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The tendencies of the revalorisation of rural spaces and subsequent rural gentrification have been studied under the notion of “amenity migration” in different geographic contexts. The new dwellers keep their social networks in the cities and import their urban lifestyles to their new homes. This contribution focuses on the (re)negotiation of the local identities and “local knowledge” in Verbier, a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. Verbier grew from a small mountain hamlet to a pulsating resort for ski tourists over the last 50 years, and currently, new residents and people practicing multilocal residentiality reshape the local communities and representations of the locality.

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  • 1 The author thanks the editors of this special issue, Viviane Cretton, and three anonymous reviewers (...)
  • 2 The notion of the Alps as the “Playground of Europe” was shaped by the British Alpinist Leslie Step (...)

1As is recognized widely, booming ski tourism, especially from the 1960s on, brought a new perspective to the mountains as a “playground”2, new ways of enjoying the mountains, and a reinterpretation of the holiday resort and of its space for habitation. The development from touristic places - with tourists residing in hotels or renting rooms - to villages-stations - with a strong trend of the purchase of secondary homes - (Lorenzetti and Delmenico, 2017; Deslarzes, 1998; Clivaz, 2013) impacts local “touristic models” and questions regarding demography, local communities and identities. These issues become even more central when we consider the more recent focus in mountain research on the diversification of the forms of residentiality that include multilocality, commuting mobility or the multifunctionality of secondary homes resulting from the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure (Perlik, 2011; 2012; Bender and Kanitscheider, 2012; Löffler et al., 2014). As several studies show, living in the mountains seems to be a practice (re)discovered by working age people embedded in urban and global social and professional networks, with some of them practicing multilocality linked to high mobility and social status (see e.g. Perlik, 2011, Löffler et al., 2014; Bender and Kanitscheder, 2012; Cognard, 2006). This leads to a conceptualization of such phenomena in the light of a “neo-peopling” of the Alps (Viazzo and Zanini 2014), rural or “Alpine gentrification” (Perlik, 2011) or “amenity migration” in rural and/or mountainous regions (Perlik, 2006; 2011; 2012; Martin, Bourdeau and Daller, 2012).

  • 3 For an overview of the literature on new immigration trends in the European Alps up to 2012, see Be (...)

2While these studies discuss the social profiles of these “new highlanders” or the broader socio-economic processes launched by these new immigration trends (see, e.g., Fourny, 1994 and Cognard, 2006 for France, and Elmi and Perlik (2014) and Löffler et al. (2014) for Italy, just to name a few3), there are few studies that have shed light on the relationships developed between the “nouveaux habitants” and their new (social and natural) environment or on their influence on the imaginaries of what is “local”, as it is done for example in a study on British lifestyle migrants in the French Lot by Michaela Benson (2013). While I previously pointed to cosmopolitanized and urbanized imaginaries of “living in the mountains” (Friedli, 2020), I wish here to present the processes of identity building and place attachment by the “new highlanders” who visit, frequent, move to, stay in, settle in, and become local in a mountainous region in the Swiss Alps in more detail. Departing from the assumption that locality is produced socially (Appadurai, 1996) and that place-making can include movement (Gregorič Bon and Repič, 2016), I will discuss how these processes also (re)shape and reinterpret the imaginaries about the “local”, the conception of “community” and “local knowledge”. With the example of Verbier, a still growing ski resort in the French speaking part of the canton of Valais in the Swiss Alps, I tackle questions such as what role do imaginaries about the landscape, nature and the “local community” play in the identity processes in a highly urbanized ski resort (see Stock and Lucas, 2012). In what ways do “nouveaux habitants” (re)produce imaginaries about the “local” and how do they develop alternative local identities by introducing elements of cosmopolitanism, entrepreneurialism and urban lifestyles?

  • 4 I will keep the focus here on the perspective of the “newcomers” while the perspective of the “hist (...)

3After an introduction to the fieldwork setting and the methods, I will briefly introduce a critical discussion on the concepts of amenity and lifestyle migration linked to notions of (im)mobility and (multi)locality in a (post)touristic situation. The second part of the article will focus on the residential choices and trajectories of the lifestyle migrants and multilocals and their place attachment and local identity building strategies.4

I. Approaching the ski resort as a (post)touristic situation

A. Studying mobilities and local identities in the Swiss Alps: Research methods and setting

  • 5 This research is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF, fond n° 10001A_172807).
  • 6 The four resorts are Verbier (Val de Bagnes) and Zermatt (Valley of Zermatt) in the Swiss Alps and (...)

4This contribution relies on data gathered in the scope of the ongoing comparative research project “Living local in mountain areas: diversification, gentrification, cohabitation. A comparison between the Swiss Alps and Spanish Pyrenees”5. The study examines the interactions and social dynamics between different groups of the population, such as “historic” locals, new residents, seasonal workers and other temporary residents, multilocals and tourists, in four mountain resorts in two regions in Switzerland and Spain.6 In particular, the project asks how local identities are created and negotiated in these highly diversified and globalizing places, and how these new imaginaries of the “local” shape the existing social relationships.  

5The topic is approached from an anthropological perspective taking the four sites as four “ethnographic situations”, where qualitative interviews and systematic and participant observations can give insight into the relationships among the inhabitants and their relationship with the place. For the part of the research in the Swiss Alps (two mountain resorts in Valais), more than 60 semi-structured interviews have been conducted. Further, the information from the interviews is complemented with observations of the interactions in different situations such as everyday practices (such as shopping, having a drink, etc.), public events (local feasts, concerts, sports events, etc.) or leisure activities (outdoor activities, musical or sportive clubs, etc.).

  • 7 The seven semi-directive interviews and two informal conversations were done in the period between (...)

6The research and analysis process is still ongoing, thus this explorative article covers only a part of the collected data from a specific group of population in one of the two resorts. I will focus here on a bundle of interviews and informal conversations with permanent residents coming from the outside (from other regions in Switzerland or from abroad) who have visited, frequented, stayed in or moved to the region of the Bagnes valley, where Verbier is located, in the last 30 years.7

  • 8 For a deeper study of this development see eg. Delarzes, 1998 or Hofmann, 1993.
  • 9 In 1959 more than 60 chalets have been built in Verbier (Deslarzes, 1998, p. 120)
  • 10 This number includes people with permanent residence permit (permit C), annual residence permit (pe (...)
  • 11 Information from personal communication with Population office of the commune of Bagnes as well as (...)
  • 12 Interview from 26.04.2018.

7Verbier, once a small mountain hamlet in the French speaking part of the Canton of Valais in Switzerland, developed from a small alpine village into a vibrant ski resort in the 1960s (Deslarzes, 1998).8 The demographic and architectural growth was so overwhelmingly fast that Verbier was described with attributes such as “mushroom resort”, “the miracle of Verbier” or the “phenomenon Verbier” (Deslarzes, 1998, p. 20). The construction boom of chalets was begun in the late 1940s by ski and hiking amateurs from nearby more urbanized cantons such as Vaud and Geneva 9(Deslarzes, 1998, p. 104). Starting in 1990, an average of 30 chalets were built per year (Boscoboinik, 2018, p. 528). The quick and unplanned growth of Verbier especially in individual chalets brought about an urban sprawl not paralleled by other Alpine resorts and led e.g. to a high number of individual cars during the seasons (Pià, 2019; Stock et al., 2017). Also, since the 1990s, the number of permanent residents doubled (from 1850 in 1990 to 3158 in 2018, Office de Population, 2018). Among these 3158 residents, approximately 60% were not Swiss citizens10. Of those, around 61% were from France, 26% were from the UK, 14% were from Portugal, and around 6% were from Sweden and Italy11. This increase in number and diversity partly reflects a recent trend of the growing popularity of transforming secondary homes into main residences, or tourists or seasonal workers deciding to settle. Thus, as the director of one of the many real estate agencies in Verbier maintains, their clients changed from retired Swiss couples to international residents (mainly from Great Britain, France and Scandinavia) in the 1990s/early 2000s.12 As in many other ski resorts, tourism in Verbier brought about an urbanisation beyond the cities (Stock and Lucas, 2012) and it is nowadays a local economic centre with a strong international and cosmopolitan flair that is famous for skiing, especially off-piste skiing (hosting, e.g., the famous Xtrème Freeride World Tour). However, Verbier also attracts pop starlets and royals, adding to the ambiance of Verbier as a certain exclusive location, as is the case with the Verbier Festival and the Verbier Art Summit, which are both international events with upper-class clientele. Nevertheless, the valley where the resort is located, still has quite a rural character with small villages and farming activities, even if the influence of the resort on the surrounding villages is remarkable, such as the economic dependence (people either work in the resort or their local businesses are strongly focused on clients from the resort) or demographic transformations (“new inhabitants” also chose the surrounding villages to buy or build houses, which brings about gentrification tendencies for the whole valley).

B. Of locals and tourists, hosts and guests, and settled and mobiles - shifting and blurring boundaries

  • 13 There is also significant literature on the so-called “migration d’agrément” in French, such as, e. (...)

8In order to study processes of local identities and production of locality we should start with the question of who are the actors in these processes and how the imaginaries of “the local” are negotiated. In the context of (re)valorised rural areas, the “traditional” image of the mountains as the epitome of pure nature, close community and family relationships, and peripheral remoteness is challenged by (more or less) recent processes such as urbanization (Stock and Lucas, 2012) or metropolisation (Perlik, 2011) and rural gentrification (Richard, Dellier and Tommasi, 2014). These observed processes actually go together with a wider phenomenon of so-called “global amenity migration” (Moss and Glorioso, 2014)13 or “lifestyle migration” (Benson and O’Reilly, 2009), a phenomenon observed in different places around the globe.

9Observations of multilocality also lead to a questioning of the one-directional approach of amenity or lifestyle migration in favour of more flexible concepts such as lifestyle mobilities (McIntyre, 2009) considering the changing role of secondary homes formerly clearly designated for leisure into residences of practiced multilocality, where activities of work and recreation can be combined (Perlik, 2011). In this sense, the fact that “amenity or lifestyle migrants” keep several residencies and/or maintain their urban (and often international) social networks and activities while “living in the mountains” can be interpreted as resulting from and supporting different forms and sequences of mobilities and immobilities, and migrations and settling down. In geographical approaches, observations about multilocality introduced a rethinking of the concept of “habiter” (dwelling, inhabiting) with notions such as “l’habiter poly-topique” (Stock, 2006) considering the “geographic individualization” of trajectories and the “geographic pluralization of the individual”, which highlight a more autonomous and liberal approach of mobile and multilocal individuals to their multiple spatial and social environments. In this context, questions of place attachment and the local identities of people practicing multilocality have been tackled with conceptualizations of “multilocal lifeworlds between movement and mooring” (Hilti, 2016) or “cultural mobility” (Rolshoven, 2009) by focusing not only on residencies, localities and the question of where someone feels “at home”, but also on the movements themselves, the “in-betweens” (Zwischenräume) that constitute this mobility and multilocality. In contrast, in this article I would like to develop more on how new (mobile or settled) inhabitants contribute to imaginaries about the local identity and community? How do an “investment in the same place by different subjects” and the “multiple significations of the same place” (Stock, 2006) lead to a (re)production of locality and local knowledge?

  • 14 At this place, it has to be emphasized that mobilities and migration in mountain stations and other (...)

10To study the relationships of these new mountain inhabitants with their spatial and social environments, we need to think beyond the classic dichotomies of sedentary and mobile, local and tourist, and host and guest. This is emphasized by concepts such as “mobilités croisées” (Debarbieux, del Biaggio and Petite, 2008) showing that different modes of mobilities and migrations can cross in one place (e.g., seasonal workers serving tourists in a ski resort) or “la situation touristique” (Loloum, 2015) pointing to the fact that positions can change and superpose each other (e.g., former tourists establishing their own tourist businesses in a resort). In this context of hybridization, Bourdeau (2012) introduces the term of “post-“ or “after-tourism” and thereby speaks of a recomposition of the here-elsewhere relationship including, among others, the idea of a “good life” that seems akin to a “continuous holiday” (Urry, 2002 cited in Bourdeau, 2012).14

11In this article, I would like to focus on the question of how “new inhabitants”, whether they are multilocal, mobile or settled, contribute to the production of locality. If we come back to Arjun Appadurai’s conceptualization of locality as socially produced (Appadurai, 1996), locality is seen as the property of social life being imagined, produced and maintained against some sort of social, material or environmental ground while at the same time producing contexts “against which their own intelligibility takes shape” (Appadurai, 1996, p. 184). In this sense, according to Appadurai, local subjects are produced by these contexts, but as the local subjects engage in social activities of production, representation and reproduction, they contribute “to the creation of contexts that might exceed the existing material and conceptual boundaries of the neighborhood” (Appadurai, 1996, p. 185). Together with the idea of the social production of locality, the notion of “habiter” can be mobilized by asking questions about how “local subjects” invest or practice a place (Stock, 2006). Investing and practicing a place also means participating in the production and sharing of knowledge linked to the place and the people inhabiting it. Here, the term “local knowledge” goes beyond the classic understanding of “parochial” and “indigenous” knowledge, but describes culturally situated everyday knowledge produced and shared by people investing in the same place. As Christoph Antweiler (1998) emphasises, “local knowledge has always a history and is synchronically dynamic”, and thus it is similar to Appadurai’s “local contexts”, which are produced by local subjects and at the same time produce these very local subjects. Local knowledge is local not in a strict topographical sense but rather in a sense of knowledge being culturally and ecologically integrated (Antweiler, 1998, p. 477). People’s mobilities and multilocalities thus contribute to the “potential of new contexts within which locality is produced” (Appadurai, 1996, p. 185) and shape the registers and use of what is perceived and shared as “local knowledge”. As we will see, the strategies of “becoming local” include mobilising and demonstrating fluency in the dynamics of this local knowledge.

II. Becoming local: imagining and practicing “the local”

12As will be shown in this part of the article, place attachment and the imaginaries about the “local” by new inhabitants of Verbier reflect these trends of unclear statuses of hosts and guests, locals and foreigners in post-touristic situations. This blurring of the boundaries between local residents, second-home owners, tourists, seasonal workers, multilocals, etc. was already manifested in the methodological difficulty of assigning the respondents to designated categories. Where should we classify those respondents who spend winters at the resort working as ski instructors or bartenders combining skiing, working and partying and thus build a kind of “seasonal local communities” (sometimes finding each other in the summer at a surfing resort in Hawaii)? What about those who settled in the resort 30 years ago, became business owners and contributed to the economic development of the place, thereby becoming part of the local community? This part aims at shedding light on the residential choices and the valorization of (im)mobilities and discussing different strategies of identity processes.

A. Residential choices, (im)mobilities and place attachment

  • 15 All names of respondents are anonymized. Interview from 1.7.2019.

13Residential choices and the valorization of mobilities and settling can vary within the different phases of a life cycle. This is shown by the example of Michel15, a sales manager from Geneva in his early 50s who spent most of his youth at a French ski resort and moved to Verbier when he was approximately 20 years old in order to ski and work one season. As many other respondents, he came to Verbier “for one season” and never left. He used to work at a ski shop in the winter and in different restaurants and bars in the summer; and after some years, he decided to open a small business offering VIP services to high-end clients. He became a key person for all kinds of arrangements such as organizing a surprise weekend with heli-skiing and fondue at the peak at sunset for a client and his bride to be, but also finding a babysitter for a family or supplying firewood for a chalet. His activities allowed him to knit close networks with other foreign business owners and local actors, which gave him the resources to present himself as a local insider to his clients. Later, he married a girl from Spain who worked in a hotel in Verbier and when their kids were born, they decided to sell the apartment in Verbier and to move to a village down the valley, where they were able to build a house. When his VIP business grew to be too big for a side gig, Michel abandoned it, left the ski shop and found a stable, year-round job in an enterprise in a small city in the plains to where he now commutes every day. Because he does not live and work anymore in the resort – and since the kids were born, he does not frequent the bars as he did before – he lost a part of the networks and had to rebuild a social network in the village. Therefore, coming from the outside as a tourist and a seasonal worker, he gained status as a “local” of the resort; but in the village nearby, he has to redefine his status being an outsider in a double sense: not having grown up in the valley and coming down from the (urbanized and cosmopolitanized) resort.

  • 16 Interview from 29.5.2018.

14As this example shows, seasonal mobilities, multilocality and sedentarity are often also linked to altering life cycle phases of one and the same person; thus, many of my respondents who decided to settle in Verbier or the surrounding valley first came here either as a tourist or a seasonal worker (or both) for several years before they got an opportunity to also find jobs in the summer or to engage in freelance activities for international businesses. Some of them stay for some years and then leave for other destinations or to their place of origin. Some of them stayed longer, found families and bought or built a house. As I will argue later in the text, their previous long-distance mobilities due to seasonal contracts or commitments with international businesses often transform into a more locally grounded “mobile lifestyle” including outdoors sports in the mountains, flexible and smooth alternations between work and leisure and involvement with creative networks on a larger scale. For example, take Bart16, who came to Verbier first as a tourist and then worked as a ski instructor in the winters before he decided to stay the whole year round and work remotely for a Dutch sports enterprise. Later, he became a freelance marketer for Dutch businesses before he launched his own project in Verbier, which allowed him to avoid the regular business trips for meetings in Holland. He bought a house in a village nearby where he lives now with his wife, a physiotherapist from the UK, whom he met in Verbier.

  • 17 Interview from 29.5.2019.

15However, “getting settled” is not always a clear-cut and definitive action, as the example of Lukas17 shows. He used to come to his family’s second home in Verbier just in the winters to ski; in the last years, he spent increasingly more time in Verbier, including weekends, holidays and an unpaid sabbatical leave from his work as a teacher for several months. Thus, he decided to register as a primary resident in order to benefit from the special ski pass offers for local inhabitants. For him, multilocality consists of the regular seesaw between his home in a village near Berne, where he lives alone in an old farmhouse; and the second home of his family, which was built by his grandfather in the 1960s. However, Lukas is aware that his stronger attachment to Verbier resulting in his official registration as a primary resident may be temporary and he does not know where he will be in some years.

  • 18 Informal talk from 8.10.2019.

16The ephemeral status of “home” and the ambiguous meaning of settling for many people in Verbier became especially clear to me in an informal talk with Catie18, a deli shopkeeper, who came to Verbier 20 years ago when working for a British tourism business, later opened her own catering business and now runs a small alternative deli shop and café. When I asked her why she decided to settle in Verbier, she smiled at me and said “I didn’t decide anything. I came here 20 years ago and I’m still here. But I don’t know where I will be tomorrow.” The potential to leave “at any moment” is very present in the lives of many Verbier inhabitants. Furthermore, the moment of “getting settled” is often very vague and unclear, as many respondents told me they came “for a season” without any aim to settle and then just never left again.

17With these examples, it becomes clear that residential choices and attachment to the place can be ambiguous and temporarily restricted. A family’s second home can become a (temporary) home for a primary resident; primary residents can also be multilocals connected to many other places through business and family networks. Nevertheless, as we will see, “new inhabitants” and multilocals with their relationships and mobilities (re)produce imaginaries about the local community, (re)shape identity processes and the understanding of local knowledge by their own strategies of “becoming local”.

B. Local knowledge and identity building: “becoming local” and working on authenticity

18The multilocals and lifestyle migrants discussed above take part in the negotiation of “local identities” by importing their imaginaries about locality and authenticity and by linking the local place to globalized spaces in which they have also embedded themselves with social and business networks. The comparison of processes of “doing place” across the local/global divide allows for nuanced insights into the complexities of the way that the “new mountaineers” practice place. I will first focus on the “rooting strategies” that mobilize “local knowledge” and present “cultural fluency” (Benson, 2013, p. 519), and then I will show how “alternative local knowledge” is mobilized and how new interpretations of local knowledge are introduced and practiced.

19As in the case of the Britons settling in France described by Benson (2013), one of the most common “rooting strategies” of the “new highlanders” is linked to local language skills. Since language is a strong symbol for (ethnocultural) belonging, what is perceived as “local culture” often is tightly linked to local language. Thus, the increasing dominance of English in Verbier everyday life was periodically a public issue, as can be seen by the action of locals distributing stickers saying “A Verbier on parle français, merci” (In Verbier we speak French, thank you). Accordingly, many of the foreign-language respondents were eager to show me their knowledge of French by keeping the interview language in French, switching between French and English or talking to passers-by or restaurant staff in French. When asked about the attitude of the “locals” towards newcomers, they often explained the xenophobic attitudes of the locals being due to the unwillingness of the newcomers to learn the local language.

  • 19 Informal conversation from 25.7.2018.

20Local knowledge could also be expressed by the attitudes and practices regarding what is seen as “typically local”, such as, for the example of Valais, the tradition of drinking a glass of (local) wine with friends at every occasion (the famous Apéro) and also knowing and appreciating local culinary specialties such as local cheese. Therefore, my respondents sometimes used to show me their “local integration” and legitimacy as a host by inviting me to drink Apéro and by ordering drinks that a tourist or stranger would not order because he would not know about them. When presenting local knowledge, foreigners who moved in some time ago could also delimitate themselves from other newcomers whom they would say had no place-attachment. Therefore, an English lady19 living in Verbier for over 30 years told me about her interest in local plants and doing Alpine gardening. She also uses to collect apricots, a fruit that in Switzerland is unanimously associated with the region of Valais, from wild apricot trees that otherwise nobody would collect and thus demonstrated herself as an insider, a connoisseur of the local treasures.

  • 20 The phenomenon of mountain tourism in Valais as an “industry for foreigners by foreigners” has been (...)

21Other strategies for rooting oneself locally as a (former) outsider can be found in the mobilization of “alternative local knowledge”, such as by stressing historic continuities that are not in the usual “registers” of the local narratives. This is also shown by the example of the strategies of the middle-class inhabitants in a gentrifying London district who point to historic architectural symbols of the middle class in the district in order to legitimize their residential choices (see Benson and Jackson, 2012, p. 800). In this sense, from my British respondents, I heard several references to the history of the British in Swiss ski tourism, hinting, for example, at the famous Kandahar club in the Bernese Oberland, thus integrating Verbier into a more global landscape of ski tourism.20

  • 21 For a discussion about ecological projects in mountain areas and the relationship of locals and new (...)
  • 22 Interview from 1.10.2019.

22However, with the quest of authenticity imagined by immigrating urban residents, we also find a reinterpretation of “local knowledge” for example in terms of nature and ecology21. When I spoke with Maggie22, a 30 year old British-Swiss woman living with her Scandinavian husband and her children in a village in the valley, she underlined the good relationship she had with the villagers. However, she complained about the missing knowledge of the locals about sustainable gardening and permaculture. Her imaginary of the relationship between humans and “authentic nature” thus contradicts the understandings of “traditional gardening” as it is practiced by “locals” and as it is appreciated as authentic by the British lifestyle migrants in the French Lot described by Benson (2013). In this sense, “authenticity” is not a fixed category and imaginaries of “local traditions” can compete with other interpretations of “local knowledge”. Thus, the work that is done by lifestyle migrants and lifestyle mobiles in order to attain the (imagined) authenticity of the place does not always embrace local “cultural fluency” but can consist of dynamic reinterpretations of “local knowledge”.

  • 23 “Find your nature in the Swiss Alps” - This slogan, used by a luxury hotel complex in the Swiss Alp (...)

23The example of Maggie, who with her urban and international background has an ecological permaculture approach to the mountainous landscape, shows the function of the landscape as lifestyle capital. While neo-ruralism has largely been interpreted as a movement “back to nature” (see Mercier and Simona, 1983), the background of lifestyle migration in mountainous regions is rather marked by the motto “find your nature”23 (Boscoboinik and Cretton, 2017, emphasis by the author), underlining the character of the migration as a personal project. In the last section of this article, I would like to show how new inhabitants or multilocals also see the resort and the mountains as a “creative space” symbolizing openness, innovation and an entrepreneurial potential.

C. The reinvention of the «local community»: cosmopolitanism, creativity and entrepreneurship as collective identity markers

  • 24 Interview from 15.5.2018.

24Besides the above mentioned numerous strategies of creating an attachment with the (imagined) « authentic locality » and the territoriality, we also find a deterritorialisation or cosmopolitan aspect in their relationship to the place. The understanding of a « local community » in Verbier does not have to be linked to a historically grown community attached to each other through long standing genealogical connections and a deep binding to the valley and the territory. As we argued elsewhere (Friedli, 2020; Cretton et al., 2020), in many narratives about the “Verbier community”, one can find a collective identity that goes beyond the territorial belongings and that is based on the image of the openness and the equality in diversity. Richard24 explains the following to me: “Ok, for me, one of the attractions of Verbier is that it doesn’t matter your background, if you have a Royal title or you are a ski bum, living on 10 francs a day, everybody gets on in this village, like no other ski resort in Switzerland.”

  • 25 Interview from 26.3.2019.

25This cosmopolitan atmosphere has also been described by Mathieu Petite and Martin Camenisch (2012, p. 10) in their study about identities in Verbier as a factor that allows the « peripheral village » to integrate in a more global context. Many of my respondents, like Richard, emphasized the social equality (despite the existing class differences) and the cultural diversity among the inhabitants (and visitors) of Verbier, pointing to the notion of an “international community” with strong connections and solidarity, which makes it easier for “newcomers” to establish a social network. Kirsten25, who spent one and a half years with her family in their second home in Verbier, states that: “(…) …the international community was very welcoming. (…) And we were like “wow, this is amazing”. You know, in London we didn’t even know our neighbours…”. Thus, the “local community” is not essentially linked to the understanding of a “rural community”, as it is the case of the imagination of rurality by the British lifestyle migrants “as an idealized rural form…the principal components of which appear to be the maintenance of traditional values, the existence of viable and genuinely welcoming rural communities, a slower “pace of life” and an enhanced “quality of life”” (Buller and Hoggard, 1994, p. 128 cited in Benson, 2013, p. 507). Even if the proximity between the community members, the solidarity, the mutual assistance and the slower “pace of life” is also mentioned by Kirsten, she does not allude to the “rural idyll” evoked by the amenity migrants in Benson’s study.

  • 26 Interview from 29.5.2018.

26It is also the cultural diversity, cosmopolitanism and the “entrepreneurial spirit” in Verbier that serve as “markers of local identity”. Thus, Bart26, the young man from Holland who settled in a village in the valley some years ago, mentions the mountains (and nature) as a place of desire, but he also positions himself in this place as an entrepreneur, a developer, and a creator and not (only) as a consumer of landscape, pure air and beautiful views. For him, the local community was an important factor in why he chose to settle – however, he does not reflect on the community as a “rural idyll” or the bearers of “traditional values”, but rather refers to the openness of the historical local inhabitants to innovation, cultural diversity and to the nice “vibes in town”.

  • 27 Interview from 26.3.2019.

27Reflecting on the blurred boundaries between work and leisure, investing in the place and creating place attachment by the new inhabitants is not only linked to touristic and leisure amenities such as outdoor sports, gardening, enjoying pure air and good (local) food (see, e.g., Petite, 2005), but also to aspects of professional self-fulfilment and business networking. Indeed, many of the new inhabitants mobilize their entrepreneurial and creative potential in order to make a living or to “realize themselves” (see also Cretton, 2018); therefore, one could think of their identity strategies in terms of the so-called “creative class” (Florida, 2002), inscribing themselves in a neoliberal discourse reproducing methods of social distinction. (Cretton et al., 2020). Bart, for example, who opened a co-working space in Verbier some years ago, wants to provide “flexible office spaces” and “business support services for start-ups, individuals and companies.” His goal is it “to build and develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in which locals, second home owners, tourists and established businesses can interact”, as the homepage of his co-working space says (last accessed on 14.10.2019). Another example of “post-touristic” creative entrepreneurial activity can be seen in the project of Maggie, the above-mentioned Swiss-British new inhabitant, who launched an enterprise that offers, among other services, forest school activities for children and gardening workshops that have the aim to “reconnect people of all ages to the nature”, as her website (written in French) says (last accessed on 14.10.2019). While the projects of Bart and Maggie are oriented towards a local-international clientele, there are also activities of “new highlanders” that go beyond local creative-economic entrepreneurship and call to more globalized networks. One of them is the Verbier Festival, a classical music festival with world-famous musicians that was launched in the beginning of the 1990s by a Swedish consultant in the music business who owns a chalet in Verbier. Another example is a more recently launched international art event, founded in 2017 by Kirsten and other Verbier residents, second-home owners and multilocals involved with the arts. This event gathers “international private and corporate collectors, to museum directors, artists, curators, art historians, art critics, gallerists, and art consultants” in public talks and closed meetings, aiming at “becoming like the Davos of the Art World where people travel to be inspired.”27


28Arjun Appadurai (1996, p. 185) describes in his reflection on the social production of locality in the context of “global cultural flows” that local subjects and new members with their social activities and imaginaries contribute to the potential of new contexts within which locality is produced and that can lead in turn “to subtle shifts in language, worldview, ritual practice, and collective self-understanding”. The fact that in the context of Alpine gentrification (Perlik, 2011) and “post-tourism” (Bourdeau, 2012) it becomes difficult to define the boundaries between (local) hosts and (foreign) guests leads to questions about local identities and the changing contexts within which locality and local knowledge are produced and shared. How are local identities negotiated in post-touristic situations where people with strong urban or global networks settle (temporarily) in a mountainous region? Regarding the example of the new inhabitants and the multilocals living (permanently or temporarily) in Verbier, even in their different forms of mobilities and migrations, they contribute to the production of locality. Their interpretations of the place, local knowledge and local community may exceed the existing boundaries of the community and thus expand the registers of locality and community. In this sense, local knowledge should not be understood only as “indigenous” or “traditional” knowledge, as the concept was used by anthropologists in a postcolonial and developmental context (see Antweiler, 1998), nor is it restricted to purely spatial or geographical knowledge. Rather, local knowledge has to be seen as socially shared “common sense” including non-institutionalised imaginaries about the “local” that can be (re)produced and (re)shaped.

29Of course, as it is also emphasized by Perlik (2011; 2012), specific ethnocultural environments considered as “authentic” can figure as an attraction for amenity or lifestyle migrants or mobiles. Michaela Benson (2013) shows how the British lifestyle migrants in the French Lot have to work on authenticity in their everyday life after migration in order to reproduce the desired “rural idyll” (Benson, 2013, p. 509). However, Verbier, as a ski resort in the Swiss Alps, has undergone a strong touristic urbanization (Stock, 2011) and amenity migration in this context has to be understood as an outcome of the metropolization of the Alps rather than of the tendencies of counter-urbanisation or neo-ruralism (Perlik 2011; 2012). Nevertheless, the “new inhabitants” in Verbier described in this article also develop strategies in order to show a “local embeddedness” through language skills and/or “cultural fluency”. However, new inhabitants in Verbier and the Bagnes Valley as well develop alternative concepts of what is authentic, importing their (“urbanized”) imaginaries of nature and ecology and cosmopolitan understandings of community and solidarity. Local knowledge and identities thus can be reinterpreted and reshaped in the wake of processes of rural or Alpine gentrification and thus evoke discussions about authenticity, community and the boundaries between hosts and guests. At the same time, we also have to keep in mind that there are hierarchies in the production of knowledge that can be dominated by a set of “savants” or “knowers” who are powerful actors in the negotiations about local identities while others’ imaginaries remain invisible and hidden. This leaves the question regarding if these new interpretations of community and solidarity have the power to integrate the local imaginaries of inhabitants that either do not share the cosmopolitan international background or do not have the economic, cultural and social resources for being part of this “lifestyle community”.

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1 The author thanks the editors of this special issue, Viviane Cretton, and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable feedback on an early draft of this manuscript.

2 The notion of the Alps as the “Playground of Europe” was shaped by the British Alpinist Leslie Stephen (1871) and has been used since by researchers to illustrate the discovery of the mountains for sports and leisure by (mostly British) Alpinists in the second half of the 19th century.

3 For an overview of the literature on new immigration trends in the European Alps up to 2012, see Bender and Kanitscheider, 2012.

4 I will keep the focus here on the perspective of the “newcomers” while the perspective of the “historic locals” and the interaction between “locals” and “new inhabitants” will be the subject of further writings and publications in the scope of this project.

5 This research is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF, fond n° 10001A_172807).

6 The four resorts are Verbier (Val de Bagnes) and Zermatt (Valley of Zermatt) in the Swiss Alps and Baqueira (Val d’Aran) and La Molina (Lower Cerdanya) in the Spanish Pyrenees.

7 The seven semi-directive interviews and two informal conversations were done in the period between spring 2018 and autumn 2019, interview partners were chosen with the help of local partners and through the personal networks of respondents (“snowball system”).

8 For a deeper study of this development see eg. Delarzes, 1998 or Hofmann, 1993.

9 In 1959 more than 60 chalets have been built in Verbier (Deslarzes, 1998, p. 120)

10 This number includes people with permanent residence permit (permit C), annual residence permit (permit B), but not the categories “seasonal” residence permit (permit L) and temporary registrations (“annonce”).

11 Information from personal communication with Population office of the commune of Bagnes as well as (last accessed 30.10.2019)

12 Interview from 26.04.2018.

13 There is also significant literature on the so-called “migration d’agrément” in French, such as, e.g., Martin et al. 2012.

14 At this place, it has to be emphasized that mobilities and migration in mountain stations and other (post)touristic situations are not only linked to amenity and lifestyle issues, but they also involve economically motivated mobilities and movements that are less a part of a lifestyle identity strategy and more an economic necessity. I think here of the seasonal workers in the tourist sector such as a Portuguese room maid in a hotel or a Serbian lift mechanic who come with a restricted seasonal permit and leave after the end of the season. They probably have different motivations (and different local social networks) than the Swedish bartender who spends his season working in the bar at night and skiing in the daytime. Therefore, all of them can be said to be in “search of a better life” (Cretton, 2018), but not all of these forms of mobilities and migrations can be described as amenity-led or founded on lifestyle motivations. In this sense, this article touches only on the “mobiles of a certain class” (Cretton et al., 2020)

15 All names of respondents are anonymized. Interview from 1.7.2019.

16 Interview from 29.5.2018.

17 Interview from 29.5.2019.

18 Informal talk from 8.10.2019.

19 Informal conversation from 25.7.2018.

20 The phenomenon of mountain tourism in Valais as an “industry for foreigners by foreigners” has been recognized as a historic phenomenon by Swiss ethnologist Thomas Antonietti in his study on the beginnings of alpine tourism in Zermatt in the middle of the 19th century (Antonietti, 2000, pp. 52-56).

21 For a discussion about ecological projects in mountain areas and the relationship of locals and newcomers, see e.g., Richard, Dellier & Tommasi 2014 who describe the importation of urbanised imaginaries about nature, the environment and sustainability in the Limousine mountains with the notion of greentrification (Richard, Dellier, Tommasi, 2014, p. 2).

22 Interview from 1.10.2019.

23 “Find your nature in the Swiss Alps” - This slogan, used by a luxury hotel complex in the Swiss Alps in order to attract clients, served as the title of an article by Andrea Boscoboinik and Vivane Cretton (2017) on lifestyle migration and rural gentrification in the Valais region.

24 Interview from 15.5.2018.

25 Interview from 26.3.2019.

26 Interview from 29.5.2018.

27 Interview from 26.3.2019.

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Andrea Friedli, « Living in the mountains: Mobilities, forms of residentiality and local identities of new inhabitants of a Swiss ski resort », Via [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 27 décembre 2020, consulté le 14 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Andrea Friedli

PhD in Social Anthropology, Academic Associate at the Institute for Social Work, University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland (HES-SO Valais-Wallis)

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