Sepp Kober, 88, who brought ski instruction to the South and skiing to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., died Aug. 3.
Kober learned to ski at age 3 at his home in Igls, Austria, near Innsbruck, and came to the United States in 1957 to teach skiing with Sepp Ruschp at Stowe, Vt.
He moved to The Homestead in 1959, bringing with him a passion for the sport and an understanding of the role modern snowmaking and grooming could play in a region that, at the time, was not readily associated with winter sports.
Kober was inducted this spring into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame in Ishpeming, Mich., as a member of the Class of 2009.
The biography prepared by the Hall of Fame states, "Sepp Kober is known as the ‘Father of Southern Skiing.' After emigrating from Austria in 1957 to the United States and instructing that winter at Stowe under the directorship of Sepp Ruschp, Kober struck out on his own.
"He became the first ski instructor and ski school director south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Kober brought his talents for skiing to the first southern rope tow areas at Weiss Knob, West Virginia and Wisp, Maryland. From there he pushed the boundaries of skiing further south to The Homestead Resort near Hot Springs, Virginia where he took on duties as director of skiing and winter sports. For the next four decades Kober was instrumental in ski resort development across the region. His experience with trail layout, rental equipment, lift systems and ski instruction was insurmountable in the growth of skiing during the boom years of the sport.
"Today the South Eastern Ski Areas Association, which he founded, consists of 20 ski areas serving four to five million skiers annually and is considered the largest feeder of skiers to the mountain resorts in the west and New England. He led the southeast as a charter member of the National Ski Areas Association."
To be picky, Kober shared the title "Father of Southern Skiing," with Dr. Thomas ‘Doc' Brigham, who founded Sugar, Beech and Snowshoe Mountains. Dr. Brigham died in November of 2008.
Whatever the bragging rights, there's enough credit to be shared among the early giants of a sport that has reached the point where the founders are going. It is fitting they be remembered.
Kober was so honored during a ceremony in February at The Homestead, where he initiated the winter sports program 50 years ago.
Mark Taylor reported on the event in The Roanoke Times, noting Kober's long association with Southern skiing.
"Kober ... had been hired by The Homestead, which was looking to improve business during the winter. A key to the project of converting part of a golf course into a ski slope was the installation of a snowmaking system that would keep the slopes covered in a region where natural snow could not be counted on. The success of the snowmaking system proved that skiing was possible in the region. Kober stocked the lodge with 600 pairs of skis and 250 pairs of ice skates for the newly built ice rink. And the guests came," Taylor wrote.
The story says that first holiday season after Kober's arrival, The Homestead was full with 600 guests instead of the 30 or 40 that showed up in previous years.
Taylor's story describes how Kober built enthusiasm by helping to start ski clubs.
The story quotes one observer: "He developed the skiing public with his persona. He would give a demonstration and people would say, 'Wow, that looks like fun.' "