as at best an oxymoron, at worst a railroading of local sensibilities and concerns. I would say the Bohinj 2864 project is far more controversial, bringing with it problems of commensurate size but the time that has rumbled on since the project’s nascent stages to present day suggests to me that the environment and landowner concerns are taken more seriously in Slovenia than Austria. To suggest that the Bohinj 2864 project has taken as long as it has to get to this point just due to concerns over forestry destruction would though be specious. At the time of writing the progenitors of the project are still hoping to secure the final tranche of funding from a suitable investor, something Mayrhofen doesn’t have to concern itself with. Seemingly awash with money, Tirolean municipalities don’t tend to appeal in vain for finance to transform their plans from the drawing-board to reality, as is made plain in the Tiroler Tageszeitung article which in an almost blase, matter of fact manner describes the project being worth in the region of  30 million euros.

Whether pushed through with indecent haste or not, Mayrhofen seems set to receive a new lift to service the Penken later this year, presumably in time for the 2015/16 winter season. Money talks in the Tirol, where one resort gets paranoid that its neighbour has improved a lift or its tourist accommodation, putting the onus on it to keep up with the “Johans”. This of course cannot continue indefinitely although Austria presumably thinks it can, at least while they still get adequate snow depths to bring in guests(in sufficient numbers) to pay off the huge financial outlays needed for such large infrastructure projects. A risky business model, undoubtedly, but for now it is business as usual, grooming pistes whilst the sun shines.

Reporting on this issue can be found at: Tiroler Tageszeitung: Mayrhofen awaits new Penken lift