When Forever meant forever
VAIL, Colorado – Imagine starting a major league baseball team and landing Alex Rodriguez to anchor your infield, when A-Rod in his prime.
Vail’s founders swung for the fences when Pepi Gramshammer agreed to ski Vail on April 17, 1962, eight months before the resort opened. That was two days after winning the final race in the professional ski racing season at Loveland.
“I’ve never seen so much snow,” Pepi said, his bright blue eyes sparkling under his silver hair, sitting the lobby of Gastof Gramshammer. “It was the most beautiful day we’ve ever had in ski country.”
He has positioned his soft armchair so he can see the front of Vail Mountain and the run named for him, “Pepi’s Face.”
Pepi scoots up to the front of his chair as his left hand makes a sweeping gesture across the front of the mountain. Those blue eyes sparkle and he begins to explain what he remembers – and he remembers it all, perfectly.
“I never stopped it was so beautiful,” he said.
He says it’s true about that day, his good luck, and his adorable bride Sheika who’s celebrating her birthday today.
But before we can tell you that story, we have to tell you this story.
Pepi was a huge star on the international ski racing stage. He looked good on a newspaper page, his flamboyance helped ensure the International Professional Ski Racers Association’s success, and his skiing was sensational.
Newspaper headlines across the United States and Europe screamed his name:
• “Gramshammer wins pro ski dash”
• “Gramshammer altri 1,000 dollari”
• “Autograph seekers mob Pepi”
There’s Pepi pictured in a Porsche some sponsor gave him. Howard Head made sure Pepi had the best possible ski technology. Sun Valley was paying him to ski with clients and guests.
He was racing with and against his best friends, winning piles of prize money. He was young, he was good looking, he was a hot commodity.
And that’s how Vail pioneer Dick Hauserman found him.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Hauserman was like a traveling revival preacher and Vail was his Promised Land.
Hauserman introduced Pepi to Vail founder Pete Seibert and, like so much of life, timing was everything.
Pepi was raised an Austrian cheese maker during and after World War II. When he got his hands on some money, he hung onto it. He made big money as a professional ski racer, and saved almost every dime.
In fact, on April 15, 1962, he won his race and several thousand dollars at Loveland ski area, his accomplishments chronicled prominently in the Denver Post.
So it was easy for a few Vail pioneers to bring him to the Gore Creek Valley to get his first look at the vision that would become Vail. It was a wide spot on U.S. Highway 6 – a decade and a half before Interstate 70 – and he was being recruited to join the fledgling ski company.
“Lots of dirt and one snowcat was about all they seemed to have,” Pepi said, chuckling at the memory.
Vail had one building, one snowcat, lots of moxie, and snow. Lots and lots of snow that spring.
If you send down to central casting for a perfect Colorado ski day, they’ll send you back April 17, 1962. Sparkling clear blue skies and snow reaching to the heavens.
Pepi climbed into that snowcat with Vail pioneers Seibert, Bob Parker and Morrie Shepard. Pete drove. Vail’s first lifts wouldn’t be built until that summer.
It takes forever to motor to the top of a mountain in what was then one of those new-fangled snow machines. Pepi says he had never seen so much snow before or since.
A hut had been built at the top and to get out of the snowcat they had to climb onto the top of that hut, then scramble down.
They had lunch, skied around the summit a while, then launched themselves down that south slope. Pepi didn’t stop until he hit the bottom, his first tracks now followed by so many millions of others.
“It was so beautiful I could have skied forever,” he said, and that’s how the run got its name.
The hike out also took forever. When he finally climbed back to the snowcat, Parker, Seibert and Shepard were still laughing.
That one run convinced Pepi.
“I left Sun Valley and came to Vail,” Pepi said. “They were not happy that I was leaving.”
For reasons that are not part of this story, he’d been left off the Austrian Olympic ski team and decided to turn pro. In those days amateurs really didn’t get paid, and he needed to.
He left Austria for the United States and is a classic American success story.
Pepi met Sheika in Aspen in 1962 while he was training for that season’s pro ski tour. He grins that if it wasn’t love at first sight, “it came on really fast.”
“She was the best. She still is,” he said smiling.
They married, she came to Vail, they bought their Vail Village land for $2 a square foot and built Gastof Gramshammer with the help of good friends and each other. They’re the only original owners of a Vail Village business.
“I could never have done this in Austria,” he said. “You can’t believe how lucky I am. No one is luckier than I.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or email@example.com.
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