Sheika Gramshammer honored for Lifetime Achievement by the Vail Centre
February 8, 2017
VAIL — Sheika Gramshammer flashes her million-watt smile, calls you "Dahlink!" and the world is a warmer place.
Ask anyone where Sheika and Pepi's Gasthof Gramshammer is located, and they'll say, "In the heart of Vail."
And for 53 years that's what Sheika has been — the heart of Vail.
Sheika is being presented with a lifetime achievement award by The Vail Centre, as part of this year's Torch Awards.
“The goal is to ensure the characteristics of Vail’s founders are passed along, like a torch, from generation to generation.”Ross IversonDirector, Vail Centre
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"It's a great honor and a surprise, but when they told me I was getting a lifetime achievement award, I asked, 'For what?'" Sheika said, laughing.
Then she had a better idea.
"Why don't we call it the Hanging In There Award?" she said, flashing that smile.
She says she knew very little about running a hotel when she and Pepi opened Gastof Gramshammer on Dec. 18, 1964. 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 she was running The Plaza Building for Dick Hauserman and 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 business school in Denver to take classes.
She jokes that she needed to learn when to use black ink and when to use red ink.
"It was not easy to work, not knowing what you're doing. Every day was 'Hang in there. Hang in there.' It's gonna be OK," she said.
"Pepi would get frustrated and I would say, 'Don't give up. Hang in there. It's gonna be OK.' Or I would get upset and he would say, 'Hang in there, Sheika. It's gonna be OK.
"Saying 'Hang in there, it's gonna be OK,' was amazing in the beginning. It gave us the strength to look ahead and believe we could make it. Yes, we can do it.
"What does he say now? 'Not so bad after all!'
"As long as we stay together as a community, that is the super glue. Even if we have a year with no snow, if we respect each other, we can make it. Hang in there, Vail. It's gonna be OK. And at the end of a year like that, we can say, 'Not so bad after all.'"
The third annual Torch Awards are presented by The Vail Centre. Ross Iverson, director of The Vail Centre, said their goal is to provide learning experiences that inspire personal growth and a commitment to community.
"We feel it is important to recognize those in our community who are demonstrating excellence, providing examples to others and forging a path for our future," Iverson said.
The first Torch Award winner was Rod Slifer. The second was Terry Minger, Vail's first town manager in the 1960s and '70s. Along with Lifetime Achievement, the Vail Centre awards leadership (Eagle Valley High School Principal Greg Doan), entrepreneurship (Crazy Mountain Brewery's Marisa and Kevin Selvy) nonprofit leadership (Elyse Howard, Development Director, Habitat for Humanity Vail Valley) and future leader (Kristen McLean, President Leeds Council Student Government).
"The goal is to ensure the characteristics of Vail's founders are passed along, like a torch, from generation to generation," Iverson said.
Vail embraced Sheika and Sheika embraced Vail like no one else.
"They welcomed me as Pepi's girlfriend with open arms," she said. "As Pepi's wife I was even more welcome. From then on I had support from all sides."
All of those early Vail women helped her open the hotel. Marge Burdick, Christy Hill — the list is long.
"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."
The women of Vail were even her support team when Sheika and Pepi had a fight. (Her support team almost unfailingly decided it was Pepi's fault.) She called opening Gasthof Gramshammer "a dream come true."
"But then hard work starts," Sheika said. "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."
Gasthof Gramshammer was 21 rooms — 14 hotel rooms and seven dorm rooms downstairs where Sheika's nightclub is now. The boys' dorm was on one side, the girls' dorm was on the other.
"There might have been things going on down there," Sheika said, her eyebrows arched.
From Vegas with love
Sheika was born in Austria, lived in Switzerland, worked as a model in Paris and immigrated to Las Vegas in 1959 as a performer.
She headed to Aspen to visit her friend Barbara, and to learn to ski.
"And then I got stuck," she said smiling.
That Las Vegas show in the El Rancho featured the Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Her show was part of the opening act.
"There was no girlie show at that time. We were the first. Very small but very elegant," Sheika said.
The show went back to Paris, but Sheika wanted to stay in the U.S., so Sinatra signed her contract. Conrad Hilton signed her green card.
She landed work as a model in New York for some of the world's most elite labels.
'Love at first sight — Or pretty fast'
Sheika and Pepi just celebrated their 53rd wedding anniversary, so she figures it'll last.
Pepi popped into her life in Aspen in November of 1962. He was a professional ski racer and was training for the pro circuit. He was under contract with Vail Associates — which became Vail Resorts in the 1990s — but Vail would not open for another month.
If Ralph Jackson had driven the Jeep like he was supposed to, Sheika would not have met Pepi.
She was visiting Aspen from New York, staying with her girlfriend Barbara and learning to ski. She had met Pepi the night before at a Red Onion party.
Austrian ski legend Anderl Molterer was also at that Red Onion party and had promised to teach Sheika to ski the next day. He didn't.
"He stood me up," Sheika said.
Sheika and Barbara had a Jeep, their only way to get up the mountain. Pepi had missed his ride to the top of the mountain and was looking pretty darned forlorn, standing beside the road.
"Where's Molterer?" Sheika and Barbara asked Pepi.
"He's training! It's 10 o'clock!" Pepi said.
So Pepi drove their Jeep up the mountain.
Once up there, Sheika pulled out her skis and asked him, "Which ski goes on which foot?"
"What do you mean?" Pepi asked. "You don't know how to ski?"
"No. I've never skied," Sheika said.
"Well what the hell are you doing up here?!?" Pepi asked.
Sheika said Pepi felt sorry for her and taught her to turn. He left to train, but returned about 45 minutes later to teach her to turn the other way.
Ralph Jackson was supposed to drive the Jeep back down, but was nowhere to be found.
"I was at the top of Ajax at 3 o'clock in the afternoon and everybody was leaving. Ralph skied by and yelled, 'Sheika! I'll see you at the Red Onion!' Here I was with a Jeep I didn't know how to drive and skis I didn't know how to ski."
She knew someone was still training on the other side, so she climbed up and looked over. It was Pepi, who hiked up and drove her down.
"I was in tears. I was crying and he comforted me," she said.
He taught her a little more about skiing, then invited her to spend Christmas 1962 in Vail.
In April 1963, after Vail's first season, Vail Associates offered Pepi another contract. He loved Vail, loved the community, loved Vail's founders, and loved Sheika. She moved to Vail in 1963, and they got married in February 1964. Their wedding was a street party in Aspen, back and forth between Guido's, The Golden Horn and the Red Onion.
"And that was the beginning of our fighting love story," she smiled.
"If you marry for love and you don't fight a little, it's like a jellyfish. You just float there. You need those waves once in a while. Pepi and I fought because we are both very strong. But we never, ever got so mad with each other that we said, 'That's it!' He stayed in bed and I stayed in bed. In the morning you got mad that you couldn't stay mad."
"After 53 years, I wouldn't know what to do without him."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.