The ‘Heartbeat of Vail Valley’ Pepi Gramshammer passes away at 87

The ‘Heartbeat of Vail Valley’ Pepi Gramshammer passes away at 87

All Images: Courtesy of Vail Valley Foundation

A somber silence echoes through Vail Valley with news of long-time legend Pepi Gramshammer’s death. He passed away at his home in Vail, Colorado on August 17, 2019. The 87-year-old Austrian-born skier had been a part of Vail’s identity since he first arrived at this iconic Colorado resort in 1962.

Born in 1932 in Kufstein, Austria, Gramshammer wanted nothing more than to be a skier, and more specifically, to race for the Austrian national team. After completing his cheese-making apprenticeship, Gramshammer focused entirely on skiing. It took him four years to do it, but Gramshammer finally earned a spot on the Austrian team’s roster in the 1950s. In 1960, Gramshammer left the Austrian ski team and moved his life halfway across the world to Sun Valley, Idaho, to become a ski instructor and join the U.S. Professional Ski Tour. In just his second year competing, Gramshammer became the top-performing athlete on the circuit.

Pepi races his way through a GS course.

That same year, Vail Ski Resort’s pioneer Dick Hauserman convinced Gramshammer to make a stop at the fledgling Colorado ski resort following a ski race in Loveland. It took one day of skiing in the back bowls to convince the Austrian to stay for a year. After one season of being the resort’s Ski Ambassador, Gramshammer knew this was his home.

It also didn’t take long for Gramshammer to convince Hauserman of developing an Austrian-style hotel. Gasthof Gramshammer, which is still owned and operated by the Gramshammer family today, along with Pepi Sports, stands in the heart of Vail Village and complements the quaint, Bavarian style of the resort’s base area.

Gramshammer’s impact on the Vail community reached far and wide. When former President Gerald R. Ford vacationed at Vail, Gramshammer was one of his closest skiing companions. Over a 20-year span Gramshammer and his wife raised over two million dollars through their annual Crystal Ball gala for ski-related industries. In 1983, Gramshammer worked tirelessly to bring the World Cup racing circuit back to the valley and campaigned for both the 1989 and 1999 World Championships at Vail and Beaver Creek, respectively. Gramshammer was inducted into the Colorado Snowsports Hall of Fame in 2005 for his impact in the industry and in 2005 received a proclamation of appreciation from Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel for his achievements in the states.

Pepi and his wife Sheika at the 2019 GoPro Games at Vail.

Considered the “Heartbeat of Vail Valley,” Gramshammer’s passing leaves a large void in the village. He is survived by his wife Sheika, daughters Kira and Sheika and two grandsons. A private memorial service for family and close friends will be held at the Vail Interfaith Chapel on Monday, August 26, at 11 a.m. The community will be able to celebrate the Austrian skier’s life at the Gerald R. Ford amphitheater in September.

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