- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Not every luxury hotel manager trudges through snow to the base of a ski mountain to make certain his guests are equipped with the proper skis, boots and poles. Scott Taber, who orchestrated the opening of the Four Seasons Resort Whistler, isn’t your typical hotelier.

Hosting dinner at the hotel’s fire-and-ice-themed Fifty Two 80 Bistro — the mile of vertical feet one can ski down Blackcomb Mountain — Mr. Taber admits to being a bona fide marathon runner and sports nut, especially when it comes to winter recreation.

“I grew up playing hockey in Rochester, N.Y.,” he says. “I was even crazy enough to play hockey in Singapore.” Now his young son is skating after the puck in this snow-packed winter wonderland, which can’t wait to be the host mountain and athletes’ village for the XXI Olympic Winter Games in 2010.

Before we climb aboard the Wizard Express and ski these world-famous chutes and runs, let’s explore the Four Seasons Whistler, nestled among trees at the base of Blackcomb and Whistler mountains.

The five-star hotel, which opened amid much fanfare in 2004, boasts all the special services and amenities one expects from a Four Seasons, but add rustic ambience to this alpine jewel, courtesy of a Canadian architect and San Francisco design studio.

Accented in rich wood paneling, the resort has 273 spacious bedrooms, including 95 suites. Every room, unless otherwise requested, has a king-size bed, a gas fireplace that lights at the touch of a button, a pull-out sofa bed that is surprisingly comfortable, a private balcony with spectacular vistas, and an entertainment center with large-screen TV.

Then there’s the tall vase of fresh-cut flowers, delivered to our suite by the hotel’s teen concierge, 17-year-old Ben Podborski — it obviously pays to travel with my 18-year-old daughter, Kerry.

Ben grew up on these slopes. His father, Steve, was one of the famous Crazy Canucks, a handful of fearless, kamikaze-style downhill racers during the 1970s who changed how World Cup competitions were won. He also brought home an Olympic bronze medal in 1980, the first downhill medal won by a North American male.

We find the young concierge, his Four Seasons uniform a red, white and black fleece, seated next to the large wood-burning fireplace in the lobby, sharing secrets with teen guests on where in this expansive resort to have the most fun: whether it’s snowboarding, hanging out in always-happening Whistler Village or hanging on during a Ziptrek Eco-Adventure, a must-do, hair-raising steel zip line that Kerry and I cling to while sailing above the frozen rain forest.

A separate Teen Apres is held at 4 p.m. daily in the lobby library, with soft drinks and Hershey’s S’mores served by the fireplace in fine Four Seasons fashion.

Ben takes a break to steer me in the direction of the best sushi rolled at Whistler: Sachi Sushi on Main Street, popular with the locals.

Once upon a time, I insisted on lugging my vintage Rossignol skis, circa 1978, and almost knee-high plastic boots across the continental United States and Canada, but not anymore. Given the revolution under way with skis and bindings, I would be missing out if I didn’t allow the Four Seasons staff to fit me from head to toe with the latest in high-performance gear.

It’s called the Ski Lite program. We go into the hotel’s upscale ski shop in the lower lobby, where the attentive young staff sizes us up and down. Before we know it, we’re done. No crowds, no lines, no wet socks.

Better yet, we don’t leave with any ski equipment. Instead, our personal information is entered into the computer, and when we’re ready to hit the slopes the next morning, our skis and boots, along with cups of piping-hot cider and cocoa, await us at the Four Seasons Ski Concierge, a separate facility at the base of 8,000-foot Blackcomb Mountain. Whistler’s ski resort, Whistler Blackcomb, has two side-by-side mountains joined at the base.

We don’t carry our cumbersome ski gear to the airport, and we don’t even have to lug it to the slopes.

Kerry and I don’t stop with the Ski Lite package; we opt for Ski Elite lessons, too. Sebastien Lauzon, our private ski instructor, escorts us to the base-area concierge. He and fellow instructors are selected for their professionalism and people skills, and it shows.

Ski Elite also means we’re guaranteed to be among the first skiers on the mountain in the morning, and don’t even think about ever waiting in lift lines. This is the largest ski area in North America, with 8,100 skiable acres, 38 lifts and more than 200 runs, one of them seven miles long. Locals know very little about lift lines.

The snow-groomers have had a difficult time keeping up with this season’s record snowfall. Kerry and I are not accustomed to skiing in powder this deep, but the Ski Elite instruction is communicated easily through two-way walkie-talkie headsets, complemented with videotaped footage reviewed at the end of the day.

At breakfast with Tourism Whistler’s Vanessa Murphy, we learn that Whistler Blackcomb has been rated the No. 1 ski resort in North America by Skiing magazine for 10 years, most recently in November.

Thanks to its high elevation and proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Whistler gets an average annual snowfall of 30 feet. This season’s snow has already surpassed the average, and we’re barely into February.

Glittering Whistler Village also helps attract the popular ratings. Geared for the pedestrian sporting the latest high-fashion apparel, the village alone has more than 200 shops and 90 restaurants and bars. There are 17 on-mountain restaurants — and just 8 percent of the resort’s land area is commercially developed.

New construction, however, is visible as the resort prepares for the Olympics, and the mainly two-lane Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler is being widened. Whistler Mountain was built with the Olympics in mind in the late 1960s, its owners inspired by the 1960 games in Squaw Valley, Calif.

Joining us at the Fifty Two 80 Bistro and Bar, Mr. Taber is pleased to hear of so much fresh powder up above, with more in the forecast.

When passing the bistro’s cold seafood counter and while studying the menu, I am reminded that the largest of the world’s five oceans and all it offers is near enough to taste the salt. So we start with an assortment of seafood appetizers: seared sea scallops with wilted spinach; the daily selection of fresh oysters on the half shell; and lobster, local Dungeness crab, and rock shrimp in shot glasses, flavored with citrus and cocktail sauce.

I stay with the seafood and British Columbia chardonnay, ordering black cod with a mustard vinaigrette, although I am torn between pan-seared wild salmon, braised halibut, garlicky prawns and lobster with glazed chestnuts. There’s also beef tenderloin, crispy chicken, lamb and roasted duck.

Now, if you would please excuse me, tomorrow comes early to Whistler. The snowflakes are growing larger, and my down duvet is calling.

• • •

Four Seasons Resort Whistler is at the base of Blackcomb Mountain, ideal for skiing in winter and, with four courses, fine for golf in summer. For reservations, call 888/935-2460 or 604/935-3400 or visit www.fourseasons.com.

Ziptrek Eco-Adventure offices are in the Carleton Lodge, a short walk or shuttle ride from the Four Seasons. Call 866/935-0001 or 604/935-0001 or visit www.ziptrek.com.

Sachi Sushi is on Main Street in Whistler Village; call 604/935-5649 or visit www.sachisushi.com.

Whistler Village is 80 miles from Vancouver International Airport, which is accessible from most major U.S. cities. Daily nonstop flights from Washington Dulles International Airport are operated on a code-share basis by United Airlines and Air Canada. Call 800/864-8331 or visit www.united.com.

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