Ski club back from the brink

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The Wakatipu Ski Club will celebrate its 80th birthday next year in style after getting back in the black and encouraging membership in the right direction. Daisy Hudson talks to club treasurer Kris Vermeir about its exciting future.

It’s amazing what can happen in three years.

From tens of thousands of dollars overdrawn and a dwindling membership, to books in the black and increasing popularity – Wakatipu Ski Club is back from the brink.

And now the club is looking ahead and preparing for a $100,000-plus upgrade of its ski hut.

Renovation planned: Wakatipu Ski Club hut pictured in 2014

The club was founded 80 years ago by Jack and Reta Royds, George Herbert and Sandy Wigley, brother of the late Sir Henry Wigley of the Mount Cook Company, who founded Coronet Peak.

Over the decades, it’s produced a large number of New Zealand ski team members and coaches, the odd Olympic skier, and brought thousands of people together as a ski community.

They’ve all felt the warmth and companionship of members in the club hut on Coronet Peak.

But when club treasurer Kris Vermeir casts his mind back to 2015, he admits things weren’t exactly looking good.

A combination of waning membership, a lot of overheads, and a “massive” overdraft put the club under a fair amount of financial stress, Vermeir says.

“It all turned to custard.”

He doesn’t cast any blame on former committee members – it was just “one of those things that happens”.

The committee at the time decided to hold an AGM to vote on whether to sell off the hut.

Vermeir, who owns Browns Ski Shop in the resort, was wary of offloading the club’s only asset.

Just down from Coronet’s base building, it has a day room, kitchen, lounge with log burner, ski storage lockers, and a large sun deck.

“The hut’s the lifeblood of the club.”

He offered to cover any of the club’s negative cash flow for 12 months, to give it time to sort itself out.

That was on the condition he’d be allowed to have a look at the club’s systems and see where things could be improved.

Processes started to be put in place, such as an invoicing system to replace the “ad hoc” system then operating.

Cheaper insurance was found, and donations were sought from the membership base, which included a large contingent of honorary members.

“People didn’t realise how bad things were,” Vermeir says.

“We were trying to reinvigorate the spirit a bit.”

All of that, plus the club’s annual ski gear sale, started to move things in a better direction.

The Wakatipu Ski Club’s annual snowsports sale fundraiser at the Queenstown Events Centre PHOTO: GUY WILLIAMS

From having an overdraft of $35,000 hanging over its head, the club is now $26,000 in the black, Vermeir says.

Membership, which dropped from 899 to 599, is also starting to trend upwards. It currently sits at 649 members.

The main reason people joined were the “really good” lessons programme offered to club members, he believes.

It provided continuity with instructors, it was cost effective, and every Sunday there was a BBQ on the hut deck, he says.

“The sundeck’s just bursting at the seams on a Sunday.”

The next step is showing some love to the ski hut. The club’s had a hut on the skifield for 70 years but the one there now was built in 1979 and extended over the years, most recently in 2006.

Back in the day: The hut at the end of the 1980 ski season

Vermeir reckons it hasn’t had any work done to it for about a decade. “And it’s obvious.”

A building report completed at the end of last year revealed a list of things that needed attention, at a cost of about $168,000. That would cover things like double glazing and carpeting.

The club applied for three funding grants, all successful, which will give them about $108,000 to play with.

Work on the “massive refurbishment” will start at the end of this winter.

“It will be really exciting, by next winter it’ll be like a new facility, which will be amazing.”

Vermeir’s hope is new people will now look at joining the committee.

“It’s time for the next generation.”

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz