The Gramshammers – a match made in Aspen
Sheika was born in a small town in Austria on the Yugoslavian-Italian border. She attended a convent school in Switzerland and, after graduating, obtained a job with a Swiss clothing designer. He was the first stepping stone in her life. She was 16 years old, and he hired her as a model. She accompanied him to Germany and Italy. In 1957, she moved to Paris and took a job in a distinguished, elegant nightclub. She loved dancing, so she became a dancing showgirl.
At that time it was very prestigious to be a showgirl. In November, the show received a contract to go to Las Vegas and Sheika was one of the lucky girls who was chosen to go. Arriving in Las Vegas at 2 a.m., the group was met by Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra and Joey Lewis. Theirs was the first show to come to Las Vegas from France, and it received an unbelievable welcome.
From there, Sheika was offered a contract with Universal Studios, and while she was in Los Angeles signing the contract, the ranch outside of Las Vegas where she was staying burned down with all of her belongings.
“All my childhood, my albums, everything – the only things I had left were my passport, my identification, and a little suitcase,” Sheika says. “When I got back to Las Vegas there was nothing to pick up. It was like I started a new life – my past was in ashes. America, here I am!”
After Las Vegas, Sheika worked in New York. When she went out, people would ask her where she was from, and when she told them she was from Austria, they always assumed that she was a fantastic skier. She had never been on a pair of skis. She said she was in love with a Frenchman who was a good skier and thought she would surprise him and learn how to ski.
Sheika had a girlfriend in Aspen, and in November 1962 she went there to learn to ski. It was early in the season and the lifts were not open, so they drove up in jeeps to the top. Werner Kuster, who owned the Red Onion and was the exhusband of Sheika’s godmother, took her to dinner. Several racers were there having a party, and one of them happened to be Pepi. He was, according to Sheika, a “smartass” at the time.
The next day she was about to take her first lesson but the instructor stood her up. Pepi came down the street, and she asked him if he knew how to drive a jeep. Pepi said he would drive them up. He was glad to see the girls, because he had missed his ride to Ajax for training. When they got to the top, Sheika’s friend Barbara put on her skis, and Sheika asked Pepi which ski went on which foot.
“What the hell are you doing up here?” he asked her.
She told him it was her first lesson, and he said, “Keep practicing” and went off to his training. He did come back and drive them down. Sheika said she really liked skiing. But she wasn’t impressed with Pepi. She thought he was one of those Austrian skiers who think they are “God’s gift to this world.”
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 91st installment, an excerpt from chapter 12, “The Ever-Increasing “New Locals.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.