Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer opened Hotel-Gasthof Gramshammer on Bridge Street in Vail in 1964. It was two years after the mega-resort-to-be opened for business, and they bought their half acre for $25,000—a sum that wouldn't buy a parking space there today. The hotel had 45 rooms, lift tickets cost $5, and the mountain employed eight ski instructors. In the nearly 40 years since, Pepi, a former Austrian ski champion, and Sheika, who hails from a renowned Austrian innkeeping family, have grown their business to encompass an entire block of some of the world's priciest mountain real estate. Pepi and Sheika live in the Gasthof's top floor penthouse and spend virtually every day with their guests, both on the hill and off. And their daughter, known as little Sheika, runs the front desk when she's not tele-skiing.
Pepi borrowed the ski-week formula from his Austrian counterparts: Dedicate a full week to instruction under the tutelage of the world's finest instructors, and do it in a high-energy environment where students and instructors push each other to new levels. In this tradition, Pepi started Wedel Weeks-now entering their 18th season-as a chance for skiers of intermediate ability and better to dramatically improve their skiing while making lifelong friends. "We all feed off each other and improve," says Diane Epstein, a 51-year-old Las Vegas businesswoman who has attended Wedel Weeks for nine years. The instructors are selected by Pepi and co-director Franz Fuchsberger, a four-time World Powder 8 champion, from Vail's world-class ski school.
With a price tag north of $2,000, Wedel Weeks tend to attract professionals who remember what wedel means (it's a 1950s Austrian technique for making short turns) and expect results in their skiing. "They are people who are highly successful in business," explains instructor Andy Gould as he leads his group down Look Ma-the steep, moguled run above Mid-Vail. "They want to transfer that success to their skiing. In six days, you can genuinely ingrain everything you need to teach. We ski in every mountain condition, from race gates to steeps and from bumps to powder, and we do it very systematically."
T.C. Oxley is a 31-year-old general contractor from Denver who put his faith in Wedel Weeks when he decided to give up snowboarding and take up skiing with his wife, Cindy, in 1995. After six years of Wedel Weeks instruction with Gould, Oxley is a powerful, athletic, all-mountain expert and a head-turning bump skier.
"It's the only instruction I've ever had," Oxley says.
The lessons learned at Wedel Weeks are as much psychological as technical. By the second day, instructor Michael Spiers concludes that my wife, Angie, is a solid skier who feels she has to be 110 percent in control at all times. "For you, it's OK to ski outside your comfort zone," Spiers advises her. "You need to ski outside of it to expand it." Then he turns quickly to another student who has already taken several falls and notes: "Now you, you need to ski more in control." After spending the day darting through trees in the Back Bowls, then unwinding during après-ski at Pepi's, Angie concludes it was the best she's ever skied-and the most fun she's had on a mountain.
"I finally learned to not focus on the trees, but on the spaces in between," Angie recalls. "And the faster I skied, the more confident I became." Wedel Weeks kick off with a ghluwein (what else?) reception and a classic Tyrolean dinner at Pepi's and include a midweek fashion show and dinner. Students ski all day, every day, though there is an occasional long lunch. The week closes with a Nastar race, followed by a farewell dinner and an awards ceremony. By the final banquet, students and instructors have shared secrets and broken down barriers while romping on Vail's more than 5,000 acres of terrain.
"I got roasted pretty badly by my crew," recalls instructor Gould, who had a group that wanted to work hard by day and play hard at niight. "A lot of the elements are off the record, but the gifts were as follows: Pepto-Bismol, Alka-Seltzer, a file-because my skis are never sharp-and some other things. The roast was a pleasant surprise, though a little embarrassing at times."
Wedel Weeks are designed for intermediate and better skiers; if you can ski Vail's blue runs, you'll fit right in. The clinics are designed to kick-start your season: There are three eight-day sessions in December and January (Dec. 7-14; Jan. 4-11; Jan. 11-18). Prices range from $2,045 to $2,635 and include lift tickets, lodging at either Gasthof Gramshammer or the nearby Lodge at Vail, daily breakfasts, opening dinner at Pepi's, a midweek fashion show and dinner, and a farewell banquet. For more information, call 800-610-7374, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wedelweeks.com.