Racer, instructor, Vail hotelier

Passing Date: 
Saturday, August 17, 2019

Pepi Gramshammer, the Austrian ski racer who became Vail’s premier hotelier, died August 17 at the Vail Valley Hospital. He was 87 years old and had recently suffered a series of strokes.

Pepi grew up in Kufstein, Austria, training in nearby Innsbruck. He was named to the Austrian national team in 1955, and the following winter, at age 23, scored his first victory in a major FIS race. Between 1956 and 1960 he won 11 major races in all three disciplines plus combined, including downhills at Cervinia and Chamonix. He scored only one win in 1959, which cost him a berth on the 1960 Olympic squad. So that year, instead of going to Squaw Valley, he went to Sun Valley, as an instructor for Sigi Engl’s ski school. He won a number of races on Friedl Pfeiffer’s fledgling International Professional Ski Racers Association (IPSRA) tour.

By April, 1962 Pepi’s reputation was so strong that Vail, scheduled to open in December, recruited him to be a spokesman. Pete Seibert and Bob Parker took him to the summit to see the Back Bowls. Pepi dove into the powder, descended to the creek and had to climb back. “That took . . . Forever,” he said, thus dubbing one of Vail’s greatest runs.

In the fall of 1962 Pepi met and married Sheika Moser. The couple moved to Vail, where Pepi helped set up the ski school. In March, 1963, the couple bought a plot of land on Bridge Street, and with financial backing from Howard Head (among others) built an Austrian-style hotel. Gasthof Gramshammer opened in December, 1964. It was the most luxurious place in town, and the only possible destination for VIPs – including President Gerald Ford.

In 1966, with Erich Sailer, Pepi founded the Red Lodge Racing Camp for summer training on Montana’s Beartooth Plateau, and for many years led the five-day “Wedel Week” clinic, for recreational skiers, out of Gasthof Gramshammer.

In addition to anchoring the ski school, Pepi became a key diplomat in bringing the Alpine World Championships to Vail for 1989 and 1999, and worked to bring European ski-vacationers to Vail. He continued to ski after being blindsided by a snowboarder, and seriously injured, in 1999.  –Seth Masia

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