Find your accommodation in Zillertal?

Stories off the slopes

Winter Hikes

Stepping back in time

Romantic tranquillity and a little history: the “Zeitreise” (“Journey through Time”) winter hiking trail on the Penken takes you through both stunning Zillertal mountain scenery and the history of alpine skiing.

T he snow crunches beneath their feet. The sun warms their faces. It is one of those days in Zillertal when the sky is so clear that the towering mountain ranges around you look like paper cut-outs. The perfect day for Karin and Gerhard to head out on a romantic winter hike. After a comfortable ascent with the Penkenbahn cable car from the valley station in Mayrhofen, the route takes them step by step back in time along glistening snowy slopes. After all, they are following a very special circular trail: entitled “Zeitreise”, it tells the story of the early days of skiing.

At one of the ten stations, the couple discover historical skis in a modern display case. At another, black-and-white photographs document the ancient beginnings of skiing in Zillertal and provide fascinating insights into its history. And as the couple step back in time to 1954, childhood memories are awakened for Zillertal local Uli Spieß. After all, the former skiracer’s mother founded the first ski school in Mayrhofen in winter 1954 together with her husband Ernst. “In the first season, we had 18 skiing students”, he tells us. Today, 25 ski schools with 500 instructors give lessons in 17 languages to allow all sorts of fun on Zillertal’s pistes.

“The beautiful winter hiking trails in this area
are as well-groomed as the pistes. That makes
walking a real pleasure! ”

Karin, enthusiastic holidaymaker

Moving with the times

It is therefore no surprise that Uli Spieß was just two years old when he first put on a pair of skis and learned the then popular technique of stem turning under his mother’s careful guidance. However, his skis were rather different to those he uses today: “They were made of ash or hickory wood and the edges were simple iron rails that we had to screw on ourselves. What’s more, my shoes were attached to the skis using a so-called ‘cable binding’”, the now 63-year-old recalls. 

This comprised a leather strap that held the foot in place at the front. On the heel, a kind of cable pull with a tensioning device provided the necessary hold. Despite its basic design, the solution still allowed skiers to gracefully wedel their way down the slopes. And this included an ever-increasing number of British visitors as Mrs Spieß had friends in England who she regularly invited to come skiing. However, the English did not have skis! “And so my parents came up with the idea of establishing the first ski equipment hire service”, explains the son. A concept that has now long since become an integral part of the international ski world.

State-of-the-art facilities. Back to the here and now. The Penkenbahn glides over Karin and Gerhard’s heads with barely a sound. Since its renovation in 2015, this has been one of the world’s most modern cable cars and can bring 2,880 people per hour up onto the Penken. As such, the cable car is state of the art, the ski slopes are perfectly groomed and the hiking trails are naturally no longer prepared with simple snow shovels like in the old days. Instead, grooming machines compress the snow to such an extent that Zillertal’s 400 kilometres of winter hiking trails are always in good condition. Anyone who still gets tired though can make the most of the many wonderful and romantic huts. Just like Karin and Gerhard are doing right now. They have pulled up a seat on the panoramic terrace to enjoy the magnificent view and the Tyrolean delicacies. Just what is needed at the end of a journey through time.

Image: Julia Rotter and Text: Johannes Stühlinger
Zillertal magazine Winter 2019/20

Even more stories from the Zillertal

Overview blog

Here you can find all the stories from the Zillertal at a glance

More information
The mystical forest

Dive into the enchanting world of the “Glocke” on a magnificent summer’s day. The fauna and flora in the High Alps Nature Park Zillertaler Alps take us back to an era long before our time.

More information
Freedom at your feet

If you’ve never done it, then now’s the time to start! We’re talking about trail running – jogging in the mountains.

More information
The spice of life

Enzianhof on Gerlosberg has been producing the finest speck for four generations. With the most important ingredients: Tradition, time and love.

More information

The Zillertal at a Glance


Welcome to Zillertal! Where sun, snow and well-being become the meaning of life and where great freedom tempts you to let go.

More information
Zillertal Newsletter

Our newsletter provides you with great information about the Zillertal. Get the best seasonal tips, information from the ski resorts and about the summer mountain railways and much more.

Sign up now
Hosts in Zillertal

Find the right accommodation for your perfect winter holiday in Zillertal – from cosy private rooms to luxury five-star hotels.

More information
Getting to Zillertal

Zillertal is located in the west of Austria and is the widest of the side valleys on the south side of the Inntal Valley. Get to Zillertal safely and comfortably.

More information

Der perfekte Begleiter für deinen Urlaub: Im Sommer und im Winter

Zillertal Superskipass
More information
Zillertal Activcard
More information