Davos: A town of cuckoo clocks, $20 pasta and very slippery pavements

Editor’s Note: CNN is at Davos and will bring you breaking news, analysis and insight from January 20 to January 25. Join CNN anchors Richard Quest, John Defterios and Nina dos Santos as they ask the world’s political and economic leaders what we can expect in 2014. Follow our team on the ground.

Story highlights

Chris Pepper, a "Davos virgin" shares his experience of attending the WEF for the first time

He is told it'd cost a fortune and would be exhausting, but also that iDavos is nothing like any other event

He discovers how the color of his ID badge dictates his right to access, food and hospitality

CNN  — 

A word to the wise. If you’re going to go walking in snow, take big steps.

I was knee deep in a Swiss forest pretending to be the adventurer Bear Grylls when I came a cropper and collapsed face first into a snowdrift. Before I could emerge from my embarrassing predicament, a photograph was helpfully plastered across social media.

Chris Pepper, CNN Producer

I held out a hand for help, but Beau, a giant of a cameraman, was too busy laughing.

Welcome to the World Economic Forum. This place eats up Davos virgins and spits them out faster than you can say CEO.

Veterans like Richard Quest, who is attending his 10th WEF, take great pleasure in warning new CNN producers that it’ll cost a fortune, it’s exhausting, but it’s like no other event like it you’ve ever been to before.

They’re not wrong.

Imagine taking a small Swiss city, laden with shops selling little more than overpriced cuckoo clocks, chocolate and snowboards, surrounding it in barriers of steel and snipers, and inviting the masters of the universe in business, politics and academia to visit.

Europe’s highest city is a very strange place.

It’s where $20 won’t even get you a portion of pasta, where your pidgin German and French is quietly laughed at, and where any kind of shoes feel like a bad choice.

Billy Connolly once said: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong kind of clothing.”

In Davos, everyone’s changing clothes every time they move from ferocious air blowers indoors to the Baltic outdoors.

I saw one CEO quickly dump his $400 brogues in favor of some slightly ridiculous moon boots. Hunters are stylish and do rather well. My $7 discount store rubber attachments have – so far – survived intact.

Beyond the ring of steel, tourists were rapidly banished as journalists from round the world take over ski lodges and budget hotels.

Small businesses clear off as corporate hospitality moves in. Over a weekend I watched a pet shop converted into a plush hospitality suite for Barclays. The RBS lounge looked like no other bank I’ve ever been to. If only my local branch in south London was kitted out with comfy sofas and a bar. It would be somewhere to drown your sorrows when you’ve smashed through your overdraft.

Inside the barrier, once you’ve passed armed security, the x-ray machine and the ID card scanner, you’re finally allowed entry to the Kongress Centre (clearly a typographical error) using the back entrance though a tunnel made from material not unlike a bouncy castle. It’s brilliant white, and resembles a bio-hazard emergency tent which featured in E-T 30 years ago.

Sweating in heavy winter gear under the power of hot air blowers, I soon discovered how my ID badge dictates your right to access, food and hospitality at WEF. Simply put it’s a reinvention of the class system.

Journalist purple badge holders are ranked just above pond life, but at least we can get inside the center.

White badges are allowed better nibbles.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, I struggled to tie a washing line between two trees. I then added some Davos related surveys with clothes pegs. This was a stunt for my show, Marketplace Europe, which showed the plethora of reports which come out to coincide with WEF.

The phrase “it seemed like a good idea at the time” sprung to mind more than once in the freezing wind, followed by another whispered piece of advice from Richard which I had cheerfully ignored: “Don’t forget the long johns, Pepper.”


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