Davos Diary: Trapped without life support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale

Davos Diary: Trapped without life  support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale
Exterior view of the of the snow covered Steigenberger Grandhotel Belvedere in Davos, Switzerland, onJan. 15, 2019. (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP)
Updated 26 January 2019

Davos Diary: Trapped without life support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale

Davos Diary: Trapped without life  support at 5,000 feet — a survivor’s tale
  • It was time to head to another event in the Belvedere, when I realized my backpack was missing
  • Despite what happened, I slept like a baby, waking at 7am to the news that my bag had been found in the Belvedere

Here is the nightmare scenario: You are 5,000 feet up a snowy Alpine mountain in sub-zero conditions. Your only contact with the outside world is via a variable mobile signal, and the precious life support system that you carry on your back.

Your World Economic Forum backpack contains everything a journalist needs to survive in these savage conditions — laptop, notebook, hotel key, charging leads and other essential connectables. Its reassuring weight on your shoulder has sustained you for several life-threatening days.

Suddenly, it is gone. Panic. Terror. Intimations of imminent mortality.

This was the situation I found myself in the other night at the Standard Aberdeen cafe next door to the Belvedere hotel in the beating heart of Davos. You cannot miss the Staberdeen, as it’s known, because it has a Scottish Highland piper playing at top decibels outside. 

It had been a very convivial hour or so in the cafe, where Aberdeen founder Martin Gilbert puts on one of the best bashes of the whole WEF extravaganza. His generosity is limitless, his guest list formidable.

I was standing at the bar in search of refreshment when I looked around at the two gentlemen engaged in conspiratorial conversation next to me, and recognized Liam Fox, the British minister for International trade, and David Davis, former minister for Brexit.

There are no prizes for guessing their subject of conversation. As a result of my eavesdropping, however, I can confirm that Theresa May, the UK prime minister, will definitely not be coming to Davos, contrary to rumors that she might put in an unscheduled appearance.

There were many old friends from my days on Fleet Street, including William Lewis, who was a humble hack when I knew him back then but who has risen to illustrious heights and is now CEO of Dow Jones, publisher of the Wall Street Journal.

Will jokily reminded me of my old nickname on the Street of Shame, but which I don’t have space to explain here.

All that was fun, but it was time to head to another event — the CNBC/Financial Times “nightcap” — in the Belvedere, when I realized my backpack was missing. It was not in the place that I had left it on arriving at the cafe.

The very considerate Staberdeen people mounted an exhaustive hunt of the premises. A black backpack with “WEF” printed on it is not uncommon in Davos, and many lookalikes were found. But there was no trace of mine. Obviously somebody had taken it in error and would return it when they realized their mistake.

There was nothing for it but to quench my panic in the Staberdeen. For a pleasant interlude, I forgot my predicament, while lamenting I would not be able to mix with the glamorous people from CNBC.

I had a very interesting chat with Mike Corbat, CEO of the big American banking group Citigroup, who had a rather more benign take on the state of the global economy than most people at Davos — though he was concerned at the news from Venezuela.

Some American oil execs at the do were also worried about the news from Caracas, but offered the view that the US energy giant ExxonMobil stood ready to support the Venezuelan people by getting their oil industry back up and running quickly, if they got the call.

Two hours passed, and still no news of my life support. There was nothing for it but to head back to my Klosters hotel (arranged very kindly courtesy of an Uber on Staberdeen’s account), to wake Walter, the proprietor of the Cresta Hotel, and seek entry to my room.

Maybe it was the Staberdeen hospitality, maybe the unexpected freedom from work responsibilities conferred by the missing laptop, but I slept like a baby, waking at 7am to the news that my bag had been found in the Belvedere. High-altitude life could resume.

 

• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai