Countries and companies rent out storefronts on the Promenade in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum

DAVOS, Switzerland — For as long as countries and companies have rented out chalets and storefronts on the Promenade of the small Swiss ski village that hosts the World Economic Forum, ancillary programming hosted beyond the reaches of the Congress Center, the annual event’s official venue, has been the lifeblood of the weeklong gathering.

In fact, the continued commoditization of the town’s high street has helped the Davos underground thrive. It is typically at these secretive, exclusive, and often off-the-record events where much of the wheeling, dealing, and decadence continues to happen.

Here’s what you missed inside the places where leaders in business and politics let loose at the 54th edition of the forum.

No more Russian oligarchs at Davos

With the Russian delegation again banned from the remote Alpine resort town, the parties weren’t quite as opulent or as debaucherous as they used to be, according to multiple, long-time World Economic Forum regulars.

In years past, billionaire oligarchs bankrolled many of the lavish and infamous events held on the sidelines of the annual gathering of the world’s elite. The kind of parties where guests are spoon-fed caviar by models dressed in costumes and blockbuster names in business and politics let loose and talk shop in a way where no filter sometimes yields results.

“The Russians aren’t here anymore, so Davos isn’t really Davos anymore,” said one forum attendee who has been coming to the event since 2018.

In the early days of the forum, Russian business leaders operating in a post-Soviet world got a reputational makeover when they landed a place at the global convention. But as President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine rages on, so too does the invite moratorium for everyone from the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) to Moscow-born business moguls and Putin confidantes.


Sure, there are still the ultra-exclusive dinners hosted by the likes of the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. Anti-Putin activist Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital, who no longer attends the official program, citing costs, convened guests on the first night of the forum at Ochsen Steakhouse, which boasts a menu of exotic game including zebra, ostrich, horse, and wild boar.

The Illuminati’s Eye of Providence even made an appearance, as people dressed as monks claiming to work at Moonshot Investor Network, which focuses on alternative investments like private equity, went along the promenade handing out Renaissance-styled scrolls to a select few. When unfurled, the document revealed a secret invitation that read, “YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN,” with a corresponding QR code beneath. One person who followed the rabbit hole further tells CNBC that the QR code linked to a website mentioning seances and rituals. It also involved a few more hoops to traverse, including online puzzles, before the party destination and time was revealed.

“It was a great marketing ploy,” this person told CNBC.

But Davos regulars maintain that things just aren’t as lavish or as wild as they once were.

The Mooch’s annual wine soirée

On Tuesday night, it was mob-like conditions in the lobby of Hotel Europe, where Anthony “the Mooch” Scaramucci was holding the 13th edition of the Annual Davos Wine Forum Tasting.

Guests queued for nearly an hour in mosh pit-level intimacy, waiting for a wristband and admission up the stairs to the famed soirée, which offers guests a curated selection of so-called “100 point” wines from around the world, such as the 2003 Chateau Latour which sells for $995 a bottle.


The delay had to do with the fact that the party’s co-host — SkyBridge Capital founder and former White House Communications Director to President Donald Trump for ten days in 2017 — showed up late to his own shindig, and subsequently had trouble getting past the security detail hired to safeguard his event.

Among the throng of people being pushed around by wine-hungry rule-breakers shoving their way to the base of the stairs was Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.

Indeed, the wine tasting often draws in Davos’s flashiest names. Matt Damon, Richard Branson, and Andrea Bocelli were reportedly spotted there last year. This year, U.S. Senator Chris Coons, former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and a mix of media’s top brass were all in attendance.

By 11 p.m., the main supply of wine had dried up and bartenders transitioned to serving water instead, but as is typically the case at the annual tasting, the wine continued to flow in a secret backroom reserved for the crème de la crème of the guest list.

“That’s when you get the good s—,” said a Davos attendee who is regularly selected to join the exclusive backroom of the Annual Davos Wine Forum Tasting.

Before the supply ran dry, the 2024 full tasting menu included:

  • Champagne
    Perrier Grand Siecle No 26 
  • Bordeaux
    Smith Haut Lafitte 2020
    Chateau Latour 2003
    L’Eglise-Clinet 2010
  • Burgundy
    Olivier Bernstein Bonnes Mares Grand Cru 2015
    Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru 2005
  • California
    Ridge Monte Bello 2013, Santa Cruz Mountains
    Dominus 2018, Napa Valley
  • Tuscany
    Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Lucere, San Fillippo 2010
    Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova, Casanova di Neri 2010

‘Sledging’ down the mountain

Politico’s party at the Schatzalp Thursday evening is a Davos tradition and a must-attend event, in large part because it involves sledding (dubbed “sledging” to forum regulars) down a mountain on a toboggan after a night of negronis.

To get there, a bright blue and yellow funicular whisks passengers nearly a half mile up from Davos-Platz to the 124 year-old Schatzalp Hotel in four minutes flat.

The hotel, which is in the Art Nouveau style, was retrofit from a sanatorium in the mid-20th century.

The sprawling estate looms over the city and features epic views of the Albula Alps. The property draws eerily apt parallels to the hotel in the Stephen King classic, “The Shining.”

That night, it was raining on the promenade, but up at Schatzalp, the powdery snow was coming down hard — ideal conditions for a sledding expedition.

The guest list, which included Browder, and a mix of executives from IBM and AB InBev, as well as some of America’s top politicians on site, migrated from the porch-wrapped hotel to a torch-lit path that led to the trailhead for the annual sledge run.


Politico reports that Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff was keen on sledging but his secret service detail vetoed the decision.

A-listers network in the security lines

Airport-level security at many Davos venues was par for the course throughout the week, but a snafu in the badge processing station at the Belvedere Hotel on Monday made for an epic night of impromptu networking in line.

Within the hotel, myriad broadcasters and big corporates retrofit a mix of spaces, including conference rooms and the spa, to host everything from breakfast panels and luncheons, to late-night cocktails stretching past midnight. Security was tight at the sole entrance to get in and out of the 5-star hotel.

The queue into the Belvedere on the first evening of the conference lasted an hour and began along the veranda lining the hotel. It was snowing and freezing, and the fact that no matter who you were, you couldn’t cut the line, made for a great icebreaker.

Ex-White House economic adviser to Trump and IBM Vice Chair Gary Cohn was among those chatting it up with his neighbors in the queue.

Others used the extra time in line to pore over their phone and catch up on emails and texts. While waiting, CNBC juggled a laptop to prep for a dinner roundtable later that night on artificial intelligence.


Doorstepping big names in security lines was a theme throughout the week.

Geopolitical expert and Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer and Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and executive chairman of digital marketing firm S4 Capital, were both reportedly stuck in line outside the annual Salesforce party where Sting was on stage performing, waiting for space to free up inside. You can think of this event as the one time each year that an enterprise software company gets to be the cool kid throwing the hottest party of the night thanks largely to the fact that they always spend the cash to put a big name on stage.

Sting performed at an invite-only event hosted by Microsoft last year, the night before the company laid off 10,000 people. This year, days after the musician headlined Salesforce’s annual blowout, the tech company, which earlier in January announced layoffs, was reported to be letting go another 700 workers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Seems seeing Sting on stage at Davos could become a reason for anxiety among tech workers.

Window shopping for CEOs

The two-mile stretch of the Davos Promenade has the exhibitionist feel of the window brothels of Amsterdam’s Red Light District, without any of the illicit undertones.

With virtually all storefronts rented out during the weeklong forum, companies and countries had dockets of A-listers lined up to speak in fireside chats and on panels, from breakfast till the post-dinner cocktail hour.

Instead of window shopping knitwear and ski gear, Davos was about window shopping for CEOs.


Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates held a mic in his right hand while chatting in the front window of the Infosys Lounge. At Bloomberg House, which was situated at the corner of Scalettastrasse and the promenade, it was all windows, making it easy to catch a glimpse of OpenAI CEO Sam Altman and Salesforce chief Marc Benioff during their fireside chats. Hedge fund legend Ray Dalio was at the Emirates lounge for a fireside chat on the global economy after AI, while Emhoff gave remarks at the Female Quotient Lounge. The list goes on.

Unlike the secret parties, dinners, and luncheons, this was all about putting these top names on display.

Promenade parties were far more stealth about their guest lists and speakers.

JPMorgan took over the Kirchner Museum (named for the famed German expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner) for its annual drinks event, which saw a mix of the forum’s top brass. Guests this year walked away with a gift bag with a single party favor: A polar bear-branded booklet detailing the company’s 2024 market outlook.

“It’s a propaganda book,” one person leaving the party said of the party favor. “The lesson is, don’t be greedy.”

CNBC convened dinners and cocktail receptions every night of the conference, including its annual “Nightcap” event co-hosted with the Financial Times in Lounge West in the Belvedere Hotel.


Some of the usual suspects were there, like Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, IBM’s Gary Cohn, and SandboxAQ CEO Jack Hidary, a company spun off from Google’s parent Alphabet in 2022 that applies AI and quantum tech to key challenges in cyber, drug discovery and other areas.

There were also some less likely names in attendance, like Britain’s intelligence chief, Sir Richard Moore, who heads up MI6.

The week’s evening revelries reached a crescendo at a Davos institution: Barry’s Piano Bar. It is named for Davos’s legendary pianist-in-residence, Barry Colson, who comes in from Halifax, Canada, to entertain nightly on the sidelines of the forum at the Piano Bar’s new home: Upstairs at Hotel Europe.

It is worth noting that the attire of the Davos set is decidedly not chic. One long-time Davos goer said St. Moritz over New Year’s Eve drew in a similar crowd to Davos but the ski and winter wear was on point.

“Davos isn’t trying to be fancy,” this person told CNBC. “They aren’t trying to even be Aspen. It’s more like Salt Lake City.”

(Klosters, a skiing village a 20-minute drive down the road from Davos, appeals to fancier tastes. It is also apparently home to a baron and baroness, one Davos regular and avid skier told CNBC.)


The Davos fashion scene still saw a smattering of ornate fur-brimmed hats and a mix of Moncler, Canada Goose, and Arc’teryx ski attire — but on the whole, day or night, it was no-label oversized sweaters, heattech innerwear and thermal layers, snow boots with Yaktrax spikes for the ice, and cable-knit beanies with pom poms which ruled the day.

In fact, the only accessory that people seemed to pay any attention to was the color of your conference badge, which was meant to be worn at all times, in a sort of weird caste system that exists for the space of five days each year.

Most members of the media had an orange badge which gave pretty decent access to most venues. Some badges with red and yellow stripes introduced certain restrictions, but the highly coveted white badge gave virtually unfettered access to every event under the sun.

CNBCers got a bonus badge that was royal blue for fast-lane access to a retrofitted version of the promenade’s English Church dubbed the “Sanctuary” — where people like French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry frequented the speakers’ stage.

Goals House was far — but totally worth the trek

The temperature on the ground in Davos swung from -3 degrees Fahrenheit to nearly 40 degrees at various points during the week, which meant that on some days it was far easier to trek across town on foot than on others. With Ubers charging $46 for a 5-minute ride a mile down the road, and traffic proving a headache at peak hours, walking from point A to point B often was the fastest and most cost effective way to get around.

It also served as built-in exercise; another useful perk to work off the calories from all the red wine on offer at forum events.


Among the destinations further afield that was well worth the commute was Goals House, a group founded in Davos back in 2019 with the mission of driving progress on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Since launching in Switzerland, Goals House broadened out its geographic footprint, staging venues and programming at events around the world.

In the Davos off season, Goals House is Golf Club Davos, a cozy lodge on the outskirts of town.

The journey there involved walking through snow in the dark, since Mattastrasse wasn’t lit with street lights. It also meant trekking in the same narrow lane as oncoming cars since sidewalks were packed in with waist-high banks of powdery snow.

The programming varied widely from breakfast sessions and lunch panels to dinner roundtables dedicated to conversations about cutting-edge AI applications with executives from Palantir, Accenture, and SandboxAQ.

CNBC also moderated a lunch session upstairs on ways that sustainable agriculture tech can address food security and water scarcity issues.

The venue proved one of the most popular destinations for the biggest parties in Davos, as well.


On Monday evening, Politico convened its opening night-cap there, drawing in names like Wyclef Jean, Diane von Fürstenberg, former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and Sky News’s Executive Chairman David Rhodes.

On Wednesday, Sting and Osborne were spotted passing a golden Oscar statuette around the table.

And later in the week, Bank of America and (RED) held a nightcap at Goals House anointed best party of the week by Politico’s Suzanne Lynch in her Davos Awards, because it was “a winning mix of political, business and celeb royalty, with a chilled-out vibe.” Among the attendees were Britain’s Princess Beatrice, magician David Blaine, Sting and General Milley — who clearly had a staff that had been briefed on the must-attend events this year.

‘Nail’ bar and other low-key, no-list Après-Ski events

By the time the final session wrapped at the Congress Center on Friday afternoon, Davos stragglers bore witness to the rapid dismantling of the entire town.

Workers descended on the village with ladders and drills to take apart the installations spread across the small Swiss city. Freight trucks and helicopters airlifted out the cargo, and locals clad in ski gear began to walk the streets of their home once again.

That last night in Davos was when the low-key, no-list venues, like Tijuanabar on Talstrasse, or “Tij,” really lit up. Think rock ’n roll music, dancing, and live sports like hockey playing on the TV.

It is also one of the town’s “nail” bars, a tradition that involves taking a nail from a Töggel box and hammering it into a block of wood that looks like a tree trunk. Whomever does it in the fewest strokes, wins.

Tij was one of a handful of bars beloved by locals, as well as the Swiss Army, which parachutes in to provide security detail to the World Economic Forum each year.

CNBC caught up with one of those troops — a drill sergeant specialized in infantry who had been serving in the Army for more than 500 days. He was decompressing over lager following a week spent protecting conference goers in town.

Skiing and snowboarding after panels and live broadcasts was another favorite pastime of some Davos goers. Gliding into bars situated on the slopes was one perk of ending the day on the mountain.

Unlike the chatter on the train ride into Davos, the discussions on the way out were more relaxed.

One conversation, for example, was comprised of two therapists speaking to a third person on a Zoom about MDMA couples therapy and ayahuasca ceremonies. They were checking to see if it was legal in Switzerland, as well as debating the benefits of psychedelic drugs. The goal was to launch a research retreat aimed at the Davos crowd next year.

— CNBC’s Alex Sherman contributed to this report.