The evening skies over Vail and Beaver Creek will glow especially bright from now on as Austrian legend and Vail pioneer Pepi Gramshammer has left his beloved valley for a higher place. Gramshammer passed away August 17 at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife Sheika, daughters Kira and Sheika, and two grandsons.
Many in the Vail Valley will forever wonder what could have been or, more appropriately, what might not have been if Gramshammer had decided that he was a better cheese maker than a ski racer. Born in Kufstein, Austria in 1932, Pepi was determined to make the Austrian National Ski Team following the completion of his apprenticeship making cheese.
It would take him four years to work his way up the ranks to earn a spot on the powerful Austrian team of the 1950’s, joining the likes of Toni Sailer, Anderl Molterer, Christian Pravda and Ernst Hinterseer. Following the conclusion of his amateur career in 1960, Gramshammer moved to the United States, settling in Sun Valley, Idaho to teach skiing. He also jumped aboard the newly-created U.S. Professional Ski Tour, becoming the circuit’s top racer in 1962, sponsored by Head skis, Nordica boots and Look/Nevada bindings.
That same year, Pepi was approached with another new opportunity, a fledgling ski resort in Colorado called Vail. Resort pioneer Dick Hauserman showed Gramshammer a film about the new ski area that impressed Pepi enough to agree to meet with Pete Seibert, Morrie Shepard and Bob Parker, following a pro race at Loveland. The next day, the men visited the mountain and skied the Back Bowls.
Pepi would say that he made the decision to come to Vail because of Dick and Blanche Hauserman. “It was the best move I have ever made in my life,” offered Gramshammer. He worked for the ski school, but the lion’s share of his responsibilities came in public relations and racing for Vail, becoming the Ski Ambassador that showed people around the mountain. At the conclusion of his first season in Vail, Pepi approached Hauserman with an idea, saying that he wanted to make Vail his home.
He had always had a desire to operate an Austrian-style hotel and wanted to build one. Hausermann told Gramshammer that it would take a lot of money and Pepi replied that he had save a lot of money. With the help of investors that included Howard Head, Endicott Davison, Edward Lynch and Jack Crosby, Gasthof Gramshammer became a reality.”
When President Gerald R. Ford made Vail the Western White House during ski vacations, Gramshammer was one of his frequent companions. Pepi would tell Ford not to worry about the White House, he was skiing now. As a result of the friendship between the Fords and the Gramshammers, Pepi and wife Sheika paid visits to the Fords at the White House.
Almost 60 years later, Pepi and Sheika remain an integral part of the Vail community they helped to form. As owners of Gasthof Gramshammer and Pepi Sports in the heart of Vail Village, they have literally seen the Vail Valley grown up around them.
But perhaps their greatest contribution to the Vail Valley has come from their love of skiing and ski racing. Through the proceeds from their annual Crystal Ball, which celebrated its final chapter in 1998, over $2 million was raised and donated to ski-related organizations and programs throughout the gala’s 20-year run, with beneficiaries including the Vail Valley Foundation, the U.S. Ski Team, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and Vail Resorts’ Adaptive Ski Program. Pepi also served as a member of the board of directors for the Vail Valley Foundation for 20 years.
Gramshammer was also instrumental in helping to return World Cup ski racing to the Vail Valley in 1983, along with assisting in the campaign to bring both the 1989 and 1999 World Championships to Vail and Beaver Creek. In 1990, he was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame.
In 2005, Gramshammer was presented with a proclamation of appreciation from Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel for his achievements in America. The ceremony coincided with the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Austrian Ski Federation.
Throughout his life and career, Pepi Gramshammer has truly been the heartbeat of Vail, embodying the American “can do spirit”. The Vail Valley, as well as everyone that visits Vail and Beaver Creek each year, most certainly owe the cheesemaker a great debt of thanks. His love for his adopted home and for skiing will remain as Pepi Gramshammer’s lasting legacy and gift to Vail.
A fighter to the end, Pepi’s favorite saying pretty much sums it up. “It was not so bad after all.”
A memorial service for family and close friends has been scheduled for Monday, August 26, at 11 a.m. at the Vail Interfaith Chapel. A Community Celebration of Life will be scheduled at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in September.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in Pepi’s name to the Colorado Snowsports Museum, Vail Health Hospital or the Vail Valley Foundation, targeted for World Cup ski racing.