All photos: Anthony Upton
Started a few years ago in classic ‘chancer snowboarder’ fashion by a couple of jokers looking for a free holiday, the Altitude Comedy Festival is now fully established on the alpine events calendar. Bringing a truly remarkable lineup to one of Europe's best resorts, it's a refreshing alternative to the usual apres-ski tedium, and Austria’s best-kept secret – for now....
In its second year since leaving the French resort of Meribel for pastures new, Altitude has now settled down in its new home of Mayrhofen, Austria. Which is good news for all concerned; the Hof is a longtime favourite of UK shredders, and it’s easy to see why. While you’re unlikely to get much pow in March, the 160km of piste means that you won’t find yourself getting bored. Then there’s the Penken park – one of Europe’s best, and a regular pro haunt (both Jenny Jones and Jamie Nicholls were among those slaying the bigger booters during Altitude). The options for mere mortals aren’t too shabby either, with lines to suit any standard.
A great shred destination it may be, but we’re not convinced that’s why the cream of UK comedy is now set to descend on Austria every spring. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to crack countless gags about Hitler and Josef Fritzl. Maybe it’s the fact that one of the resort’s top tourist officials can regularly be spotted dishing out schnapps and saying things like “there’s no ‘No’ in Mayrhofen". Whatever the reason, the Hof’s blend of great slopes, ideal venues and relatively cheap booze is a perfect fit. Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell, who fell in love with snowboarding after an ill-fated trip to the Hillend dryslope, kicks off proceedings at the opening gala show. A co-creator, he’s had a hand on the tiller of the festival since its inception as, essentially, a comedy bar crawl in the Alps. Fast-forward a few years and his infectious passion for both stand-up and ride-sideways has led to Altitude 2012, and the sort of stellar lineup that you’d be lucky to find anywhere, let alone halfway up a mountain. There’s truly something for everyone here; Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle bring the dark laughs on day one (Shannon Matthews? Check. Madeline McCann? Check. Michael Jackson? Double-check), while gentler (but no less funny) stuff comes throughout the week courtesy of Ed Byrne, Kevin Bridges, Milton Jones and more. Terry Alderton ticks off the box marked ‘batshit crazy’, while Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ Phill Jupitus marks his return to stand-up performing after over 12 years out. With 15 to 20 minutes each, it’s a case of all-killer-no-filler – especially when Aussie piano-man Tim Minchin closes two of the gala shows with blistering headline sets.
Three hours of this every night and it’s no surprise to see everyone spilling out of the Europahaus, half-cut and grinning like madmen. But it doesn’t end there; at midnight the Arena beckons – a more intimate basement-level venue (cue more Fritzl jokes) with a comedy-club atmosphere. Canadian man-beast Craig Campbell (a bona fide shred fiend for whom a taster at the Milton Keynes snowdome has developed into a full-blown obsession) steals every show he's in, while Benny Boot and Carl Donnelly prove that the festival has strength in depth that doesn’t end with the household names. Destined-for-greatness duo Abandoman close the week with a marathon freestyle rap, the crowd unable to flummox them even with the incentive of a 300 euro prize.
All that’s left is for a lederhosen-clad Maxwell to bookend the festival, and promise bigger and better things for next year’s event. It’s hard to see how he, or anyone else, can top what Altitude delivered in 2012, but one thing’s for sure – we’ll be there to find out
Head to the official Altitude Comedy Festival website for more info on this year's event, as well as the first word on what's in store for 2013. Also, check out more of Anthony Upton's photos below: