Carnes: True legends never die
The man had been a legend for decades before I ever had the honor of meeting him.
It was the mid-80s and I was in my mid-20s, and at the time all I knew was one of the coolest restaurants in town had his name on it, and I was pretty sure there were a few hotel rooms connected as well.
Ignorance is indeed wasted on the youth.
I quickly learned the man and his beautiful wife were not only Vail Royalty but instrumental in the then 22-year evolution of making Vail, well, “Vail.”
Thus my now 35-year education of Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer began, and with Pepi’s passing Saturday, his legend will only continue to grow in perpetuity.
When we finally met a few years later at a Vail Town Council meeting, I was starstruck at first, but immediately felt as confused as a Texan asking for a beer in a Kufstein, Austria bar.
I couldn’t understand a word the man said.
Instantly imagining myself listening to Arnold Schwarzenegger, I recovered enough to understand a few words, and since it was little more than me forcing a self-introduction simply because I wanted to meet the one and only ‘Pepi,’ it was over in a few seconds.
But I’ve never forgotten the moment.
Over the years we had a number of conversations, almost always with Sheika by his side, and always with Pepi doing most of the talking, and my deciphering skills becoming better with each visit.
Pepi always treated me like a longtime friend, and whether he ever actually remembered me or my name is irrelevant, as the moments were always special.
Our last real visit was during the early summer of 2015, when I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing the legend himself for an in-depth magazine cover story.
We met in the wonderful lobby of the Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer, still the only building on Bridge Street never to have been sold.
Having heard most of the Gramshammer stories over the years, none compared to hearing them live, but I do admit it helped a great deal having Sheika around to translate a few times.
Not the words, by that time I was accustomed to understanding his accent, but she was there to correct a fading memory, remember a date, a name, a location.
The man who began racing at age 10 had become a ski racing legend before he ever heard of Vail, yet his legend was only beginning on April 17th, 1962, when he arrived here for the first time (it was also Sheika’s birthday, but they had not yet met).
From generations of families staying at the Gasthof, to the American Ski Classic to the Black Diamond Ball to all three World Championships, Pepi Gramshammer, along with Sheika, helped construct the foundation of Vail, insuring their legend as Vail Royalty.
“I did a lot of things here,” he said during our last interview. “I did everything I wanted to do … yes, I love Vail very much! This is the best ski area in America, and better than all of Europe. I could never have done this in Austria. You can’t believe how lucky I am. No one is luckier than I.”
We are, Pepi — all of us — for having you here as long as we did.
Richard Carnes, of Avon, writes weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.