Mike Duggan — quietly recreating Creekside 

click to enlarge Mike Duggan
  • Mike Duggan

"Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray."

- Sufi poet Rumi

It really suits him. He cruises through the halls of the hotel with the light-footed step of a confident leader. He never raises his voice. Never visibly asserts his authority. In fact, he greets everyone he sees — staff, guest or supplier — with the same gentle bonhomie. But he misses nothing. And I marvel at his ability to seamlessly blend the personal with the professional.

He's like a throwback to those old-school innkeepers who once made ski holidays such a wonderful social adventure. Fully engaged. Thoroughly informed. And for just a beat, I'm transported to Austria and the legendary village of Lech where that kind of hosting was born.

"Memorable" is the first word that comes to mind when I think back to my first visit there. "Familiar" is probably the second. I haven't been back to the Arlberg in years, you know, but I still feel a special kinship with the place. Why? Because the owner of the lodge where I was staying gave me a backstage pass to this fabled skiing landscape. He was my host, guide and historian... a proud keeper of local stories... on- and off-mountain. By the time I left Lech, I felt like I'd become a member of his family... and an expert on local culture.

In the tourism business, they call this "high touch." But the term's become such a tired cliché over the years that it really doesn't mean much anymore. What I'm talking about — what I see going on with Mike Duggan and the Nita Lake Lodge — is something far more fundamental. I like to think of it as "personal touch." And in Whistler's sterile condo-hotel landscape, it's a rare quality to behold.

But then Nita Lake Lodge is different. Nestled on the shores of its eponymous lake, a mere 500-metre walk from the Creekside gondola, Whistler's most successful boutique hotel (yes, I know, another cliché) boasts classic lines and native building materials. And while not specifically tied to a West Coast architectural tradition — its design is more inspired by early-twentieth-century auberges in Quebec's Laurentians or New York's Adirondacks — the lodge still blends better into its surroundings than just about any other commercial property in the valley.

It's a jewel in Whistler's lodging crown. A unique hotel experience in a part of town that desperately needs new commercial energy. And yet...

Back in 2010 I happened to stay at the Nita Lake Lodge for a few nights. It was early winter and the tourist season hadn't yet kicked in. Still, I was appalled. It was like being a guest in a haunted hotel. The towels hadn't been changed in the bathroom, the TV didn't work, the maintenance guy wasn't available, and the manager was off for the weekend. As for the ambiance — every time I walked down the hall, I expected to confront an axe-yielding Jack Nicholson...

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