With Pepi watching, Mike Kloser wins Ultimate Mountain Challenge at GoPro Mountain Games in Vail
VAIL – It was a glorious day for local legends Pepi Gramshammer and Mike Kloser on Sunday.
The pair of mountain athletes of different specialties, from different generations, whose names are among the most well known in Eagle County, were both at the base of Gondola One for the wrap up of the GoPro Mountain Games’ Ultimate Mountain Challenge on Sunday. Pepi sent off runners in the Pepi’s Face Off race, and Kloser put together a performance good enough for the win in the six-event Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
Pepi’s Face Off was the final event in the challenge, which also included five other competitions leading up to the race up Pepe’s Face, the steep ski run at the base of the mountain.
Kloser, a former world champion adventure racer, said going into Sunday, he knew his friend and longtime rival Josiah Middaugh would win the Ultimate Mountain Challenge if he won the Pepi’s Face Off race.
Kloser was surprised to learn he had won.
“When the day started and I found out I was tied with Josiah … I thought, if he doesn’t win, and I take top 10, I should be guaranteed second place,” Kloser said. “I thought I was racing for second place the whole day.”
Mountain bike ‘master’
Middaugh finished second in the Pepi’s Face Off, with his 15-year-old son finishing third. Kloser finished 10th.
“I had to bust my butt to get top 10, it was hard,” Kloser said. “There was once a day where I could beat Josiah. But those days have come and gone.”
At 59 years old, Kloser was by far the oldest competitor in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge. Middaugh, at 40, was actually the nearest in age to Kloser, along with Eric Holmlund, who finished eighth. Middaugh was second overall in the Ultimate Mountain Challenge.
By competing in the Masters sport division of the Ultimate Mountain Challenge’s XC Mountain Bike event, which took place Saturday, Kloser said he was able to gain his advantage.
“The masters is a competitive category, it’s 45 plus, I didn’t want to sandbag, but age wise, I’m 59,” Kloser said. “But when you look at the results, timing wise I was right in the ballpark where I could have stepped up to the plate if I needed to in the vet expert, 35-plus category. I didn’t have to give it full gas in my class.”
Pepi’s Face now a summer attraction
In sounding the horn to start off the action at the Pepi’s Face Off on Sunday, Pepi Gramshammer said he was surprised to see people running up the ski run.
“I’d rather ski down,” he said.
Now 86, Pepi arrived in Vail in 1962, the same year Vail Mountain started operation. Pepi was a champion Alpine skier who was lured to Vail as an ambassador of sorts, a skier who could make the mountain look good with his skillful navigation of the terrain. Pepi fell in love with the area and started a hotel and restaurant in town with his wife, Sheika. The Pepe’s Face ski run was named after him, a steep piece of terrain that is visible from the base of the mountain, where onlookers enjoy watching skiers and snowboarders wreck and slide down to the base of the slopes.
On Sunday, Sheika said she was pleasantly surprised to learn that Pepi’s Face is now a summer attraction, as well.
“I had no idea,” she said. “That’s a wonderful honor for Pepi.”
A couple of weeks ago, the Vail Valley Foundation suggested to Sheika that it would be nice if Pepi could be there for the race.
“Of course he would be there,” Sheika said with a laugh. “I will make sure he will be there.”
When Sheika told Pepi there was a race on Pepi’s Face, “He said ‘How will they do it? Where are they getting the snow from?’” Sheika said.
“I have a picture from August 6, 1989, a picture of Pepi skiing down Pepi’s Face,” Sheika said. “Because they made the snowmaking that year for the World Championships.”
Thankfully, there was wonderful weather for the Gramhammers to enjoy on Sunday at the base of Vail Mountain.
“But we would have been here even if it was raining,” Sheika said.