Let’s "wedel’ | VailDaily.com

Let’s "wedel’

Stephen Lloyd Wood

Special to the DailyWith Pepi's Face as a backdrop, the entourage of three dozen guests and six Vail ski instructors taking part in this month's session of Pepi's Wedel Weeks flank the program's 71-year-old namesake, Pepi Gramshammer, bottom row, center, in the blue suit with black sleeves. Gramshammer started the program in 1985, and participants have been known to return as many as two dozen times.

It’s been said life is what happens while you’re making other plans.For skiers who partake in Pepi’s Wedel Weeks, however, plans happen while you’re living life.”I want you to work really hard,” Gramshammer, 71, told his more than three dozen or so participants in the program earlier this month. “You know you’re going to get a lot better.””A good way to start the season’Approaching its 20th season, Pepi’s Wedel Weeks has become a cherished tradition for a close-knit group of spirited skiers, most of whom have returned time and again to Vail for the thrice-annual, six-day workshop that combines intense daily instruction from Vail’s top instructors with world-class cuisine and unrivalled camaraderie.It just may just be the best way both to improve one’s skiing and meet lifelong friends – in the short and long term.Bill Ott of Denver, who owns a condo in East Vail, is a an “old timer,” having participated more than 10 times. He’s a veteran who skies in the program’s top group – ranked at “9” out of nine.”It’s partly the instruction, partly the camaraderie,” says Ott. “It’s a good way to start the season, and you make friends from all over the world.”Ski bondingKey to Pepi’s Wedel Weeks is the art of grouping skiers with similar abilities and goals with instructors who focus on those abilities and goals, not only on the slopes but at social occasions throughout the week. At breakfast or lunch, or during one of three organized dinners – or even out on the town at night – the bond between a skier and his or her instructor grows and grows, translating into serious gains back on the mountain.”It’s six days of instruction with a small group and an instructor who can really focus on their needs,” says Dieter Frank, an Austrian-born ski racer to whom Gramshammer’s been giving more and more responsibility in the program. “In this case, we can watch and really take care of somebody.”With the low-end skiers, you can make a really big difference. I always ask them their focus and expectations. I form a plan for the whole week, and they really appreciate that.””For us, it’s a great challenge, too,” Frank adds.Skiing with PepiAnybody worth his or her edges during Pepi’s Wedel Weeks typically enjoys a morning or so with Gramshammer, an Austrian-born ski champion who helped put Vail on the map as a world-class ski resort. He is inspiring to ski with – at 71 years old he can still dominate a group lesson. The other instructors, in fact, take a bow and become students themselves.With his ever-present smile, Gramshammer simply glides away, demanding someone follow him, seemingly moving nothing above his knees – except the wrists flicking poles – as he takes flight down the mountain, a white rooster tail in his wake.Preferring Vail’s Front Side to the Back Bowls on a powder day, he says a knee bothers him nowadays, although it’s not apparent.”Come over this way,” he says, leading the group to a line at edge of the trees. “The powder is good over here.””Teach with the positive’Eliott Josephson of Chicago says he has attended Wedel Weeks 20 times or so since 1990. He says he enjoys skiing with another Austrian-born instructor, Richard Wulz of Innsbruck, who’s been teaching for 38 years, including 12 seasons in Australia. Wulz has a style with an Austrian flavor that somehow brings out the best – while focusing on doing the least.”I don’t want you to do too much work. Just think about following this,” Wulz says early on, pointing to his belly.A skier in the group – a veteran with a collection of bad habits – points out that with Wulz’s method perhaps he “has a lot to work with.”With a barrel laugh, in a German accent, Wulz signals he’s in total agreement.”I try to teach with the positive, not the negative,” Wulz says later. “If you tell them what they’re doing wrong, unfortunately they focus on that.””Ski with these guys’Jan Kovacic of San Francisco has participated in the program three times, twice bringing his wife, Julie Cummings. He calls skiing with Gramshammer and Wulz an “enriching experience” in which one learns to apply new skills “right away.”An instructor certified by the Professional Ski Instructors Association himself, Kovacic says his own skiing has steadily improved.”They teach something new everyday. They’re always looking for ways to explain things you do with your body. Something in you triggers the moment, and everybody in the group can see it,” says Kovacic. “If you want to make a quantum leap in improvement, ski with these guys for a week.””A higher level’Wulz says the biggest challenge for him as an instructor with Pepi’s Wedel Weeks has been teaching Carolyn Horton of Springfield, Mo., who’s come back to the program two dozen times.”When I first started with Wedel Weeks, I was a beginner, maybe a “2′. Now, I’m an “8′ or so,” says Horton, adding when she took on skiing at 40-years-old she was “the world’s worst athlete.””No, she was a low intermediate,” adds Wulz, openly displaying affection for Horton and the rest of his loyal followers. “But now she can ski huge bumps and can go anywhere on the mountain.””I used to be scared of the mountain; now I can go anywhere,” she says, further clarifying her improvement over the years. “I’ve even been heli-skiing in Canada.”Paul Bryer of Charlston, S.C., a skier for 50 years on his first visit to Wedel Weeks this year, says he first learned of Pepi’s Wedel Weeks from reading about it in SKI magazine, which praised the program.”A guy had gone from a beginner to a good moguls skier,” Bryer says. “That intrigued me. I’m here to try to get to a higher level.””The feeling’Part of the Pepi’s Wedel Weeks experience is race training, in which the instructors focus on techniques they themselves gleaned from years of gliding through gates in slalom and giant slalom