Unless you have been living under a rock, you probably know there was a DNN party earlier this month in Switzerland. The party was called DNN Connect and held in the Alpine mountain village of Champéry. As both the president of DNN Connect and the location manager for this event, I had quite a bit to do with proceedings this year. So the hole I dropped into when I waved the last attendee goodbye was immense. A severe case of the post-conference-blues. So besides picking up "regular work" again I've been staring at my monitor thinking "now what?" Well, time to reflect on this event.
Hosting DNN Connect in Switzerland has always been a dream for me. Until now I had dismissed the idea as unrealistic given the fact that Switzerland is an "expensive country" (I live here and I can attest to this). Instead we favored the South: Italy, France, Spain. But Ireland proved to be well within our means in 2018, so maybe it should be looked at again. All the more because 2019 marks 10 years since the first informal get-together of DNNers under the banner "DNN Europe". This was also held in Switzerland. The venue back then was a hotel about 100 m from where I live in the Jura mountains.
I have been a regular of Champéry since the 1990's. It's a ski resort village small enough to stay fairly anonymous, but large enough to offer some serious leisure options (read: skiing). The geography makes it fairly unique in that it is at the end of the world's largest ski region (Portes de Soleil) but because it is 1000 m below it, it is not engulfed by ski pistes. This means it has managed to keep its character as a laid back mountain village (by contrast, larger ski resorts tend to become ghost towns outside the winter season).
So the opportunity to bring DNN Connect to Champéry was one I was really keen on. And after an initial offer it quickly became clear we could make it work financially. The two main cost factors of any event are lodging and food. Lodging turned out to be cheaper than I had feared and for food we came up with a novel solution: we'd cut down on lunch to be able to afford a decent dinner (dinner at this year's event was at least twice as expensive as it was in Girona). Hotel Suisse made us an offer we simply couldn’t refuse.
In removing a warm sit down lunch in favor of a standing buffet of sandwiches another new possibility opened up: to speed up the conference part of the event and finish early so people could go out and enjoy the surroundings. Lunch was cut to about half an hour (the same as coffee breaks) and the time between sessions was a measly 5 minutes. It was maybe a bit stressful for everyone involved, but we managed to squeeze 6 sessions in a day and still finish at 4 in the afternoon. And with dinner at 8, participants had 4 hours to go hiking, cycling, swimming, climbing, etc. Luckily the weather didn't let us down and our gamble paid off. Some unforgettable moments were spent together in the surrounding mountains.
Speaking of weather and dinner: the mountain-top dinner worked out. An integral part of the dream to host DNN Connect at Champéry was going to be dinner at Croix de Culet. Champéry is connected to the Portes du Soleil through a cable car that goes up 1000 m straight to the ski region. And at the top of this cable car is a large building including a restaurant with a panoramic view. It is very popular and even if not going up to go skiing or hiking, people still go up to go to this restaurant just for the view. And I knew one could do a private event in the evening and get a private cable car ride. So that topped my wish list. Financially it was doable. But the biggest risk was the weather. If you're up there and you're in a cloud or worse, it is a mediocre experience at best. And in the exceptional circumstance of a storm from the "wrong direction" the cable car won't be able to run at all and we'd be left scrambling to find another venue that can host 100 people. So until a week before the event (by the time weather forecasts were stable) we had a backup plan for this dinner. Luckily we didn't need it. On the contrary. Saturday turned out to be the best day of the entire long weekend.
As the attendees spilled out onto the outside deck overlooking the mountains, the sun was setting. In our preparations we had actually studied this. In April the team gathered in Champéry and we had lunch on the same terrace. Declan whipped out his phone and fired up an app to determine where and at what time the sun would set on June 8th. So the plan was "go up at 8, sunset with glass of wine on the outside deck, then inside at 9 for dinner". In the immortal words of Hannibal: "I love it when a plan comes together". When at 11:30 a merry group of DNNers descended the mountain, the light in the gondola was switched off so we travelled in total darkness with the lights of the village below us. Unforgettable.
We came back for a final night at the hotel. Hotel Suisse was to be the focal point of our event. Although some attendees were housed in the nearby Palladium, the hotel was where the bulk of attendees stayed. And the team at Hotel Suisse played a pivotal part in the success of this event. They supplied the first dinner and all coffee and lunch breaks. The breakout rooms were also in this hotel. One of the more unexpected highlights of this year's event for me was how the ground floor space of the hotel worked in our favor. Several lounge spaces were linked with a bar that was just the right size for our crowd. As we had the entire hotel to ourselves we had the hotel bar all to ourselves as well. I have rarely felt more comfortable roaming around that floor. It was all free flowing. Unplanned. Organic. Without any incidents.
The Friday night the bartenders held a music quiz for us (we now know the hidden talent of Olivier). So you could be in the bar at 11 participating in a this quiz and at 2 find yourself in an adjacent lounge discussing the future of theming in a group of 5 likeminded spirits. Or discuss the merits of the PersonaBar with Dave. These lounges acted as "breakout rooms" from the bustle of the bar. I have rarely seen our crowd so "at home" as in this hotel and its bar. We had asked it to remain open until at least ... well, whatever they could manage. And it wasn't until Sunday morning at 5 AM as I gleaned my watch that I realized that the enthusiasm of DNN Connect was rubbing off on the bartender as she had kept the bar running until well after what we'd asked for. She is now "one of us", dare I say.
Sunday morning around 5:30 I decided to call it a night and head off home (I wasn't staying at the hotel). I strolled through Champéry listening to birds as the sun came up. An unforgettable moment. Like Björk's "There's more to life than this" song. Job done. We all go home now and after we've slept it off we'll try to remember all the inspiring things we heard the night before. Good night everyone. And thank you again Lara, Camillia and the rest of the team at Hotel Suisse. This event will not easily be forgotten by those that were there.
See you next year in Obergurgl, Austria (including a contest who can pronounce this correctly)