"Yodeling," added Herr Lichter emphatically, "is good for one's health."
He then went back and yodeled a song that Doktor Scheibl said was called The Yodeler of the Archduke of Johann, the words of which Doktor Scheibl translated as, "Wherever I am standing my heart hurts because the Archduke of Johann is not around here anymore."
Mayrhofen is a medium-to-large town on the rich, flat Zillertal, the valley of the Ziller River, and it has never suffered the poverty and hardship of places like Serfaus and Saalbach. Nor does it look—not at first—like a ski town. On both sides of the valley the mountains are heavily wooded. The main highway carries swift and roaring traffic, and the business streets are so overrun with souvenir shops, knick-knack stores and cheap trinketry that Doktor Scheibl was moved to say, "This seems like a big tourist machine."
The skiing lies high above, on both sides of the valley. A cable car climbs each, rising above 75-foot fir trees on the steep slope until, at the top, one is presented with still another Alpine panorama of mighty peaks sloping off toward infinity. At one's feet some nice trails drop down through the trees. They are fairly broad and rolling at the top, narrowing toward the bottom.
You can ski on one side and see the other trails across the valley. On the east side. there is one long, splendid run marked expert, mogully and fun, dropping in great snowy bumps among the trees. There is also a vast selection of gentle beginner and novice plateaus, with peaks rising all around. The far side of the valley is more challenging, and perhaps even more appealing. Trails spill off both sides of the mountain high above the town. There is a stark, rocky peak—The Little Matterhorn, they call it—sticking up in the distance. It is exciting, occasionally fairly hard, skiing.
One of Mayrhofen's pleasant surprises can be found on the east side of the valley at the top of the Ahornlift. This is Ernst Spiess, a droll, apple-cheeked fellow who is director of the Mayrhofen ski school. On a day that happened to be dank and foggy, Herr Spiess sat gazing thoughtfully out the window of his office. In his hand and in the hands of his visitors were goblets of pear schnapps. All were sipping as they watched the swirling mists outside, mists so thick there were no peaks, pistes or skiers to be seen. At last Spiess chuckled and said, "The weather is our friend. We must believe that. Or else we should go into another business, such as raising mink or fixing wristwatches."
He drained his schnapps, rose from his chair and executed one quick, giddy pirouette before his guests. He was wearing grossly baggy striped pants and a shiny red swallowtail coat. Standing there, he rubbed bright rouge on his already ruddy cheeks and put on a silly top hat. "Wiedersehn," he said, "I must work." He stepped outside the office, fastened one ski to one foot, slowly lifted the other foot, rather in the manner of a dog at a hydrant, and glided off down the hill, coattails flying, trousers flapping, one hand holding his hat. As he went, Spiess shouted something, and out of the mists a chirping, giggling colorful cascade of tiny children on skis appeared, sliding down after him. They were dressed in a wild array of clothing, things fit for the Mad Hatter's tea party, and soon he and all the children were swallowed by the fog. Doktor Scheibl observed, "Ernst Spiess seems the Pied Piper of Mayrhofen. Or possibly he is a Kasermandl in disguise."
The truth was only slightly closer to prosaic. This was Fasching, that moonstruck and uninhibited time of year when this part of Europe fills with costumed fools squeezing in all the last-minute high jinks and minor sins of commission before Lent arrives to spoil the fun. Ernst Spiess is famous for his kindergarten-level ski school, as well as for his schnapps-pouring prowess, and this curious scene in the fog was merely a Fasching day's ski class.
Later, at a venison dinner at the Hotel Kramerwirt, an establishment run for 300 years by the family of Hans-Erich Kr�ll, Spiess raised a glass and said, "I feel more natural during Fasching. Here's to Lent not coming this year!"
Everyone agreed as Spiess put on a rubber nose, dipped it in a nearby stein of beer and squeezed it, squirting a stream upon the chest of Doktor Scheibl, who raised his own glass and intoned, "Here is to the gift of Countess Pocket Mouth to Rudolph IV, without which we would all be raising mink and fixing wristwatches."