Vail originals ride first on a Vail original |

Vail originals ride first on a Vail original

Scott N. Miller/

VAIL, Colorado – Two of Vail’s originals will take the first ride at 9 a.m. Friday when Chair 5 reopens Friday morning.

Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer were around Vail before there was a Vail, and they’re the only remaining original owners of a Vail Village business. You can’t miss Gasthof Gramshammer, it’s in the middle of everything good – just like the Pepi and Sheika themselves.

“Pepi was the star,” Sheika said. “I’m just coming along for the ride. He rode the lift when they opened the Back Bowls.”

So, are you training for the occasion?

“Am I in training? You wouldn’t believe it!” Sheika said laughing. “I’m practicing sitting down gracefully and getting up gracefully.”

“We’re supposed to ski through the ribbon for the ribbon cutting and I’m making sure I keep my skis straight and don’t cross them,” Sheika said. “I don’t want to be like one of those people who kisses the ground when they get off an airplane.”

A ride on the High Noon Express Lift, aka Chair 5, will last six minutes, less than half the ride time of the triple chair it replaces. It also opens Vail’s legendary Back Bowls, bringing Vail’s early season total to more than 5,000 skiable acres.

And like Pepi and Sheika, the Back Bowls have been always been there, part of the community’s heart and soul since Vail opened almost 50 years ago.

Back then, skiers rode a gondola out of Vail Village and two chairlifts. One was the lift out those Back Bowls – Sun Up Bowl on the east side, and Sun Down Bowl on the west with High Noon Ridge.

Pepi was among the first to ski the terrain, before the resort ever opened. He was a professional ski racer and was being recruited to join the crew at the fledgling ski company. That was the spring of 1961 and Pepi was competing, but when the season ended he rolled over Highway 6 to the wide spot in the road that would become Vail – this was a decade and a half before Interstate 70.

Pepi named the run “Forever” under Chair 5 when he and fellow Vail pioneers Pete Seibert, Bob Parker and Morrie Shepard skied it before the lift was installed. It would take “forever” to hike back out, Pepi said.

Vail opened the following winter, December 1962. He and Sheika were newlyweds when they opened Gasthof Gramshammer in 1964. Some of Vail’s other pioneers pitched in to help them get started and survive those early years. It’s a mindset they hold to this day.

“I have a motto: ‘I made my money in Vail and I’ll leave my money in Vail.’ We need to support each other,” Sheika said.

And …

“Snow is good for your mental outlook,” she said. “We’re looking forward to the people, the new lift, the new season and a new life.”

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