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Calling Hilton Home

One year after a $52 million renovation Whistler's Hilton is as much home as hotel.
Vivian Moreau spends a day behind the scenes at the re-birth of Whistler's original luxury hotel.

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The concierge calms down guests who land at Vancouver International Airport only to discover there is no shuttle bus to the hotel. She makes arrangements for impromptu engagements, explains to guests that they can’t drive to Jasper by noon and relays dietary restrictions to the kitchen. In the job for nine months, there has been only one question that stumped her, a request from an older, portly man for a soft tour. “You mean like squishy, mattress sleeping soft?” she asked. But no, he meant a low impact outdoor tour.

If a squishy mattress had been in order, housekeeper Nancy Jian would have known what to do. Jian has worked in housekeeping for 15 years through the hotel’s incarnations. Jian begins work at 8 a.m. with a meeting of all the housekeepers in the staff lunchroom before starting in on the 12 or 15 rooms she will clean in an eight-hour shift. It takes up to 45 minutes to clean a room, many of which are equipped with full kitchens.

Jian says there have been changes in attitudes over the years. Tipping is now infrequent and some guests stay to watch how to properly make a bed, because they have never been taught the task. And how many couples has she, ahem, interrupted? “I’ve never counted,” she says, with a giggle, holding her orange rubber gloves in front of her face.

Hotels, I learn, are like feudal castles. Guests stroll through wide carpeted breezeways that connect towers unaware of the details that make the hotel hum. It’s what’s behind the front desk, in the windowless reservations room, that paints the bigger picture. It’s the study carrel-sized switchboard cubicle or the back stairways that staff use to get around and errant guests use to discover B.C. bud that intrigues.

The collection of Kleenex boxes, terry towel slippers and bathrobes tucked underneath the front desk aren’t enough for one early evening patron who in bathrobe and slicked back hair wants to know why there aren’t any bathrobes in a size to fit her shivering three-foot tall child.

Murmured commiserations fade as I head to the bowels of the hotel for a tour of boiler and sprinkler rooms with maintenance staffer and former Ontario tugboat captain Gord Jukes. Arriving in B.C. two years ago to look for work in his field, Jukes made a side trip to Whistler and landed a job with the Hilton instead. His days are filled with twice a day rounds of checking gauges for the massive hot water tanks, pumps, and boilers, completing tasks like shovelling snow away from the heated outdoor pool deck and following up on trouble calls.

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