Omni Homestead Snowman

The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, is not the biggest ski area in the South, but it’s the oldest. When snowmaking was installed on new slopes in 1959, the historic hotel appended the words “ski” and “spa” to its self-description.

The hotel has been hosting guests “taking the waters” at local hot springs since 1766, a decade before the American Revolution. Today, its upscale offerings continue to make it a posh, even exclusive destination – one with its own ski hill.

It’s the perfect place where not-so-crowded slopes and not-too-difficult terrain for senior skiers to introduce the family, including the grandkids, to skiing and a rarefied escape to a newly refurbished hotel and spa facilities.

The Homestead’s Ski Area

Omni Homestead Ski Slope

A free shuttle links the hotel and the modest slope layout, which is open Sunday to Thursday this season.

Back in 1959 when Austrian immigrant and southern ski legend Sepp Kober designed and built the ski area, it included a “skimobile” trestle lift similar to one then in use at Mount Canmore in New Hampshire.  Also, it was the first are anywhere to rely solely on snowmaking, setting an example for the region and world.

His ski school was staffed by young Europeans whose accents became the norm at southern slopes, as well as in ski areas in the North and West. Sepp and his Austrian instructors are no longer with us, but his ski school still offers a family-friendly setting that makes skiers and boarders out of beginners from 4 years up. A Little Penguins Program focuses on children ages 5 to 11.

The Homestead’s 10 slopes, up from 5 in the 1980s, drop 700 vertical feet. The main double chairlift tops out at 3,200 feet. Two blue runs leave the top of the chair, Escape and Upper Main, and merge with Upper Main continuing along the chair to mid-station. There’s also a short, steep black run, Nose Dive, from the top of Upper Main, and a pair of blues, Upper and Lower Glades.

At mid-station, green Yonder-Weigh leads beginners off the lift back down to the lodge on a longer green run, Lower Main. Another green, Briar Patch, slips by the resort’s tubing park, Penguin Slides. Also from mid-station, a terrain park comes back to the main slope above the tubing runs. Absolute beginners have a learning area served by three surface lifts, and kids can ride mini-snowmobiles.

The base lodge has large picture windows and an outdoor deck backed by plexiglass to break the wind. On a spring ski weekends, white-coated chefs from the hotel flip gourmet burgers. An upstairs grill, Kober’s, serves lunch and dinner amid extensive memorabilia of the life and legend of Sepp Kober.

Alternatives to skiing and riding include The Homestead’s Allegheny Springs, an ice skating facility with rentals, and a spring-fed, two-acre water park where a steaming outdoor pool and hot tub are perfect for soothing sore legs.

Homestead Re-Opens After Major Makeover

Omni Homestead Outdoor Pool

The grande dame hotel reopened for lodging on Feb. 2, 2023, after a massive

$121+ million makeover, the most significant investment in the resort in more than a century. The resort is a member of the Historic Hotels of America, a nationwide collection of legendary lodging spots organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The impressive Great Hall, five hundred guest rooms and suites, and numerous dining destinations were fully refurbished and ready to carry the venerable resort’s luxurious reputation well into the 21st century. Given The Homestead’s singular historical status, the work involved a painstaking preservation process that included restoring 978 original wood windows and hundreds of doors and repair of interior and exterior stucco, terracotta, limestone and brick masonry.

For many, the real “wow” is the complete restoration and reopening of the nation’s oldest historic spa structures.  Once called “the Jefferson Pools,” after Thomas Jefferson’s early 1800s visits, the restored Warm Springs Pools include buildings that always reminded me of what a nuclear power plant might look like if they’d been in use in the 19th century, including the plume of steam emerging from the top of the dome-shaped roofs. Restoration included preserving and/or replacing the historic wood structure, windows, doors, siding and roofing.

The restoration effort involved the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and

notable preservationists to be sure the project adhered to The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

Head Back in Time

At the newly restored spring buildings, there are adult and family times for spa visits, and sex-segregated clothing optional sessions. But unlike back in Jefferson’s day, guests no longer hang from ropes in the warm mineral waters. Today foam noodle floats do the job without the upper body workout.

The Homestead’s slopes and snowmaking gave birth to the now bullish Southern ski market, but back in 1761, when the stone basin of the 1820s Gentlemen’s Bathhouse was first constructed, it became the oldest spa resort structure in the country. No wonder The Homestead’s 2,300 acres are today surrounded by aptly named “Bath” County.

With its impressive recent improvements, the entire Homestead experience is a fitting tribute to Kober, often called the “Father of Southern Skiing” for his decades-long efforts to nurture the active Southern ski market. Kober was inducted into the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame in 2009.

One Comment

  1. Richard Kavey says:

    Nice to learn about this historic site

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