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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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By 10 p.m. the crowd in the bar has completely turned over and the energy and volume ramped up. The hockey game is now on a 17-foot screen that’s been lowered in front of the room’s massive stone fireplace. The adjoining dining room is almost empty save for two structural engineers from Kelowna and Salt Lake City who share stories, but not their names, about the vagaries of building the Symphony Express, Whistler’s latest chairlift, and the importance of staying in a hotel with kitchen facilities.

“We have to be up early and out by 6:45 a.m. and you can’t do that in an ordinary hotel room,” one says.

On the fifth floor of the south tower a pizza is delivered to room 551 while in the kitchen buffet food is trolleyed in and one staffer asks if it’s all to be thrown out. An assistant chef who hasn’t eaten since before she came on shift eight hours earlier scavenges a plate of tortellini.

Night auditor Alain Niculescu is originally from Romania. He worked for hotels in Vancouver before discovering Whistler. “I came on vacation and never left,” he said. “There is so much enthusiasm here, everybody is happy to be here.”

The hotel’s general manager agrees. Pradeep Puri said when recruiting staff are frantic about hiring and training yet another round of up to 100 employees he reminds them of the energy the newcomers will bring.

Puri says Whistler is not just a training ground for seasonal hospitality workers, it can be a career fast tracker. He points out that because of the large transient population, for those who want to stay in Whistler advancement can come quickly in the hotel business. The man who spent most of his hotelier career with the Westin hotel chain — starting as an accountant and working his way up to general manager of a 1,700-room Toronto property — before making the leap to renovate and re-open Whistler’s Hilton says he wishes he’d discovered the resort’s potential earlier. “If I’d known about Whistler 20 years ago I would have been here and I would have stayed.”

His night auditor puts it another way.

“If you are happy, the customers are happy and with every guest we can smile a lot and feel relaxed,” he said. “Here we don’t want to leave, you just don’t want to leave.”