American dreamers: Vail Trailblazers Sheika, Pepi Gramshammer still in the heart of Vail
Vail Trailblazer Award
The Gramshammers will be formally recognized with this year’s Vail Trailblazer Award at the Tuesday, March 6, evening Vail Town Council meeting. They’ll also be honored during Vail’s Annual Community Meeting on Tuesday, March 13, at Donovan Pavilion. For more information about the Vail Trailblazer Award and the nomination process, visit the town’s website at ww.vailgov.com/trailblazeraward.
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part series. Find the first part at http://www.vaildaily.com.
VAIL — Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer knew that if you want to get ahead, you had to own something. They do. They own the heart of Vail, and they own Gasthof Gramshammer, located in the heart of Vail.
It’s not complicated. It’s just work.
“Dreams come wrapped in work. But what would a dream be if you didn’t achieve something? The only way to achieve something is through work,” Sheika said.
Pepi, a hotshot professional ski racer, had saved every penny he made while racing. Vail Pioneer Dick Hauserman and others helped Sheika and Pepi round up a couple of investors, and they put their dreams to work building Gasthof Gramshammer.
In those days, Vail had the opposite growth problem that it does now — if you didn’t build in a year, you lost the option on your land.
Sheika and Pepi had lots of options for Vail Village locations. They bought their lot because, as Pepi observed, it’s on the right as people walk through the village toward the mountain. He also calculated that the sun would stay longer on their deck than other spots nearby and people would stick around longer in the winter.
They bought the land for $2 per square foot from Gene Murphy and dove in head first. While they were building it that summer, and while Sheika was running The Plaza Building, working as a bartender for Paul Testwuide in Marge and Larry Burdick’s Red Lion — Vail’s first restaurant — Sheika drove back and forth to a business school in Denver to take classes.
“It was the most amazing experience a young woman can have,” Sheika said. “We just did it, but with the help of everyone in this town. But then hard work starts.”
When Pepi and Sheika opened Gasthof Gramshammer on Dec. 18, 1964, it was 21 rooms — 14 hotel rooms and seven dorm rooms downstairs where Sheika’s nightclub is now — the boys’ dorm on one side, the girls’ dorm on the other.
Sheika still had connections in Las Vegas. Rock Hudson, Barbra Streisand and Kirk Douglas visited Vail. So did Marlene Dietrich, Louie Armstrong and hundreds of other celebrities and luminaries. Take a stroll through Gasthof Gramshammer. The photos on the walls are as thorough a history of Vail’s early days as you’re likely to find anywhere. Celebrities signed photos. So did ski racers, politicians and professional athletes.
While on the road with the Austrian national ski team, and later on the professional circuit, Pepi noticed things both big and small about the hotels he spent so much time in.
“I saw things I’d like to do if I ever got the chance,” Pepi said. “Well, I got the chance.”
Skiing is ‘Forever’
Before Vail was Vail, Pepi skied here.
Pepi was a huge star in international ski racing. Sponsors gave him equipment and cars, and he helped ensure success for the International Professional Ski Racers Association.
Pepi was young and good looking — a hot commodity.
That’s how Vail Pioneer Dick Hauserman found him.
In the late 1950s and early ’60s, Hauserman, Pete Seibert, George Caulkins, Harley Higbie and others were like traveling revival preachers, and Vail was their Promised Land. Pepi was being recruited to join the fledgling ski company.
Pepi agreed to ski Vail on April 17, 1962, eight months before the resort opened, and two days after winning the final race in the professional ski racing season at Loveland. Roger Brown drove to Loveland in his VW bus to bring Pepi back to what would become Vail.
“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 Seibert, Brown, Bob Parker and Morrie Shepard. Pete drove. Vail’s first lifts wouldn’t be built until that summer.
“I had never seen so much snow,” Pepi said. “It was the most beautiful day we’ve ever had in ski country.”
They spent the night in a small cabin atop the mountain, and the next morning launched themselves into what would become Vail’s world famous Back Bowls. Pepi didn’t stop until he hit the bottom, his first tracks are now followed by millions of others.
What goes down must come up, even if you have to hike.
“That took forever,” he said, smiling, when he climbed out, and that’s how the run was named.
Daughters Kira and Sheika were born and raised in Vail and now help run the family business.
Gasthof Gramshammer’s signature deck is a Vail icon, especially in the summer when the flower boxes are in full bloom, a tradition that other Vail Village businesses now follow.
The charismatic couple called on their international friendships to help bring World Cup ski racing to Vail as early as 1967. They worked with International Ski Federation executives to help bring the Alpine World Ski Championships to Vail in 1989, 1999 and 2015.
Pepi became President Gerald R. Ford’s personal Vail ski guide. Ford’s Secret Service detail got really happy when the president stayed in the middle of the runs and away from trees. Ford and Pepi both had their own ideas, and Ford skied where he darn well pleased.
Sheika and Betty Ford were great friends, and Sheika was an early supporter of the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens after the First Family made Vail their part-time home in later years.
Still live above the store
The Vail Trailblazer Award was established during the town’s 50th birthday celebration in 2016. The Gramshammers are the third recipients to be honored and were selected by a town council committee.
Sheika said she and Pepi are honored to be recipients.
“Vail has not only been our home, but has become the foundation in our lives for 54 years,” she said. “To be recognized by the town of Vail is a wonderful tribute to our family’s legacy.”
Pepi and Sheika, Sheika and Pepi still have an apartment above the store where they live most of the time.
“We still live above the business because we still love living in Vail,” Sheika said. “Vail is our home. It was our first home together and the only home we’ve ever had.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
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