Pepi with Sheika Gramshammer and his namesake run (Pepi's Face), March 2017

Image: Ryan Dearth

Some homes you are born to; some homes you choose. Pepi Gramshammer was born in Kufstein, Austria, in 1932, but he chose Vail as his home, moving to the United States in 1960 and opening one of the first hotels in the fledgling ski town. But before he was a hotelier and Vail icon, Pepi was a ski racer.

In 1955, Pepi earned a position on the Austrian national team. But when he was left off Austria’s roster for the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, he moved to Sun Valley to be a ski instructor; he also joined the newly created US Professional Ski Tour, becoming the circuit’s top racer in 1962.

That same year, Vail’s inaugural ski season, resort pioneer Dick Hauserman invited Pepi to ski the Back Bowls. He was hooked.

“I decided to leave Sun Valley to come here,” Pepi said in a 2015 interview with the Denver Post. “It was the most beautiful place. I liked it because there is a lot of snow, we are high-altitude, everything is perfect. You don’t have this in Europe, not like this here. This is really, really, really nice.”

In January 1963, not long after moving to Vail, Pepi met Sheika Moser at a ski race in Aspen. The fellow Austrians married the following February and opened the Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer, an authentic European inn/restaurant/bar/ski shop that doubled as the social hub of the ski village, and the Gramshammers’ home.

Beth Slifer and husband Rod were frequent guests.

“Pepi was one of Vail’s most beloved pioneers,” she says. “His energy and passion helped make Vail a leader in alpine skiing and, in his heart, the best of all ski resorts.”

Many credit the Gramshammers for establishing Vail as a worldwide skiing destination.

“Our community lost a visionary that, along with his wonderful wife, Sheika, saw early on what this community could become and worked tirelessly to ensure it happened,” says Mike Imhoff, president and CEO of the Vail Valley Foundation, who notes that Pepi was an integral member of the delegation the nonprofit sent to meetings of the International Ski Federation to promote Vail and Beaver Creek as an alpine ski racing venue. “The Vail Valley Foundation owes Pepi a debt of gratitude for all he did across our mission of arts, athletics, and education. Our first and second Alpine World Ski Championships in 1989 and 1999 would not have happened if it were not for Pepi.... I consider it an honor to have known him.”

When Vail hosted Alpine World Ski Championships, Pepi and Sheika opened their home to Austrian ski racing fans, including Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Gramshammers also entertained President Gerald R. Ford during his visits to Vail, who returned the favor and hosted Pepi and Sheika at the White House.

“Growing up in the Valley, I thought of Pepi and Sheika as icons, and I still do,” says Chris Jarnot, executive vice president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division. “I had the privilege of getting to know them through my career with Vail Resorts, and (my wife) Shelly and I have been honored to count them as friends. Like anyone who spent time with Pepi, I was constantly inspired by his passion for Vail, skiing, and the mountains. No one was a stronger advocate for Vail than Pepi, and no one was more a charming or welcoming host to Vail’s guests over the years. Those of us who love Vail and who have enjoyed its success owe him a massive amount of gratitude for making it great from the beginning. He will serve as an inspiration for all of us who are here today and for generations to come.”

That includes Olympian Lindsey Vonn.

“I grew up with my father talking about Pepi, Toni Sailer, Franz Klammer, and the like, but Pepi was always his favorite,” says Olympian Lindsey Vonn. “Pepi played a huge role in my father’s life and, ultimately, in mine. He helped build Vail and was a legend in the ski world. He was always kind and warm to me, always had a huge smile on his face and never lost his heavy Austrian accent. He has had an impact on the ski world that will never be forgotten.”

In addition to being honored with signature Vail Mountain runs (including “Forever” in the Back Bowls and “Pepi’s Face” on the Front Side) in 1990, Gramshammer was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame. In 2005, he was presented with a proclamation of appreciation from Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel for his achievements in America, a ceremony that coincided with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Austrian Ski Federation.

“As a result of his love for the sport of skiing, Pepi was the consummate ambassador for both skiing and skiing in Vail,” says Jen Mason, executive director of the Colorado Snowsports Museum. “He truly loved the opportunities that he had been presented with in his adopted country and he wanted to ensure that he shared that love with as many people as he possibly could. He was widely known throughout Europe because of his ski racing accomplishments, and he came to be equally known throughout the US for his ability to make everyone he met feel special. He truly was the heartbeat of Vail.”

Chris Anthony, a 2018 Colorado Snowsports Hall of Famer, agrees.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how hard this hits me,” he says. “One of the symbols of original Vail and United States Skiing’s connection with Austria has passed. I considered Pepi a mentor as well as everything good in sport. Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer did what skiers dream of: Followed the snow to a place in the mountains and build a family and lifestyle around it from love, passion, and soul. From this arose a community.

“Pepi was one of the top Austrian skiers during his peak, which meant he was one of the best in the world. He is an icon to the sport, to the Vail Valley, and so much more. Walking by the hotel and deck of the restaurant and seeing him there or in the streets took away the resort feel and brought in a feeling of town and community. I could go on and on about what this loss of life means, but how much the symbol of Pepi should live on. Pepi, you will be forever missed.”

Pepi Gramshammer passed away on August 17 at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife, Sheika, daughters Kira and Sheika, and two grandsons. A celebration of life will take place Friday, Sept 20, 3:30 p.m. (gates open at 2:30 p.m.) at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail.

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