WTF is the WEF in Davos?

Are you in Davos this week for the annual World Economic Forum (WEF)? Chances are, if you are, you are one of the thousands of extra staff brought in to look after the rich and famous. Or perhaps you are one of the rich and famous?

In what is a relatively expensive country to visit, the WEF really is about the privileged few. They are in town to put the world to rights, and most have come in on private jets.

With basic membership at a cost of 68,000 Swiss francs (£55,400), you get access to general sessions of the WEF. For just under SFr 700,000 for five people you get full access – provided your number includes a token woman.

But of course most people are not in town to hear what they could read in the papers. They are here to mingle, network or to party. Or all three.

Apparently you know you are part of the in crowd if you get invited to the party thrown by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska at his palatial chalet up the mountain from Davos. Regulars include people like Tony Blair, and you can guarantee the opportunity to hear the great and the not so good bend your ear about how issues such as inequality and the environment can get fixed. I kid you not, these are the two hottest topics at Davos.

And all this before everyone gets to go home on their private jets at nearby Dübendorf military airfield, escaping the traffic jams of chauffeur driven cars or the inconvenience of mixing with the hoi polloi on Switzerland’s immaculate railway system, burning as much fuel in one hour as a typical car does in a year.

Amongst those jetting in will be London’s mayor, a champion of public transport, who may be interested to hear that he could have got from his home in London to Davos and back entirely by train.

So what else can you do in Davos apart from put the world to rights over a glass of Dom Perignon? Well, how about ski or snowboard!
Skiers on the Parsenn above Davos
Davos is one of the very best places in the world to hit the slopes. As the Swiss Winter Sports web site puts it “Really very extensive slopes and bags of off-piste options – probably stands alongside the Engadin and the 4 Vallées as somewhere you could easily spend a whole season. Davos Dorf has access to the fabulous snow-sure Parsenn it shares with Klosters, but there is also good on and off-piste on other mountains served by the lifts from the town, for example the Jakobshorn from Davos Platz and the Rinerhorn from Glaris. In addition you can access the small areas at Pischa and Schatzalp or, from Klosters, access the Madrisa.”

After a slow start to the winter sports season, Davos has had a lot of snow in recent days, with around a metre in the town, temperatures below freezing and perfect conditions on the slopes. Expect clear, sunny skies for the forseaable future.

If you choose to visit once the problems of the world have been debated, Davos is only an hour and a quarter by train from Zurich.

Davos Parsenn - Walter Peikert 1938

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The Swiss have a mountain to climb

Swiss franc banknotes
Swiss Ski Resorts were left reeling by the lifting on the cap on the Swiss currency by the Swiss National Bank. It clearly took everyone by surprise, including yours truly who was considering converting some euros to francs, but left it a little too late.

In fairness, many resorts this season will have been locked into the fixed exchange rate, and will be loathe to upset customers by amending them. For customers who paid up front, they have even less to worry about. Similarly Swiss residents, who make up the largest share of winter sports tourists, will not seen any difference at all.
Davos hosting WEF
Nor, I suspect, will the global leaders who descend on Davos this time of the year to talk about world affairs, showboat, get a couple of turns in and generally enjoy an expense-paid outing. The shindig must be great for Davos, at the best of times a fabulous destination, and I suspect the visitors will not blanch at sticking another bottle of plonk on expenses even when they see the price tag. It always seem such a bizarre, even surreal, location for people to go to talk about problems facing the world.

Zermatt similarly is unlikely to feel much pain from the Swiss Franc exchange rate. The dollar and pound sterling have suffered against the franc, but not to the extent of the euro, and Zermatt gets a lot of Anglophone custom. It is also perhaps the best ski resort in the world, and many visitors will reluctantly accept the higher prices as the cost of being in the shadow of the Matterhorn. Reports are that the weakness of the ruble has not deterred the Russians who descend on St Moritz every winter, and Verbier has always attracted a crowd who are relatively price-insensitive, such as the Duke of York.
View over Verbier and the Rhone valley in Valais
The losers are likely to be second tier resorts, and the pain is likely to occur next season. It is probable that the franc will remain strong if the European central Bank does, as is predicted, embark on a massive round of quantitative easing, i.e. print more money, and even the negative interest rates on funds held with the central bank in Switzerland does not seem to have deterred people who still see the franc as a safe haven. I will not be surprised to see the franc tagged again to the euro, albeit at a higher rate than before, simply because it is easier for a central bank to devalue a currency than to appreciate its value. An interesting article here, suggests other reasons why the SNB dropped the cap, but even if the cantonal governments welcome it a wide range of Swiss businesses will be appalled and will certainly canvas for redress.

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Where the Rich and Famous Ski

Patrick Thorne writes for InTheSnow ( about some of the celebrities who ski.
St Moritz village from Corviglia
There are some interesting gems. Apparently Prince Charles took Princess Diana to learn to ski in Lichtenstein – presumably Malbun – to avoid the media expecting them at the Walserhof Hotel in Klosters, well known as a royal favourite. Prince Harry, it is claimed, prefers St Moritz, as does King Carl Gustav of Sweden. Charlie Chaplin was reputedly the first man to drive to St Moritz in the winter and Alfred Hitchcock kept a suite at the Palace Hotel for many years.
Gstaad Palace HotelSophia Loren, however, preferred Gstaad and the Gstaad Palace. David Niven was a near neighbour, choosing to winter in Chateau D’Oex.
I am not sure how many of the rich and famous actually ski at Davos during the World Economic Forum (21–24 January 2015), but you could do worse.
George Michael stayed at the Ferienart in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, 30 years ago to film the video for Last Christmas.

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