When I got to Vail in ’68, I worked at Gorsuch upstairs with some other newbies. One spring day Pepi was on his roof, across Bridge Street, pounding away on a foot-plus thick ice cornice hanging out into mid-air, which he was also standing on. We hollered and waved, because he couldn’t see what we could. He just smiled and waved and attacked with greater fervor. We all kept watching, transfixed and mesmerized, waiting for the ultimate moment.
It finally let go and Pepi stepped back just in time, smiling and victorious!
We all cheered and gave him a round of applause. The boss doing a job that he enjoyed more than his crew would — and surviving victorious.
I always loved taking pictures of Pepi and Sheika
I have probably known both Pepi and Sheika for over 35 years. My claim to fame is that I take the society pictures for the Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine and always have loved taking their pictures. So my quick story is every time I would see Pepi, he would give me a huge smile and yell out and say she takes the best pictures. He was adorable. This picture was taken by Sheika on the Fourth of July this year. I love the fact that Pepi‘s bar sign is right next to us. We will miss this wonderful man so much.
Born in Austria, Pepi Gramshammer became a classic American success
VAIL — Pepi Gramshammer was many things in his long and colorful life.
Husband and father, professional ski racer, a pioneer of a fledgling ski resort, business builder … and a classic American success story.
Pepi said early and often, “I could never have done this in Austria. You can’t believe how lucky I am. No one is luckier than I.”
Luck, of course, lives at the intersection of work and opportunity. For Pepi and his wife, Sheika, that’s also the intersection of Vail’s Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive where they built Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer.
Pepi was born in Kufstein, Austria, in 1932, and worked as an apprentice cheesemaker. But he was born to ski race and battled his way onto the powerful Austrian national ski team.
He left war-torn Austria for the United States in 1960 to seek his fortune. He embraced that fortune and so much more. He landed in Sun Valley, Idaho, to teach skiing and be a professional ski racer. Among his students were jazz legend Louis Armstrong and actor Peter Lawford.
In early winter 1962, he met his soon-to-be wife and fellow Austrian Sheika Moser in Aspen. He was training to defend his pro skiing title, while she was visiting from New York City where she worked as a model. Years later Pepi grinned that if it wasn’t love at first sight, “it came on really fast. She was the best. She still is.” They were engaged a few weeks later.
To be a true business success you have to own something. Pepi and Sheika instinctively understood that. When he landed in Vail, Pepi spent most of his time as the resort’s ski ambassador, showing guests around the mountain. As that first season wound down, Pepi decided to plant his flag and make Vail home.
Pepi was told it would take a lot of money to build the hotel he envisioned. Pepi had saved a lot of money, and with help from other Vail pioneers, pulled together some investors. He and Sheika set about building Gasthof Gramshammer on Vail Village land they bought for $2 per square foot. It’s the only Vail Village business still owned by its builders. Pepi and Sheika opened the doors to their dream in 1964. By the way, 1964 was a big year for Pepi. He and Sheika were married earlier that year.
They made Vail home and never left.
“Vail became what I never had before — a home. It’s my home, the only home I ever had. It opened its arms to all of us, embraced us with such a force, and such love that you cannot help but being happy and in love with this town,” Sheika said.
Before Vail was Vail, Pepi skied here. He was a huge star in international ski racing, talented, young and good looking — a hot commodity.
Sponsors gave him equipment and cars, and he helped ensure success for the International Professional Ski Racers Association.
That’s how Vail pioneer Dick Hauserman found him. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hauserman was like a traveling revival preacher and Vail was his promised land. Hauserman showed Pepi a short film about the new ski area, the one Hauserman and others showed potential investors.
A decade and a half before Interstate 70 was built, Vail was a wide spot on U.S. Highway 6. Pepi was recruited away from Sun Valley to help promote the fledgling Vail ski company.
He immediately caught the vision. Pepi agreed to ski Vail on April 17, 1962, eight months before the lifts were built and the resort opened, and two days after winning the season’s final race at Loveland and the professional ski racing season title. Roger Brown drove Pepi from Loveland to what would become Vail in Brown’s Volkswagen van.
“Lots of dirt and one snowcat was about all they seemed to have,” Pepi said on the 50th anniversary of that legendary run. Pepi climbed into that snowcat with Vail Pioneers Pete Seibert, Bob Parker, Brown and Morrie Shepard. Seibert drove.
“I had never seen so much snow,” Pepi said. “It was the most beautiful day we’ve ever had in ski country.”
They launched themselves down that south slope. Pepi didn’t stop until he hit the bottom, his first tracks now followed by millions of others. What goes down must come up, and Pepi had to hike.
“That took forever,” he said smiling when he climbed out, and that’s how the run “Forever” was named.
Sun Valley was out and Vail was in, with Pepi calling it “the best move I have ever made in my life.” OK, maybe one of his two best moves. Sheika has to be the other.
Pepi tapped his contacts to help bring World Cup racing to Vail in 1967. He kept tapping those contacts to help bring the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships to town in 1989, 1999 and 2015.
