CHAOS IN THE ALPS!
Tales from the wildest town on earth
It’s a crisp April day in Mayrhofen, a quaint little corner of Austria nestled deep in the Zillertal Valley. Rustic chalets pepper the surrounding hills like stacked chocolate fingers, with incredible vistas courtesy of the Ahorn and Penken mountains, which hug its Christmas card-esque inclines.
From the town’s collection of timbered bars and restaurants on the Hauptstrasse wafts the aroma of spiced mulled wine, just-baked pretzels and hot schnitzel, trailing out of the town’s infamous meat establishment – Hans the Butcher. Apparently, there’s always a queue outside Hans’s. Only today, the line is rowdier than usual.
“Maaate, I’ve lost me socks,” a queuing girl wails through last night’s make-up. She has a sunburnt face, and wears a Moncler coat, accessorised with hotel slippers and sequinned hot pants.
On cue, one valiant young man (blond, bearded and dressed as Big Bird) reaches into his backpack and hands her a pair of fluffy ski socks. There are hugs. A collective cheer.
Five Power Rangers carrying steins and ski equipment join the back of the line. Hans is in for a busy afternoon.
It’s day two of Snowbombing, the five-day snow-pursuits-meets-dance festival that pulls in a 6,000-strong crowd to this (otherwise sleepy) Austrian resort each spring. Split between the pristine slopes and the cookie-cutter town, Snowbombing was originally dreamed up as an après-ski nightclub by a bunch of entrepreneurs back in 2000 (presumably as a marketing ploy to pull in a moneyed young crowd at the tail end of the season). Today, it has mushroomed into one of the most glamorous (and wild) festivals in Europe. Here you will find trust-fund babies spending their parents’ money on designer snowwear, endless beer and boutique debauchery far away from the prying eyes of the world back home. The most basic ticket (which includes accommodation) starts at around £299, but most blow upwards of £1,000 on a five-day spree (not including their bar bill). Now in its 18th year, it offers up everything you could want from a festival, only at 633 metres above sea level and with more alpine action than an ’80s Toblerone advert.
I grew up 13 miles outside Glastonbury. To me, a self-confessed festival junkie, bunking down in a two-man tent is the authentic experience. The ability to lose yourself for five blissful days. But this place, with its manicured clientele, alpine yoga sessions and accommodation options that come with their own ‘rooftop spa’? I’m not sure how I feel about this place.
I join the queue for Hans’s behind a group of identikit blonde girls who all look like some version of actress Tamsin Egerton. They are comparing GoPro footage of last night’s pool party: “Urgh, what a total sausage fest.” I almost bolt. “Five pounds says we’re the last ones standing,” I whisper to my mate, Gosia.
Later that evening, I’m in a freezing cable car, making a shaky ascent into the foggy ether. Word has it there’s an igloo rave at the top of the Ahorn mountain. We are the only two girls in a car of 20 men. As the car swings from left to right, dangling 6,000 feet
“Word has it there’s an igloo rave on a mountain”
in the air, the London lads next to us draw cocks in the condensation on the glass. The car judders sickeningly and a guy wearing a lurid-green ski suit and Risky Business-style shades balks and grabs his mate in terror. A collective roar of “Pussy!” goes up.
Pulling into the station, the mountain is in complete white-out. The muffled sound of thumping house music can be heard. Two girls in faux fur snap selfies on the icy path.
On a clear evening, we’d be able to look out across the valley, and Mayrhofen’s beating heart 2,000 metres below. Tonight, we can’t see more than a few feet in front of us. But then that’s kind of the point.
The igloo is smaller than I expected. Inside, cushions cover the carved-ice benches, which sit beneath a domed ceiling. An exclusively ticketed event (£46 a pop), the Arctic Disco holds just 300 people. This is where the beautiful Snowbombers come to après, I have been told. After a quick drink at the ice bar, I join the toilet queue with one of the faux-fur girls. She is belligerently asking everyone for a 10-cents piece. “I’m a veteran,” she tells me, tapping her nose in a covert fashion. I hand her the coin, and she drags me off into the gloom. She uses it to pick the lock of a hidden door and pulls me in behind her. Clambering over stacked ski gear, my opportunistic friend wriggles out of her finery and pees into a vacant shower cubicle at the back of the room. She gives me a thumbsup from behind the frosted glass. I’m cheered by this display of bonkers camaraderie. I unbutton my ski trousers and do the same. Back in the igloo, a man dressed as Kermit the Frog in a ‘Let’s Get Physical’ leotard is going up to everyone asking if they’ve seen a man called Keith. It’s 6pm. The next afternoon, after a disastrous snowboarding lesson, I’m on Penken Mountain sharing a beer with my ski instructor, Sophie. The mist of the previous evening has dissipated, bestowing on us an incredible view from the lively chalet-style Pilzbar out across the Alps. Skiers and snowboarders dressed in everything from tutus to unicorn onesies pack out the venue’s outdoor picnic area. As we sip from our huge beer glasses, a collective cheer goes up from the slopes. A snowboarder is preparing to throw himself off a cliff wearing nothing but a kilt. “How are your balls?” Sophie yells at him/the entire mountain range. The kilted man makes a small nut shape with his thumb and forefinger. “Actual size,” he grins. “You’re not going down the hill like that?!” I exclaim. “You only die once,” he declares, before throwing himself off the edge. Halfway down, he tries to flip his board and falls face first into the ice.
