By Vivian Moreau
In the lobby of Whistler’s Hilton hotel guests clomp through in full snow gear, back from the mountains with snowboards tucked under arms. Wheelchair tennis players in town for a national tournament swish past. Other guests in bathrobes and flip flops with faces rosy from the hot tub head to their rooms.
The front doors slide open and more guests burst in from the snowfall, a glazed expression on their faces. “Four hours to get here from the airport” a woman says. “Vancouver was a mess.” I tell her that people in Vancouver don’t know how to drive in snow. “Neither do people from New York,” she says with a Big Apple burr.
It’s Saturday afternoon on the American Thanksgiving weekend. Just two weeks before Hilton’s general manager had been worrying over low bookings for the weekend, but once snow began to fall the phones started ringing and now the hotel is three-quarters full.
“All hell is breaking loose,” says executive chef Jay Lynn, with a grin. In the banquet room there’s a dinner for tennis tournament players, families and officials. In the dining lounge there’s a private dinner for a Surrey business. The Hilton’s kitchen will pump through about 240 meals that night and yet the dozen culinary staff are smiling and joking.
“We take our craft seriously but we don’t take ourselves very seriously,” Lynn says.
In the controlled mayhem the snowy long weekend has wrought it’s easy to forget that just over a year ago there was still rubble in the halls from the hotel’s two-year renovation and general manager Pradeep Puri was phoning contractors to demand when the tile work was going to be finished.
When Mississauga-based Westmount Hospitality Group acquired the 289-room hotel in 1999 the two-tower, four-wing hotel had already gone through various incarnations, opening in 1982 as Whistler’s first large hotel , the Delta Mountain Inn . The hotel was then shut down in 2003 and gutted to the studs as part of a $52 million renovation, reopening in December, 2005 as the Hilton Whistler Resort and Spa.
Like many Whistler hotels, the Hilton is a strata property. Although Westmount and partner Goldman Sachs own the building and property, rooms are owned by individuals who have access to their suites for several weeks per year, with the suites being rented out the rest of the year, and profits being shared by the strata owners, the hotel and the property owners. Hilton provides the name, operates the hotel with staff hired and trained to company standards.