Sepp Kober, southeast U.S. ski pioneer

Passing Date: 
Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Sepp Kober, who built Southeastern skiing from the ground up and was a 2010 U.S. Ski Hall of Fame inductee, died August 3, 2010, at Bath Community Hospital in Hot Springs, Virginia. He was 88.

Born outside of Igls, Austria, near Innsbruck, Kober had already established himself as an Austrian instructor to watch when he emigrated to the United States in 1957 to join the Sepp Ruschp Ski School at Stowe, Vt. He then made an unusual career move by relocating south of the Mason-Dixon Line to almost single-handedly kickstart skiing in the south. Drawn by an ambience that reminded him of home, in 1959 he became the first-ever director of skiing and winter sports at The Homestead in Hot Springs, Va., which was seeking to attract guests in the slow winter months. Starting from scratch, Kober installed snowmaking, prepared trails and stocked the resort with ski rentals. Would-be skiers flocked to the five-star Homestead to try the new sport, and Kober proved that, with improved snowmaking, skiing was viable in the South. In his nearly four decades at the Homestead, Kober promoted GLM and NASTAR and in 1976 staged the first USSA ski races in the South.

As the sport took hold in the region, Kober shared his expertise in all things skiing, consulting with other resorts on issues ranging from development to ski school and from retail to rentals. His early projects ranged from Cataloochee Ski Area and Wolf Ridge in North Carolina to Ober Gatlinburg in Tennessee. He spearheaded master planning at Bryce Mountain Resort in Virginia, and also successfully recommended three of his top Homestead employees for management positions there. He worked as a sales rep for companies that sold everything from hardgoods and apparel to lifts and snowmaking, including Beconta, Head, White Stag, Ski Lift International, Borvig and CTEC.

Kober’s son, Sepp Jr., who owns the Freestyle ski shops in Charlottesville, Va., and at Wintergreen Resort, said his father provided “one-stop shopping” for the growing sport in the south. “He held people’s hands. He was a connoisseur of winter sports. I think he saw an opportunity.” Kober skied up until age 86.

Kober founded the Southeastern Ski Areas Association, which now consists of some 20 ski areas, and represented the region as a charter member at the inaugural meeting of the National Ski Areas Association in 1962. The Southeastern Ski Areas Association honored him with the title of “The Father of Southern Skiing.”

He also founded the Mid-Atlantic Ski Areas Association and the Southeastern Ski Representatives Association.

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