The entire slope (including children whose appalled parents clearly didn’t realise that this particular resort was due to be invaded by 6,000 ravers) is treated to a flash of Braveheart’s arse.
Here, the combination of adrenaline sports, the remoteness yet almost womb-like protection the mountain range affords from the pressures of life back home, and – let’s face it – the above-average beauty of the mostly moneyed crowd, creates a type of wanton hedonism I’ve not seen at any other festival. The sex, drugs and danger that exists at other festivals is here, only more concentrated.
And make no mistake, Snowbombing trades off that element of surprise. It’s been going for nearly two decades, yet there’s surprisingly little online about what really goes on here. It’s only when I arrive that the stories start coming out: “There was that one year Fat Boy Slim turned up and started DJing from an open-top bus in the snow” or “Did you hear about the impromptu rave at Hans the Butchers’? They were just queuing for food when suddenly… lock in!” Snowbombing is like Fight Club – what happens here, stays here.
Later that night, bodies press up against each other on the dance floor as DJ Axel Boman takes to the decks. The 3am air in The Brück’n Stadl is thick with the smell of sweat and spilt Red Bull. I’m now deeply entrenched in Snowbombing’s infectious mania. There are girls everywhere. It’s like the witching hour has unleashed a tribe of Insta-goddesses, in contrast to the groups of lads marauding down the Hauptstrasse earlier that day. Bodysuits split to the navel writhe alongside salopettes-andcropped-top combos, leopard-print spandex and expensive goggles.
All around me, people snort cocaine off their chalet keys. It looks like a final hurrah, an explosion of decadence before someone tells them they must sign their lives away to the corporate world. Just hours before, sharing beers in a 10-person hot tub with a new friend, Lee* (late twenties, nontrust-funder), I looked on as a couple had sex ‘under’ the water in the sunlight.
Apparently, this year, the MDMA is “really strong. Which is why a lot of people are getting too f*cked, too quickly,” Lee says. He’s with a stag do that has just dropped £3,000 on gear.“People just call you and ask if you want more,” he says. “It’s like a Class-A Deliveroo.”
En route back to my hotel, I see a Bambilegged girl being led up the Hauptstrasse by a guy I hope is her boyfriend. She falls into the street, eyes rolling. I run over. She slurs, “This is the love of my life!” Primary-coloured balloons litter the street, presumably once filled with nitrous oxide – laughing gas.
Crisp blue skies welcome in the Mayrhofen morning. Last night’s revellers have been replaced by rails of polo necks outside the boutiques.
People stagger bleary-eyed into the harsh white sunlight, and into a voga class being held at the very same igloo bar I partied in just a few hours ago. DJ Kristy Harper, a pink-haired Dalston native, is spinning an eclectic ’80s mix. She’s been partying for four days.
“Did you see that couple having sex in the hot tub yesterday?” I ask her. “Who didn’t see them?!” she laughs. “The first year I came, I woke up at 6am and looked out of my window. There was this guy dressed as a goat, just head-butting the wall. I was like, ‘Yeah, this is Snowbombing,’” she says.
That night, Chase & Status perform. A group of Stormtroopers mainline shots at the bar as strobe lights ignite the trees surrounding us and green lasers shoot up, losing themselves like 4am ravers in the sky. Mayrhofen is lit.
Looking around, I see Lee tearing it up on the dance floor. He’s flanked by party-goers, who are supporting each other as the beat throws them forward. I look around at their faces and try to commit them to memory. After all, they are the country’s next bankers, CEOs and cultural leaders. They will no doubt return to Snowbombing year after year, safe in the knowledge that whatever antics they get up to will stay hidden, the mayhem obscured by the mountains and shrouded the next day in a fresh layer of snow.
Snowbombing 2018, 9th-14th April, from £299; Snowbombing.com
Snowbombing: so wild even the inanimate objects lose their heads
Amie (right) loved her first ski rave… …the next morning? Not so much
“Come to the dark side, shots we have”