Who is not at Davos says as much as who is

Who's not in Davos is almost as interesting as who is. The list of "apologies sent" tells you a lot about the past year of corporate and economic misery for Davos Man.

Perhaps the most embarrassing absentee is Philipp Hildebrand, who resigned from the Swiss central bank a few weeks ago. Reuters
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Who's not in Davos is almost as interesting as who is.

The list of "apologies sent" tells you a lot about the past year of corporate and economic misery for "Davos Man".

Among those missing in action is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was a regular for the past five years as the head of the IMF until he was overtaken by events in New York. Nobody is ruling out the possibility he may yet turn up at one of the late-night parties at the Belvedere hotel, the beating heart of the World Economic Forum.

Also absent is George Papandreou, the former prime minister of Greece. The country's predicament means he probably couldn't afford the Belvedere's rates, even if he had been invited.

Rupert Murdoch will miss the gathering for the second year in a row, but wags mutter he will probably follow the proceedings via mobile messaging services.

Perhaps the most embarrassing absentee is Philipp Hildebrand, until a couple of weeks ago the head of the Swiss National Bank until it was revealed his wife Kashya had made a tidy profit on foreign exchange dealings too complicated to go into here. The Swiss must have hated losing one of their own.


The anti-capitalist protesters, after their victories in Wall Street, New York, and St Paul's in London could not be expected to miss the opportunity Davos presents, and sure enough here they are in full glory.

The first signs of their presence were graffiti attacks on a Zurich branch of the Swiss National Bank last week. Two men were arrested after scrawling "Smash WEF" on the bank's walls. Then, in the Swiss capital Berne, police broke up what they said was an unauthorised march. No violence, no reported arrests. This is law-abiding Switzerland, after all.

The main weight of the protest is promised in Davos itself, where activists have begun to build "Camp Igloo" near the railway station, just outside the security cordon that encircles the town. A little nest of ice houses has sprouted up, bearing messages like "Don't let them decide for you!" and the ironic "one dollar, one vote".

I don't think the igloos will catch on. At night with the glimmer of interior light shining through, they look kind of cosy and romantic, like one of those ice-hotels the Swedes build for four months each year. But by day they just look cold, hard and uncomfortable.


The skiing conditions in Davos are perfect: 16 centimetres of fresh snow today, powder snow on the pistes, a mixture of sun and clouds for the next few days, and maximum temperatures at or only just below zero. "Excellent on and off piste conditions," says one website.

Not that I'll be taking advantage of it. My best skiing days are behind me, I fear. Maybe a couple of decades ago I might have been tempted on to the slopes, but even back then I was never an enthusiast.

I did enjoy the high-speed experience of downhill, and even managed a few mogul jumps in my time, but it was all that went with it that put me off - getting to the lifts, the drag up the slopes, that horrible feeling at the top of the run when you know there is no way back.

And it was so expensive. A friend once ridiculed it as "standing freezing on a mountain top, preparing to throw yourself into eternity, while simultaneously ripping up £20 notes". Dead right.

And dangerous too. I saw some horrible collisions, and can remember to this day the sound of two skiers' skulls coming together at high speed on a mountainside in the French Alps - it was like a high-velocity rifle report echoing through the arctic air. The only damage I ever suffered, though, was to my ego. Being ridiculed by a crowd of French teenagers as you are dragged along by the ski-lift line is about as demeaning as it gets.

So, however good conditions are in Davos, it's the après for me.