Freestyling on the airwaves

 The radio producer helping English-speaking visitors access Verbier’s sweet spots.

Karine and Conor Lennon from Mountain Radio Verbier

Karine and Conor Lennon from Mountain Radio Verbier

Hunting down untracked snow became that bit easier following the launch of a new radio station in Verbier earlier this year.

Mountain Radio Verbier is Switzerland’s only commercial English-language station, offering a mix of content that can include anything from an interview with a cheese maker, to reports on temperatures at the top of a chairlift.

The station serves Verbier, the neighbouring small ski resorts, and the scattering of farming hamlets in between – and is the brainchild of a man who grew up outside Bracknell.

“The idea was to use the latest technology to create a holiday radio station”, says 38-year-old Conor Lennon, founder and director of Mountain Radio Verbier. “And, given the international clientele attracted to the region, it made sense to broadcast in an international language: English.”

The station has two main shows, featuring a range of music, quirky news items, adverts and interviews. In addition, Ski Breakfast carries bulletins on temperatures around the slopes, news of lift or piste closures, and live reports on snow conditions. The Après-Ski Show carries weather forecasts for the next day, and offers suggestions for activities in and around the resorts. If the formula proves successful, you may soon come across more stations like this at resorts across Switzerland.

Conor Lennon from Mountain Radio VerbierThis is not a medium serving a ghetto of holidaymakers and ex-pats unwilling or unable to communicate with locals in their own language. This week, the station is encouraging listeners to watch a play staged in a village across the valley, performed entirely in the local Franco-Provençal patois. Luckily there are subtitles in French “for those not completely conversant in local dialect,” Conor tells his audience. “And let’s face it, that is most people.”

For language is a sensitive issue here, Conor says. “There have been tensions in the community, with English visitors being seen to dominate the resort, and not making the effort to speak French. But while we broadcast in English, we see ourselves as translators, using our language skills to introduce listeners to lesser-known people, places and events.”

Short interviews with locals – everyone from community leaders and ski instructors to restaurateurs – feature regularly, complete with personal recommendations for finding sweet spots in the ski area that visitors might not otherwise discover.

For three years Conor worked for World Radio Switzerland in Geneva, and it was then that he and his wife Karine came up with the idea of creating their own radio station.

“We were already building a chalet to live in just up the valley from Verbier, in Lourtier,” says Conor, “and we thought – wouldn’t it be great if we could work here rather than commute?”

After a year of intensive research, Conor and Karine had a plan: to create a studio in the ground floor of their chalet. “It’s surprisingly straightforward to set up a radio station with modern technology,” says Conor. The local cable operator laid a fibre-optic link to the chalet, and a company called Vibration 108 fitted a mixing desk, and installed a professional playout system on the computer.

John Bristow, presenter on Verbier Mountain Radio

John Bristow

But it is the local content that makes the broadcasts distinctive. This week, Ski Breakfast is featuring a number of this weekend’s events, including Carnival celebrations in the villages, a freestyle competition in the Snowpark, and a ride down the pistes on mountain bikes fitted with special snow tyres.

The show’s presenter, John Bristow is a native of Brighton who has lived in the valley for a decade. He announced an imminent game involving the local football team, FC Sion, which had “got through 30 managers in eight years”. Conor added: “The owner even put himself in the job for a while. But he didn’t trust himself, and he got the sack, too.”

Just before going off air at 10.30am, John berated anyone who is not yet up on the slopes. “It’s a beautiful day, and the snow’s lovely. What are you waiting for?”

  • You can listen to the programmes in the Verbier St. Bernard region on any normal radio plugged into the cable network on 96.9 MHz, or anywhere in the world on smartphone or via the website www.mountainradioverbier.com
  • Further information: the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the Verbier tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
  • Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch)