By Millie Shredder
What does it mean to be a local and when can you finally call yourself one?
Being a true “local” is like being in the cool-kid club at school and not letting others into your fort. Being a local is an exclusivity that implies an us vs them mentality, prevalent in small towns that are reliant on the tourism industry; just like the town we’re living in now.
I’ve lived in these tourist-attractive towns all my life and was lucky to grow up including myself in the “locals” club. I’d be lying if counting yourself a Local didn’t come with a bit of smugness - an inherent superiority. We know our economies would tank without the tourists, but we still look down our noses at them. We strive to keep the best snow stashes, biggest lines, waviest beaches, anything we consider precious, hidden from “outsiders.” The term local seems to carry a lot of weight; it opens doors if it’s true and elicits laughter if it’s not.
Ski towns confuse things by having a unique middle layer; a group of people somewhere between tourist and true local: the “seasonaire”. A seasonaire could fall into the same category as the tourist in that we may only be here for a short time, yet the town couldn’t function without us. Are we then 6-month tourists, or part-time locals? We are interwoven into the fabric of Val d’Isère, part of its makeup, integral to the build. Evidently though, that’s not enough to use the term. So, what does it take to cross the line into local territory?
An outdated view may be that it takes a certain passage of time to qualify yourself as a local. Some may say that if your grandparents’ grandparents’ grandparents didn’t build the town with their bare hands, you’ll never be a true local. I think everyone would agree that you can’t just move to a new place and immediately call yourself a local from day one. And I agree; it does take time, but maybe not in the traditional sense of months or years. So many people in our generation are taking advantage of our world; living in countries not native to us and as such the amount of time taken to become a local becomes much more abstract. It’s the time it takes to fall in love with a place, to become involved in the community, to call a place home and feel like you belong.
The resounding commonality between people I bounced this idea off is that you must be involved in your community to call yourself a local. You may ski every day and love the mountains with all your heart, but if you’re not contributing in some way to the community, you can’t really count yourself a local. Buy local, eat local, drink local. Get to know your neighbours and them know you. Know and be known. For us in Val d’Isère, it goes beyond drinking at your preferred local pub. (Although, I know the bar owners do appreciate it!) It means looking after each other. Help that drunk girl up out of the snow-bank and take the time to get her home safely. Spend time with that colleague who has injured themselves and help to lift their spirits mid season.
A friend of mine broke her leg last season here in Val and, despite being a first-season seasonaire, the community rallied for her. People from local business and tour operations provided her accommodation more accessible than her own and lifts up the street to the pharmacy. I truly believe she received this amount of aid because she made an effort to be involved. Conversely, I’ve seen entire ski communities scoff at charity attempts involving a seasonaire who stupidly got themselves trapped in the backcountry by ducking ropes and not having avi equipment. They were lucky to have been found, and locals were not impressed by this blatant disrespect for both the mountain and the rescue teams. These are extreme examples and I don’t mean to imply that it takes a tragedy to solidify your place as a local in the community. But we must look out for and respect each other. It is from this mutual support, this sense of unity, that we gain a sense of home.
I believe you can call yourself a true local if you have a fierce pride for your home. You must instinctively wish to protect its integrity and spirit. I think this last concept is why those who do qualify as locals are quick to deny the title to others. You must share in the values of the community and remember why we all choose to live where we do. Val d’Isère’s carefree, we’re-lucky-to-live-here vibe is something I would fight to protect. This is such a beautiful place; be proud you get to say, “yeah, I live here,” and give back to it in whatever way you can. Defend it against those who don’t treat it like the special place it is.
These are attitudes I’ve valued across various ski towns, since I started doing seasons in ’13/14. After all of this, being a local might not be geographical related in traditional sense. After all of this, I propose we take the above characteristics and be local to the lifestyle. Be enmeshed in the seasonaire community. Contest anyone who belittles this distinctly charmed way of life. This life is unquestionably where I belong. I’m at home in the mountains, no matter which mountains they are. If you are reading this, I bet you are too. After all of this, forget being part of the locals’ club, but live like a local anyway with fierce integrity and spirit.