Pepi took Michigan’s junior congressman under his wing when Jerry and Betty Ford started making regular sojourns to Vail with their children during the late 1960s. Jerry Ford did not attract much attention in those early years.
However, when he ascended to vice president and the presidency, Ford’s Secret Service detail took a dim view of the President of the United States skiing close to the trees because, late in the day, that’s where all the good snow was. Legend has it, Pepi did nothing to discourage President Ford, reasoning that if the president could lead the free world, Pepi could lead the president toward good snow.
On the balcony above Gasthof Gramshammer’s iconic deck, Jerry and Betty often joined Pepi and Sheika to enjoy Vail’s July Fourth parade. Paraders and spectators waved. Pepi and Sheika, Jerry and Betty always smiled and waved back.
When Ford was named president, he and Betty returned the favor and invited Pepi and Sheika to the White House.
Pepi and Sheika hosted Vail’s Crystal Ball, now known as the Black Diamond Ball, a black-tie fundraiser. They raised millions for ski-related organizations and programs.
Pepi launched his Wedel Weeks ski training program in 1985, encouraging others to be as enthusiastic about skiing as he was. He was also instrumental in launching the American Ski Classic in the 1980s. It was his idea to add ski legends to the event.
Pepi’s birthday is August 6. Vail declared Pepi’s 80th birthday, August 6, 2012, as Pepi Gramshammer Day. Then again, if you love Vail like he did, every day is Pepi Day.
Letter: To all those who loved Pepi, thanks for your support
On behalf of the Gramshammer family, I want to sincerely thank the Vail community for the outpouring of love and support we have received following Pepi’s passing, just over two weeks ago now. In these last weeks, as well as through Pepi’s later years when he was experiencing health issues, this community has truly demonstrated the comfort, care and love you all had for him.
The love we have felt from those who live here, along with Gastof Gramshammer’s longtime guests and from those who knew Pepi all around the world, has been so amazing and so great that it is impossible for me to reach out to each person individually. I hope this letter can adequately express my sincere appreciation and love for you all.
My heartfelt thanks to Vail Health, Dr. Jack Eck, Sue Torries and her staff of 24/7 crew for arranging such a perfect room for Pepi with the view of Riva Ridge that he loved so much for his last days here in Vail. The care and love the staff showed him was so heartwarming. I want to especially thank the Vail Daily for honoring Pepi’s legacy by covering his passing in such a respectful manner.
A special thanks to my friends and employees who helped organize Pepi’s service and the reception afterward and to the many who came to pay their last respects. My personal gratitude to Ingrid Gass, Doris Elliott, Helmet Kaschidz, John Dakin, and Ceil Folz for their hands-on support and help leading up to that day. Thanks in advance to Vail Resorts and the Vail Valley Foundation who are helping to organize the celebration of Pepi’s life on September 20. We invite this community to join us in a true celebration of Pepi.
During Pepi’s life, the Austrian media said that “Pepi was a child of Austria and the heart of Vail.” Vail was such a big part of his heart, he loved Vail and he loved all of you. I hope that you will always keep Pepi in your heart, and in doing so, keep his legacy alive forever. Thank you.
Letter: The only way to travel for Pepi
A few years ago when the Vail Automotive Classic was starting off I received a phone call en route from Steamboat to Vail, in the midst of a cattle drive, that they would appreciate the Ferrari’s presence at their inaugural event, and to park in front of Pepi’s.
Soon after arrival, Sheika came out and loudly questioned, “Ver ist all dees flies coming from!” Well, both sides of the car were plastered with fly food. When the culprit confessed, Sheika said, “Oh, Pepi would like this,” and we went for a ride. After an unflinching triple-digit ride on unnamed roads, Pepi announced, “Dis ist the only way to travel!”
Letter: A memorable Pepi encounter
Pepi was out for a walk one afternoon when I was in Vail for a few days last May. I went up just to say hello and mentioned a mutual friend of ours, Frank Snyder, who built Stratton Mountain in Vermont. Pepi roared back, as if it were yesterday: “I won a race at Stratton!” and he reached out to shake my hand. As I looked into his eyes and felt the warmth of his strong grasp, I smiled back thinking, WOW!
Jeff and Judy Lovelace
Letter: Pepi’s beaming smile was a gift to Vail
So sad to learn of Pepi’s passing. We have always enjoyed dining at Pepi’s restaurant. It was always a pleasure to see Pepi and Sheika at a neighboring table. They always looked very happy and always very friendly. This picture was taken in March 2019 while enjoying another delicious dinner. Pepi’s beaming smile was a gift to Vail, and to everyone who was lucky enough to have known him. He will be sadly missed but never forgotten.
Letter: Always fun following Pepi down the mountain
I first met Pepi 20 years ago when we moved to Vail full-time and I signed up for Wedel Weeks. It was somewhat intimidating to ski with him in the beginning, especially when he said, “You, follow me.” He was tough to follow.
Pepi could really turn the skis and would often say, “You need to ski loco loco.” He did enjoy making all the group wedel and he would tell you in no uncertain terms if your turns were not what he wanted to see. Through the years three generations of my family have had lots of great turns and times following Pepi down the mountain. We will miss him both on the mountain and at the dinners where he always wanted to know, “Have you had a good time?” and “Have you got your money’s worth?”
We always did, and will not forget those wonderful weeks spent with a legend. It is a joy to my family that the Wedel Week tradition will continue in Pepi’s memory.
Wiest: Memories of Pepi and the old Vail days
It was the winter of 1964, my second winter in Vermont at Mount Snow working as a ski instructor from Europe. In those days when skiing became more popular in the United States, a European accent was a good addition for any American ski school. And also Austrian Skiing was a worldwide “trademark“ and well known.
Man-made snow had yet to be invented and we had a very bad winter in the East. Therefore, we had no snow and no work for a ski instructor. Instead, we were put to work cutting trees to build new trails and also just simply to keep us busy.
I was reading about the opening of Vail and got the information that they had perfect snow and that, if I could ski well enough, I would be welcome. For Bob Gratton, my Mount Snow director, it was also a good deal for him to not have to pay my salary any longer.
So, I sold my two pairs of skis to get the money for an $88 Greyhound ticket to travel to Vail. After three days, I arrived at about midnight in Vail — not too far away from Gasthof Gramshammer. Pepi Gramshammer was in those days a well-known name in European ski racing as one of the top Austrian ski racers.
For me, it was the ideal possibility to find a place to sleep. When I entered the Austrian-looking bar, I saw an Austrian face with a pretty typical Austrian head and therefore I asked the guy: “Are you Pepi?”
He said, “Yes — and who are you?” He bought me a beer and I told him my story. The result was I got a free place to sleep, a pair of Head slalom skis, and the next morning Pepi walked with me over to Morrie Sheppard and his ski school.
Morrie did not talk too long — he told me he wanted to see my skiing and we went up to the top. The famous words “follow me” was all he said and we skied down the nice Vail snow. I was quite happy to get finally good skiing again, but Morrie did not see too much of his new visitor because every time he stopped I was just beside him.
In any case, this was good enough to start the next day with a beginner class at Golden Peak. Pepi helped me also to find a place to sleep. This was my way into Vail.
I write this because I never forgot what a nice friend Pepi was when I arrived. We often met later on Vail Mountain, especially when we had fresh powder in the Back Bowls. In those days, it seems to me it was snowing the whole of January almost every night.
We often laughed when I mentioned my arrival in Vail. Pepi never got his Head skis back. Like all those young kids I liked speed, and one day I was shooting down from the top of Zot to Mid-Vail. I had some friends to watch to make sure that nobody crossed my downhill line and I was pretty proud that it worked out well. So I just did it once more — but this was not a good idea as I had a horrible spill when I missed a jump over a bump.
I broke Pepi’s skis and my left leg into pieces. In those days there was no Vail Hospital and Dr. Steinberg had to send me down to Denver where Dr. Martin Anderson at the Presbyterian Hospital was busy to get all those broken pieces of my leg back into the right place.
After some painful weeks, I came back to Vail and learned to ski at Golden Peak with my cast and on one leg. I got an idea of how tiring it is to stand all the time only on one leg, but I got used to it.
When I walked through Vail, I had a lot of time, and so I got the idea that Vail will grow and grow and grow. In those days, I had the idea that it would be wonderful to be part of this ski world when I would someday be an old man. Then I wanted to ski simply every day for myself and for my own fun.
I found a piece of land at Bishop and Perry Real Estate where I had to build on it within two years, the rule in those days. It was far outside of the little town and I bought it with all the money I could find — from loans and what I’d saved. I never sold it — because I wanted to ski when I was an old guy.
Today, I am 84 years old and I have skied in the past 20 years every winter about 90 days, just for my own fun. This kept me healthy and happy.
My land is now in the middle of Vail between Lionshead and Vail Village. Pepi told me quite often when we met that I was a smart guy. Now at 84, I don’t ski any longer and Pepi has just finished his last run. What a wonderful life.
How did Pepi come to the United States and how did I come here? We had no car, no internet, no money — and we had a lot of adventures, just to master all those difficulties to get here. We helped each other and we had friendship and fun. And now we have our memories.
Dear Pepi — you and Morrie and Pete Seibert and Bob Jacobson and Bill Peterson and John Donovan and Johnny Mueller with Anne Marie, Rod Sliferand Ludwig Kurz, and all those other ski friends. You all are today an unforgettable part of my life.
Thanks for everything — it was a very special world what seems to me now doesn’t exist any longer. It now disappears piece by piece. Bye, Pepi — another part of my world has gone.
Letter: So blessed to have Pepi in our lives
Our family has been so blessed to have the Gramshammers in our lives all the way back to the first season that Vail opened in the ’60s. Our parents met thanks to Uncle Pepi and Tante Sheika and continued a friendship throughout the years. And I think we all worked for them at some point, whether in the restaurant, sports shop, and even remodeling the beautiful establishment.
Uncle Pepi gave us all so many opportunities. I will always remember that he gave my sister and I our first skis and introduced us to racing camp in Montana. We will cherish the memories. Uncle Pepi, rest in peace. Blessings to the whole Gramshammer family.