Vail is home, Dahlink: Sheika, Pepi Gramshammer honored with Vail Trailblazer Award
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 first part of a two-part series. Part two will publish in the Saturday, March 3, Vail Daily.
VAIL — Sheika and Pepi Gramshammer invested their hearts in Vail and each other.
They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2014 and their 50th year in Gastof Gramshammer that same winter. They’re the last original owners of a Vail Village business.
“I came to American to marry a rich American. Look how well it turned out!” Sheika laughed.
“She was the best. She still is,” Pepi said, smiling at the good fortune that hard work and a little luck brought him. “I could never have done this in Austria. You can’t believe how lucky I am. No one is luckier than I.”
They made Vail their home and never left.
“Vail became what I never had before — a home. It’s my home, the only home I ever had. It opened its arms to all of us, embraced us with such a force and such love, that you cannot help but being happy and in love with this town,” Sheika said in her contribution to the book “Women of Vail.”
Heart of Vail
True beauty lasts, and that’s why Sheika Gramshammer has been the belle of Vail’s ball for a half century as she and Pepi greet Gastof Gramshammer guests. Sheika 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 more than five decades, that’s what Sheika and Pepi have been — the heart of Vail.
They’re Sheika and Pepi, and Pepi and Sheika. That’s all people need to hear to know who you’re talking about.
They’re this year’s Vail Trailblazer Award honorees, an annual honor for those who helped build Vail into a great resort community.
Stories of their lives
Most of us have a Pepi and Sheika story, but Sheika and Pepi have the best Pepi and Sheika stories.
Pepi was raised in Austria as an apprentice cheesemaker. He worked four years to earn a spot on the Austrian national ski team, but somehow was left off that country’s Olympic squad when it was his turn. He turned pro and was a hotshot professional ski racer when Vail Pioneer Dick Hauserman found him in 1961.
Sheika was born in Austria, lived in Switzerland, worked as a model in Paris and immigrated to Las Vegas in 1959 as a performer with a Paris show: 120 people, 40 from Paris. Legendary dancer Juliet Prowse was one of the stars.
“It was considered by some to be the first girly show in Las Vegas,” Sheika said with a smile.
The show returned to Paris, but Sheika stayed, joining a show that performed at The Sands as the opening act for The Rat Pack: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Joey Bishop. Frank Sinatra signed Sheika’s work visa so she could stay in this country. Conrad Hilton signed her green card.
She stuck around Las Vegas and worked with Universal Studios in Hollywood and as a fashion model for some of New York City’s most elite labels.
‘Love at first sight — Or pretty fast’
If Ralph Jackson had driven Sheika’s Jeep like he was supposed to, then she would never have met Pepi.
Pepi popped into Sheika’s life in Aspen in November 1962. Sheika was in Aspen to visit her friend Barbara, to learn to ski and to open a house for the owner of the Red Onion.
She had met Pepi 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 Aspen 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,” Sheika said.
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 and then invited her to spend Christmas 1962 in Vail. She accepted and drove from Aspen to Vail in a snowstorm. That Jeep’s heater was more or less theoretical.
They got engaged and were 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.
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.
“I wanted to stay in Aspen, but I also wanted to be married to Pepi,” Sheika 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.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.