Every year here at InTheSnow we receive “horror stories” from skiers who had expensive, and in some cases life-changing, injuries on the slopes. They usually want to publicise their experience to warn others. Thankfully such incidents are rare, but what strikes us is that more often than not, while these skiers did have ski insurance, they didn’t have the right cover for the incident they suffered on their trip so their insurer either didn’t pay out, or didn’t pay out enough.
The advice the insurance industry always gives is, “Check you have the cover you need in your policy,” but that simple get-out statement leads to two thoughts: first, who has the time to read all the small print, and second, even if you do have time, do you know what you’re looking for?
So far we’ve not managed to find a travel insurance provider who can give us a clear answer to that one.
But there are some general rules that at least increase your chances of being adequately insured.
Does Your Travel Insurance Include Winter-Sports Cover?
It may seem obvious, but if you have an annual travel insurance policy, double-check it does actually include you going on a ski holiday, and to the country you’re heading to. Most do but some require a supplement paying up front.
Tom Bishop, Head of Travel Insurance at Direct Line, confirmed, “Those heading off for adventure on the slopes this ski season should be sure to check whether their travel insurance includes winter-sports cover, or whether they need to purchase this as an extension to their policy.”
“Make sure you have ski cover under your travel insurance policy – it is a specific insurable activity, just obtaining travel insurance doesn’t automatically include cover for skiing,” advises Catherine Lowe of MPI Brokers, “Don’t use comparison websites, they compare the premiums and sum insured, available to that site and not the cover – it’s the cover that matters and also take note that many bank account travel insurances policies exclude personal liability whilst skiing (skiing into others).”
Does Your Winter-Sports Cover Include Heading Off-Piste/Freeriding?
One much more common exclusion on winter-sports policies is skiing off-piste (now more commonly called “freeriding”). As freeriding and ski touring get ever-more popular and ski areas themselves blur the lines between what’s a piste and what’s an ungroomed slope, this is a contentious area. Some policies do cover you and some may if you are part of a guided group with a qualified and authorised mountain guide or ski school, but others don’t or only do if a supplement has been paid.
Do I Need To Wear A Helmet?
Most skiers do wear helmets these days, but those who don’t should be aware that this can be a requirement with some policies specifying no helmet, no cover.
How Much Medical Cover Do I Need Anyway?
That’s a tricky one and can vary considerably, with costs in North America, if you’re going skiing there, likely to be much higher.
“A good winter-sports policy will include generous medical cover. This is important because piste rescue, treatment in foreign hospitals and getting patients back home to the UK can be extremely expensive. For example, a piste rescue by helicopter could cost upwards of £2,000, and an air ambulance from the Alps to the UK will exceed £10,000,” says Tim Bishop.
What About My Other Adventures In Resort?
Winter-sports holidays these days can include lots of other activities besides skiing or boarding, and we often excitedly sign up to them when we get to resort without checking if our insurance actually covers us to do them. Paragliding, ice climbing, bobsleigh, dog sledding, skijoring, ice-driving, zip-wiring and 101 other activities are now waiting for you to enjoy in the mountains. Often your policy will cover you should the worst happen, particularly if you’re part of a properly supervised group, but quite often they won’t…
Can I Claim If I Was Drunk?
Maybe, but it can also be a factor that leads to payouts being refused. It’s something to keep in mind as you order your third glühwein at the bottom of the slopes. Drinking alcohol after more physical exertion than many of us are used to can be a factor, but apparently it’s an urban myth that altitude makes the effects of alcohol more potent. We should perhaps regard drunk skiing as little different to drunk driving, and many insurers do.
It is important to check that winter-sports equipment is covered for loss, damage and theft. It is also useful to look out for helpful extras such as cover for unused, lost or stolen ski passes, as well as payment to travel to another resort should your planned destination be close. If you see issues like that covered by your policy, it’s hopefully a good sign that the insurer knows what they need to cover.
“Most insurers are not aware of the concept of leaving your ski’s outside a mountain restaurant – they consider this being left unattended, however you have no choice but to do this. Insurance matters aside, it is always a good idea to mix your ski’s up,” says Catherine Lowe of MPI Brokers (whose policies do cover ski theft).
Is My Free European Health Insurance Certificate (EHIC) Enough?
The jury is still out on whether the EHIC (formerly E111) will still work after Brexit. The best guess is if there’s eventually a “negotiated Brexit”, it may be, but if it’s a “hard Brexit”, it won’t be. However, even though an EHIC is well worth having while we remain in the EU, it’s important to note it does not always cover all medical expenses, or things like piste rescue or the cost of getting patients back to the UK. So it’s something to have alongside comprehensive winter-sports travel insurance, not instead of.
Is that any clearer? Perhaps not. One rule of thumb can be that as with so many things in life, the cheaper and more “too good to be true” the cost of a policy you see online is, the less likely it is to provide the full cover you need.
That is not always the case, of course, and we all hope that whatever the price we pay, we won’t need to use the insurance anyway. It would just be nice if, when we did need it, it provided the cover we expected it to.