Luring celebrities from the start

JENNIFER ENNION
Last updated 12:09 16/01/2014
Vail
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FAMOUS SLOPES: A general view of the mountains at Beaver Creek in Vail, Colorado.

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Vail Ski Resort in the American Rockies has a reputation for attracting the rich and famous.

Former US president Gerald Ford had a soft spot for the Colorado mountain, while US winter Olympian Lindsey Vonn has been skiing there since she was a child.

Gossip websites also count Cameron Diaz, Goldie Hawn and Michelle Obama on the guest list.

It's been this way since the resort's early days, luring not just Americans but international stars as well, including Austrian ski racer Pepi (Josef) Gramshammer. Pepi was poached from Sun Valley ski resort in nearby Idaho to become Vail's ambassador in 1962, the year the resort opened.

Since then, he's made the resort his own, and is considered one of its champions.

He still lives there today with his Austrian wife Sheika. The couple run the very Tyrolean Hotel Gasthof Gramshammer, in the centre of the pedestrian village, along with Pepi's Bar and Restaurant and the ski shop Pepi Sports. The boutique accommodation dates back to 1964 and visitors can't miss it, with its multiple national flags and wraparound balcony.

It's where I meet Pepi after a day riding Vail's back bowls.

"Do you know why I came here?" he asks. "I went on top of the mountain and I said 'this is a beautiful mountain'.

Pepi, 81, has skied the world's top resorts - Chamonix (France), St Moritz (Switzerland), Cervinia (Italy) - and yet it was Vail that stole his heart.

He likes how high the village is (2476 metres), he says, and that it's in the middle of America and has "very good snow". He was also attracted by the opportunities of a new resort, and played a significant role in Vail's early success by travelling the country promoting it.

Pepi had a lot of clout in the industry. He was 14 years old when he began ski racing, and was a member of the Austrian National Ski team from 1955 to 1960. At this time he was also working as a ski instructor in Italy and even at Mt Buller in Victoria. He then moved to Sun Valley, before making his way to Vail, where President Ford was among his ski students.

Pepi's links with celebrity don't stop there. His restaurant has wined and dined Hollywood royalty - Clint Eastwood, Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, he says.

His role in Vail has been so significant that he even has a black run named after him, Pepi's Face.

Visitors to Vail have 2141 skiable hectares to explore. The resort's highest peak reaches 3527m above sea level, while an average of 930cm of snow falls every winter.

The slopes mostly cater to advanced skiers and snowboarders (53 per cent), but there is still a decent selection of terrain for intermediates (29 per cent) and beginners (18 per cent).

There are some great black runs in Blue Sky Basin and the back bowls are riddled with them. Intermediates will enjoy mellow turns through Big Rock Park, while beginners can warm up at their own pace on Gopher Hill before heading up to Swingsville.

And don't worry, you don't have to be rich and famous to enjoy it all. Lift ticket prices are comparable to other top resorts, and although you'll struggle to find a hostel, you won't have to mortgage your house for accommodation either.

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That said, if you find yourself schussing down Vail's famed slopes don't forget to keep the camera at hand - you never know when you'll bump into a celebrity or two.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Vail Ski Resort is in Colorado in the United States. It is 193km west of Denver International Airport. Flights are via Los Angeles or San Francisco.

Colorado Mountain Express offers transfers between the airport and Vail. See ridecme.com.

There is also Eagle County Airport, which is 48km from Vail. By vehicle, travel along Interstate 70.

STAYING THERE: Check out The Sebastian, Vail, in the village and close to the base of the mountain. This is a luxury resort with large, stylish rooms, a handful of restaurants, outdoor spas and a private ski valet.

PLAYING THERE: Vail's 2013-14 snow season ends on April 20. Vail Resorts encompasses seven resorts - Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, Breckenridge, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood.

Equipment can be rented from Vail Sports at the village base. For more, see vail.com and snow.com.

Lift tickets for the 2013-14 ski season can be bought at a discounted rate online if purchased 14 days in advance. A one-day online adult ticket currently costs US$110 ($132) and a one-day online children's ticket costs US$79 ($95).

For apres fun, call into Pepi's Bar and Restaurant.

RESORT DETAILS

Summit altitude: 3527m

Base altitude: 2476m

Average annual snowfall: 930cm

Terrain: beginner 18 per cent; intermediate 29 per cent; advanced 53 per cent

Skiable area: 2141ha

Longest run: Riva Ridge 6.4km

Marked trails: 193

Lifts: 31

Terrain parks: three

The writer travelled as a guest of Vail Resorts and Virgin Australia.

- AAP

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