From Vegas showgirl to ski-town icon
VAIL ” The kindness of strangers, it seems, brought Sheika Gramshammer to Vail.
A designer found her in a church in Fribourg, Switzerland, and hired her as a model, which launched her first career. The people she met when she came to Las Vegas as a showgirl helped her adjust to life in America ” even after a fire destroyed her most dear possessions.
And the people of Vail, during its first season, made her feel like she’d found a new home.
Forty years later, Sheika and her husband, former Austrian ski racer Pepi, owners of the Gasthof Gramshammer in Vail, have become Vail icons. She still runs the hotel in a very hands-on way, greeting her guests with her signature “Hello, daaahling,” with her thick Austrian accent.
Just as Sheika depended on the kindness of strangers, Vail depended on the kindness of Sheika.
She held one of the first fundraisers for Vail hospital. She raised money to build the Ford Amphitheater. She organized the Crystal Ball, which helped bring the World Alpine Skiing Championships here in 1989 and 1999.
“I just wanted to give back,” she said. “It’s my home.”
The International Skiing History Association is honoring Sheika with its lifetime achievement award for her contributions to skiing and the Vail Valley at a dinner Sunday.
Sheika was grateful but self-effacing about the award.
“The only contribution I’ve made to skiing is learning how to ski and buying ski clothes,” she said.
She didn’t learn to ski until she was in her 20s. That was the day in Aspen when she met Pepi. He gave her a jeep ride to the top of the mountain.
“I said, ‘Which ski goes on which foot?'” she said. “He said, ‘What the hell are you doing up here on the mountain?’ So he felt sorry for me, and there it was.”
Sheika was visiting Aspen from New York, where she was a model. She had also worked as a showgirl and model in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Paris and other cities around Europe and the U.S.
She visited Pepi in Vail that Christmas. Pepi was racing for Vail during its first season. On her way to town, she took a wrong turn coming from Aspen and ended up in New Castle. She turned around and got here four hours late. They got married the next year.
She was struck by the friendliness of the people in Vail.
“The way I was welcomed in Vail from the beginning, I have never experienced that before,” she said. “We all were in the same boat, rowing to a destination.”
She recalled members of the community hauling furniture and screwing in light bulbs when the hotel opened in 1964.
Sheika ” whose parents died when she was a child and doesn’t have any brothers or sisters ” felt, for the first time, that she had found a home, she said.
“I created my first home I ever had,” she said. “I finally had a nest. I had no sisters and no brothers, nothing. The future, for me, looked so bright and happy.”
Over the years, Sheika became a much better skier. If she wanted to keep up with Pepi, she had to get better. She still skis, and so does Pepi.
“I started liking skiing because of the company,” she said. “It’s a very happy occasion to go skiing. I like to go up to the top of the mountain and look around and think about how lucky I am.”
Thinking back to her start in a convent school in Switzerland, she’s not surprised to be where she is today, she said.
“I wanted to be somebody someday,” she said. “That’s why I got in trouble in school. I was always trying to be in front of someone. I was never sitting in the back.”
Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Support Local Journalism
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User