Omni Homestead Celebrates 60 Years of Skiing
Saturday January 18th, was a cold and rainy day, but the weather didn’t dampen the moods of Omni Homestead guests and visitors gathered in the theater to celebrate 60 years of skiing at Virginia’s oldest ski resort, and the second-oldest continuously operating alpine ski resort in the Southern United States.
The featured speaker for the occasion was Randy Johnson, Author of the 1986 book “Southern Snow”; which has been called “the definitive history of southern winter sports”. Mr. Johnson recently updated and released a second edition of his book through the University of North Carolina Press.
After a gracious and cordial introduction, he proceeded to tell the audience how skiing came to life at the Homestead. “This is the 60th winter that snow making and skiing came to the homestead, and what I mean is: the Homestead was the first ski resort designed to operate solely on machine-made snow, exclusively on that. That is what launched skiing at the Homestead so long ago.”
Mr. Johnson then recounted his first meeting with Sepp Kober, Mr. Kober immigrated to the United States in 1957 from Austria, where he was a member of the national ski team. After teaching at Stowe in Vermont, Kober took a job at Weiss Knob ski area in West Virginia, where he became the South’s first certified ski instructor. Sepp Kober added prestige to southern skiing and helped usher in an era of national prominence to southern skiing. His name is synonymous with skiing at the Homestead. The restaurant at the ski lodge bears his name. Almost a decade after his passing Mr. Kober is affectionately referred to as, The Father of Southern Skiing.
Mr. Johnson added, “I’ll never forget when I met him. I walked in to the Homestead…I was just some young ski writer. He invited me to breakfast in the main dining room. I walked in there and here’s this grand hotel setting, he got up in his Austrian accent and greeted me. It just hit me like a brick. In this palatial setting, with this old-world ski professional, that he belonged here and I didn’t feel like I belonged. It was years later when I started going to Zurmont and seeing hotels like the homestead in ski areas in Europe, and seeing the heritage of people like Sepp that I realized why he fit in here.”
In addition to the rich history of Skiing at the Homestead Mr. Johnson shared photos that went as far back as the 1930’s. In One photo Skiers used golf clubs as poles. A 1979 photo, that Mr. Johnson took, showed Marines stationed on the Appalachian trail in North Carolina learning to cross-country ski due to a lack of snow in New England, Lake Tahoe and Colorado.
33 years after it’s original publication “Southern Snow” had to almost be rewritten as much as it was revised. Mr. Johnson said, “Snowboarding hadn’t been invented and global warming wasn’t an issue.” I asked Mr. Johnson to talk about some of the changes he’s seen over the years.
“The important thing to keep in mind is that southern ski resorts are so professional and so well run that they send more new skiers on to the national ski industry than any resorts in any other region. The way that’s happened is the march of technology. Snow making and snow grooming has become so high tech in the south that even with global warming they can make increasingly good use of whatever cold weather they’ve gotten.”