events. The afternoon of the fourth day, for example, guests head for a NASTAR course somewhere on Vail Mountain to learn how to put it all together; and on the sixth day, they let it all hang out against the clock for trophies and prizes awarded at the final banquet dinner.”It’s the culmination of all the skills we’ve been working on all week,” says instructor Andy Gould while sending his group down the course on Swingsville, above Mid-Vail. “These people never could have done this at the beginning.”Gramshammer, who won his share of international and professional ski races in his heyday as member of the Austrian National Ski Team, says the race training is an important part of Pepi’s Wedel Weeks.”The racing is so they get the feeling,” says Gramshammer. “It helps make them a better skier because they train for it, they work for it.””Lasting improvements’Doug Johnson, director and training coordinator for the ski schools at Vail and Beaver Creek, says being assigned to Pepi’s Wedel Weeks is “a privilege for any instructor” as its rewards don’t typically come around teaching regular day lessons. The instructors really enjoy the program, he says, as it’s defined for a relatively long time, and the guests often come back year after year looking for their expertise and friendship.”This is one of the higher-profile bookings,” says Johnson. “You really get a chance to connect with the guest and make lasting improvements to their skiing.”The next two sessions of Pepi’s Wedel Weeks are scheduled for Jan. 10-17 and Jan. 17-24. For more information, call 476-5626 or visit http://www.wedelweeks.com.Was ist “wedel’?((Note to editors: Please do not mess with this headline, which is in German – SW))By Stephen Lloyd WoodThe name for Pepi’s Wedel Weeks comes from the German word “wedel” -pronounced “VAY-del” – which literally means “dog wagging its tail.”Of course it can have other meanings, too, as Pepi Gramshammer – an Austrian ski hero – can attest.”Well, it also means “short turns,'” he says, referring to a skiing technique developed in Austria’s Arlberg region around Lech Zurs, the “sister city” to Beaver Creek.While skiing equipment has changed dramatically over the years, Gramshammer says, “learning “the wedel'” still is a great way to improve technique while controlling one’s speed down the slopes, typically on smooth runs without a lot of pitch – although it also can be done successfully on steeper slopes with deep powder.”Just anybody can’t go out there and wedel,” says Gramshammer. “You got to be a really good skier.”One way to visualize “the wedel” is to imagine the ski tips keeping a straight line down the hill while the rest of the skis do a swishing motion behind, like windshield wipers. Viewed from in front or behind, the only parts of the body appearing to move are the legs below the knees carving small turns, and the wrists quickly and gently planting the poles.”You can see it, in the fall line, making one turn after another; it helps a lot,” says Gramshammer, perhaps Vail’s best “wedeller” of all time. “The body goes straight, the knees do everything. You don’t have to do very much.”But you have to work at it,” he adds. “You can’t just go out there and wedel.”Richard Wulz, a Vail ski instructor who’s been with Pepi’s Wedel Weeks for 15 years, says “the Wedel Weeks idea” began in Austria as a marketing concept aimed at enticing guests to mount their skis early for a good start to the season; it also can create business for hotels and ski schools before the high season gets going, he says.Ron Davis of Edwards, meanwhile, describes “the wedel” as what Gramshammer values most in technique, both in skiing and in life.”It’s the fundamental platform,” he says. “Like in golf, being a classic type-A personality, I had to learn it’s all about relaxing, not attacking. Staying loose and relaxed enables you to “wedel.'””Wedel’ money well-spentBy Stephen Lloyd WoodThere’s no doubt Pepi’s Wedel Weeks is for the well-heeled skier, as it includes accommodations at one of two exclusive Vail hotels – the host’s own Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer, or the Lodge at Vail.For example, prices for this month’s session, at low season, ranged from $2,045 for a shared double room at the former to $2,530 for a single at the latter; in January, during high season, those rates increase to $2,190 and $2,635, respectively. Other packages are available.By comparison, six full days of individual lessons with the Vail Ski & Snowboard School alone can cost from up to $720, depending on the time of season. The everyday group dynamic with that program, however, is bound to change and there’s no guarantee a particular instructor will be available.Six all-day lessons for groups of up to six skiers, meanwhile, can cost from $2,940 to $3,240 per group.But keep in mind: Participants in Pepi’s Wedel Weeks receive accommodations with a full breakfast every day, three organized dinners and a collection of souvenir clothing, including a fleece sweater, a pair of gloves and a neck-warmer. Discounts on skis and clothing also are available at Pepi’s Sports.”That’s part of the strength of this program,” says Doug Johnson, supervisor and training coordinator for the ski schools at Vail and Beaver Creek. “The guest knows who their instructor will be, and they’re getting one who not only understands the program but understands them, as well.”While the majority of participants in Pepi’s Wedel Weeks are from out of town, a growing number of them are locals – or at least they own a second home in the Vail Valley. For them, Pepi’s Wedel Weeks is not only a special time to see and ski with friends they’ve known for years, but a way to dramatically improve their skiing over the course of a season – at about half the price their counterparts pay.With a place to stay and a season pass already, for example, a local individual can participate for about a thousand dollars.”It’s a spectacular deal,” says Bill Ott of Denver, who owns a condo in East Vail.”Pepi, personally, adds a very charming and gracious approach to ski instruction,” adds Ron Davis of Edwards, who participated recently with his wife, Lucy. “The whole week really pushes you beyond your comfort zone, particularly in endurance.”