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Sands sells business to Aramark

May 23, 2018 GMT

After 54 years running a river rafting business, Charlie Sands is proudest of one thing: No one drowned.

“I’ve never had a major accident,” he said. “It’s a testament more to my guides than anything. There was no bulls----ing around.”

Sands just sold his business, Sands Whitewater and Scenic River Trips, to Aramark, a Philadelphia-based corporation.

Fifty-four years “is a long time, and I’m burned out,” said Sands, 78. “They came up with the money. I’m sure they’ll do a good job.”

Aramark already has a presence in northwestern Wyoming as the owner of Togwotee Mountain Lodge in Moran and Togwotee Adventures, which offers snowmobile tours and ATV rentals at Togwotee Pass and in the Jackson Hole region. The business has a Jackson office at 1050 S. Highway 89.

“We’ve been talking to Charlie for the past five years,” said Jodie Schaap, assistant general manager of the Togwotee lodge and Togwotee Adventures. “We have a relationship and have rented property from him in the past. We are just really excited to carry on his legacy and do a great rafting business in the valley.”

The business will carry on under Sands’ name and with his staff, she said.

“The one thing I want to relay is that we are keeping Charlie’s people,” Schaap said.

This summer Sands Whitewater will continue operating at its downtown kiosk and 1450 S. Highway 89 locations.

Sands started the business in 1964 with a small loan, one raft and a partner, John Simms. Former Jackson State Bank President Felix Buchenroth arranged the original loan.

“Uncle Felix gave me $600,” Sands said.

Initially he and Simms operated trips at Flagg Ranch and called the business Simms and Sands, he said.

As the business evolved, Sands bought his partner out and dropped the Flagg Ranch trips in favor of whitewater outings down the Snake River canyon and scenic floats from Wilson.

The still-small business is now part of a $15 billion corporation that has 270,000 employees and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Aramark provides food, facilities and uniform services to colleges, school districts, prisons, sports arenas and other businesses. Its tourism operations outside Wyoming include Wilderness River Adventures in Grand Canyon National Park, Lake Quinault Lodge in Olympic National Forest and Fairview Lodge in Mesa Verde National Park.

Schaap said the acquisition creates an opportunity to work 12 months a year — with health coverage and paid time off — for people who have been working seasonally in positions like snowmobile guide and river guide.

“With the acquisition of Charlie’s business we will be able to have full-time, year-round employees with insurance and vacation,” she said. “In the guiding industry that is very hard to come by.”

The Sands operation has 25 employees, Togwotee Mountain Lodge has 130 and Togwotee Adventures has 40, she said, and about three-quarters of those employees are seasonal.

“It’s my hope that we are able to capture these great guides and provide them the stability to live in Jackson and have insurance,” Schaap said. “It’s a great year-round opportunity for us to keep some great people and keep them happy.”

Schaap had good things to say about working for Aramark.

“We are a huge corporation, but it’s still the small-business feeling,” she said.

Aramark, she said, listens to its on-site managers and provides important financial backing.

“I just got $40,000 in new snowmobiles for next year,” she said. “That’s something a small mom-and-pop can’t do.”

How much Aramark paid for Sands Whitewater and Scenic River Trips was not disclosed. The sale wrapped up two years of “hard negotiations” with Charlie Sands, she said.

“It was very emotional for him to sell his business,” she said, “but we are dedicated to making him proud.”