DAVOS, Switzerland (CNNfn) - Business leaders and heads of state came to the World Economic Forum Thursday intending to discuss how to manage global change.
But, it was the weather that dominated the conversation in this isolated ski resort as the worst snow storm in nearly 30 years proved even the most powerful people in the world cannot control Mother Nature.
Vice President Al Gore, who was scheduled to arrive by mid-afternoon, was forced to abandon his helicopter in favor of a Swiss train and a motorcade through the treacherous, mountain roads. By 6 p.m. local time (12:00 ET), Gore had still not arrived.
The near-blizzard like conditions forced officials to close the Zurich Airport Thursday, leaving hundreds of attendees to find other transportation.
"Fortunately, I got a car with a very good driver," said John Finigan, the chief executive of Qatar National Bank.
The streets of Davos were barely passable after a storm hit Thursday
Taxi drivers were quickly in short supply around the mountain resort and large bulldozers with giant chains on their wheels were called into service to clear the roadways.
Outside of the conference hall, located in the center of town, dozens of attendees who chose not to register on Wednesday were forced to wait in the blizzard for more than an hour while conference organizers prepared the registration desks.
Meteorologists said the snow was set to continue.
"Clearing up today is hardly likely," said Andreas Horstettler at the Swiss Meteorlogical Institute.
Veteran Davos goers plan ahead
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has been to several annual meetings in Davos, said one thing he learned over the years is to plan ahead.
"If you go to Switzerland in winter, you should expect snow," Gingrich told CNNfn, adding he chose to arrive a day early so he would not miss the start of the week-long conference.
Some 1,000 corporate chieftains, 300 senior government officials including 40 heads of state or government, and hundreds more high-profile academics and media figures are scheduled to attend the conference between now and next Tuesday.
At the opening session Thursday night, Klaus Schwab, founder and president of the World Economic Forum urged attendees to spend the next few days discussing what he called responsible globality, or the elimination of barriers between nations and companies.
"We have a unique chance here in Davos to show the world that we are devoting our energies and our resources to creating a global economy that serves the interests of human kind," he said.
The week-long conference is mostly focused on business trends and economics. However, there are several offbeat sessions planned as well, including one on jet lag, another on human cloning and a session on the secrets of the Universe.
While some have criticized the annual gathering as elitist, others say the conference allows people to share ideas in an informal setting.
"In five or six days, I can meet more interesting people here than any place I know," Gingrich said.
The conference kicked off with opening addresses from German President Roman Herzog and Swiss President Ruth Dreifuss. It will feature talks by the likes of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and media mogul Ted Turner.
Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) founder Bill Gates will again be on hand, as will Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, South African President Nelson Mandela and Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin.
-- by senior producer Jerry Dubrowski with additional information from wire reports