Pepi grew up in Austria, where he learned to make cheese. When he finished his apprenticeship, he tried to become a ski racer. It took him four years to get on the Austrian team, on which he raced for five years. In 1960, he came to the United States, to Sun Valley, Idaho, and started racing professionally. There was an international, professional ski-racing association, IPSRA, made up of some of the world's finest skiers. Pepi became a superstar by winning most of the races.
"I met Dick Hauserman in Sun Valley," he said when asked how he came to Vail. "He showed me a film. I thought the film was great, and Dick talked about Vail, a new area just starting in Colorado. He organized a meeting with Peter Seibert, Morrie Shepard, and Bob Parker after a pro race in Loveland on April 16, 1962. I decided to come over to Vail after the race. They showed me the mountain, and I was very impressed. We spent the night in a hut and skied down the Back Bowls. It was endless, and the snow was perfect. It was so nice, I skied down a run called Forever and had to walk a long way back. There was no question in my mind - I decided to come to Vail."
Pepi Gramshammer worked a little for the ski school but mostly worked in public relations and raced for Vail. That was the first season - 1962-1963. Shepard was the ski-school director and the two had a good relationship. Pepi Gramshammer was a sort of ski ambassador who would show guests around the mountain.
"I came to Vail because of Dick and Blanche Hauserman," Pepi Gramshammer said. "I have them to thank. It was the best move I have ever made in my life. At that time, everything was exciting because everything was new. It was very special. There were no big companies coming in. There were a lot of little guys without much money. That's why Vail is unique. There were no big buildings. That made all the difference."
At the end of the first season, Pepi Gramshammer came to me and said he wanted to make Vail his home. He said he'd always had an ambition to operate an Austrian-type hotel and would like to build one. I said that it would take a lot of money to build a hotel, and Pepi replied that he had saved a lot of money.
When I found out how much Pepi had, I said, "You know, Pepi, we can build a hotel."
Pepi had saved every penny he made while racing. That was the beginning of his success story.
Two of my friends, Howard Head from Baltimore and Walter Haensli from Klosters, Switzerland, each put in $25,000, and Cottie Davison, an attorney from New York whom Pepi had taught in Sun Valley, put in $50,000. The hotel became feasible. Through Davison, Pepi met John Ferguson, an attorney from Denver who became not only a great friend but who also had a great influence on Pepi's life. Pepi had asked Davison to help him with a contract with Vail Associates for an option on the land, but because Davison was not an attorney in Colorado, Ferguson could take care of it.
"John looked over the contract. It was as thick as a book. I didn't know what was in there," Pepi says. "I believed everything John told me. When it came time to pay the bill, I went to him with $5,000 in cash. John told me that Cottie had taken care of it. Later, when I was in New York, I went to see Cottie and told him I wanted to pay him for the work that John had done. Cottie told me that John had never sent him a bill. To this day, I do not know if Cottie paid him or if John never charged him. I thought, "Is it that easy to do business in this country?' That's how I got started - everyone helped me."
An arrangement was made with the investors such that, after 10 years, ownership would revert back to Pepi. (I believe it took 12 years). The investors made three times their initial investment, and Pepi's interest was all stock. The architect was an Austrian, Ernst Payer, who lived in Cleveland. He had also designed the Plaza Building for me. He and Pepi made a good team.
Editor's Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman's "The Inventors of Vail." This is the 90th installment, an excerpt from chapter 12, "The Ever-Increasing "New Locals." The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi's Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.