‘Women of Vail’ serialization: Italian ski champ finds a Colorado home | VailDaily.com

‘Women of Vail’ serialization: Italian ski champ finds a Colorado home

Pia Riva was one of "The Fast Ladies," a group of former ski racers who skied together every year in Vail.
Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from “Women of Vail,” by Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. The Vail Daily is serializing the book as Vail marks its 50th anniversary and beyond. Books are available for purchase at http://www.bookwormofedwards.com, the Colorado Ski Museum, Pepi’s, Gorsuch, Annie’s and the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

Growing up at the foot of the Alps near the Dolomites meant skiing was always part of my life. I preferred it to studying. Racing followed quite naturally, and I made the Italian National Team and was 10 times Italian National Champion. I went to two World Championships and two Olympics (two fourth-place finishes in downhill and a silver medal in 1962). I was also a ski instructor. After high school, I studied languages at the School of Interpreters, preparing me for international travel.

I heard of Vail from Pepi Gramshammer, who had been my very first ski coach. He told me to come to the new resort to work and live because it was going to be the “place of the future.” In March of 1964, while racing with the U.S. Ski Team, I visited Vail and learned about the mountain, the Back Bowls, and skiing powder. I did get a job with the ski school (under Morrie Shepard), but it was a few years before I made it to Vail to work, as I had gotten married in California.

Pepi and Sheika invited me to a party where I met great locals: The Seiberts, Bob Parker, Dick and Christy Hauserman, Antonio Guadagni, and George and Ellie Caulkins. I knew the Gorsuches and Anneliese Meggle-Freeman from ski racing. It was fun from the start.

When I arrived in 1964, Vail stole my heart. It was very small, quaint, and buried in snow. You could walk everywhere. The ski runs were magnificent, and the powder superb. There were no bumps anywhere, and I could ski untracked snow all day long. I had had a lot of curiosity about Vail. Even though I knew many mountain villages and ski resorts in Europe plus a few in the USA, I was curious to see how this one was going to turn out.

For me, Vail is the best mountain for teaching. It has fabulous snow, good organization and wonderful people. I have great friends here. I come back every year to ski with the “Fast Ladies” (a group of Olympians from the ‘60s) and to enjoy Vail all over again.

Ski racing was my event, the faster the better. But I also liked rock climbing, hiking and swimming. The mountains of Colorado were perfect for me.

Note: My last name is Riva. On my first day of skiing in Vail with other U.S. ski racers, we were going back down to the Village, and they led me down a trail. When I saw the name, Riva Ridge, I was so pleased. “Ohhh,” I thought, “I am really famous. Even in Vail, they know I won a silver medal.”

After I met Pete Seibert, I learned the story of the 10th Mountain Division in the war and the naming of Riva Ridge.

“Women of Vail” was produced by a team that includes Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope, publishers; Joanne Morgan, designer and production; and Rosalie Hill Isom, writer-editor.

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