The Austrian-born hosts have operated their Authentic European Inn since 1964. Pepi came to Vail as an internationally known ski racer. Sheika is the descendent of an old Austrian inkeeping family. Their colorful personalities and backgrounds touch each guest, enriching his or her experience of Vail.
When Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer opened their hotel in Vail Village, it was, literally, the only thing on the corner of Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive. Now, with a modern resort town all around them, the Gramshammers still run their hotel, and still call it home.

Pepi Gramshammer was one of the fastest men on the professional ski racing circuit in the early 1960s, and was an instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho. He was lured to Vail in 1962 by Dick Hauserman, Bob Parker and Morrie Shepard. During a quick tour of the ski area, he had to hike from the bottom to the top of a bowl, which took some time, even for a young, ultra-fit ski racer. That's when the Forever run got its name, and Parker hung Pepi with the nickname “Forever.”

But Gramshammer fell in love with the fledgling ski area. He liked the high elevation — which meant more skiing — as well as Vail's proximity to Denver and its location in the middle of the country.

Gramshammer had a chance to buy into the resort. His first idea was to build a little chalet with a ski shop and an apartment upstairs. But the town's only ski shop had a three-year exclusive deal at the time, so plans changed.

While on the road with the Austrian national ski team, and later on the professional circuit, Pepi noticed little and big things about the hotels he spent so much time in.

“I saw things I'd like to do if I ever got the chance,” Pepi said. “Well, I got the chance.”

With partners including Howard Head, Ronny Balcomb and “Cotty” Davison, he started work on a hotel. His partners were his first guests when the hotel opened Dec. 18, 1964.

Shortly after coming to Vail, Pepi met Sheika Moser at a race in Aspen in January of 1963. The two Austrians fell hard for each other and were engaged within weeks. They were married in February, 1964.

The hotel opened Dec. 18, 1964. The rooms were finished, but guests had to help carry furniture up, and the ceiling on the bar wasn't finished.  

On-the-job training

With Pepi on the road for much of the winter, running the hotel fell to Sheika. Neither really knew anything about the hotel business, so Sheika got to work learning.

She took a six-month business management course at the Barnes School of Business in Denver. When not in class, she tended bar at the Red Lion and worked the front desk at the Lodge at Vail.

The new hotel in town was called the Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer, to reflect the name of the owner and, to Europeans anyway, convey a very specific idea of hospitality. It also laid one of the cornerstones of the European style Vail has mimicked so successfully for so long.
While the Gramshammers still live at the hotel, and consider their place a family lodge, it didn't take long for the hotel to host its first celebrity — astronaut Scott Carpenter.

Over the years, the hotel has hosted any number of celebrities, from actors to pro athletes and others. But after Gerald Ford became president in 1974, the political celebrities started coming, too.

Asked to name pick highlights of their time in Vail, the Gramshammers are split between Ford's ascension to the presidency and the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships.

Ford's down-home charm has stayed with the Gramshammers over the years, and Sheika uses Ford-like language to describe the hotel.

“He'd say, ‘I'm not a Lincoln, I'm a Ford,'” Sheika said. “It's that way with us — we're not a five-star hotel, we're just a gasthof.”

 

Changing with the times

But the hotel has had to change over the years, of course, if slowly. The hotel has the amenities travelers expect these days — high-speed Internet service and the like — but the hotel has kept things simple.

“We haven't remodeled that often,” Sheika said. “We buy quality, and it lasts.”

But the hotel business has changed dramatically over the years. Guests used to come for 10-day stays once a year. Shorter stays are the norm these days.

“If someone's here for 10 days you can get to know them,” Sheika said. “If they're here three or four days, they don't know who owns the hotel.” 

The Gramshammers miss the friends who don't come to Vail any more, but they're still determined to stay in their gasthof as long as they can. Daughters Sheika and Kira are working in the family business.

And the couple is determined to keep its part of their Vail nest as intimate as it now. Sheika fought hard against the giant Solaris project just across Gore Creek, and she and Pepi both say they'll fight even harder to keep Bridge Street largely the way it is today.

“Everybody knows Bridge Street,” Sheika said. “We don't want it to become something else.”

Vail is the American dream come true for the Gramshammers, and, while they still travel to Europe often, both say they couldn't have dreamed of the life they lead today if they'd stayed in Austria.

“I wanted to be somebody, to show people I could do things,” Pepi said. “That's why I was on the ski team. I could never have done this in Austria.”