Millions risk vast medical bills by failing to insure themselves for ski holidays

Mel Bradman
Does your travel insurance protect you on the slopes? - Simon Weller

It might be the least exciting aspect of a holiday to organise, but travel insurance is essential for peace of mind, particularly for winter-sports holidays when the likelihood of injury is that much higher. Given that, you would think skiers and snowboarders would make this a priority.

Wrong. New research from Abta, the UK association for tour operators and travel agents, reveals that more than 3.5million British adults – that’s nearly a third of all skiers and snowboarders – have admitted to failing to take out insurance for their winter trips. 

During the last ski season, Abta reported more than 200 significant injuries among British holidaymakers; and this is just the number of accidents reported – the actual figure could be much higher.

It is the younger generation that is running the greatest risk. The report found that only 28 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds take out travel insurance, compared to the 51 per cent of 45- to 54-year-olds. 

While accidents on the slopes can happen to anyone at anytime, it’s 25- to 34-year-olds that have more first-hand experience of injuries, with one in eight of this age group having travelled with someone who has had a major injury, such as a broken bone or concussion, while on a ski holiday. These accidents don’t just happen on the slopes; a number resulted from other activities including tubing and tobogganing.

Julia Longbottom of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said: "Should you need to be rescued from the slopes, hospitalised abroad, or flown home, you could face very expensive bills if you do not have the right insurance cover. The FCO cannot fund these costs for you. Check your cover and enjoy the peace of mind that you will get the support you need if anything goes wrong.”

With the ski season rapidly approaching, Abta has teamed up with the FCO and The Ski Club of Great Britain and to encourage holidaymakers to have the correct travel insurance policy before taking to the slopes.

But what constitutes the right insurance cover, and how can you avoid getting caught out? 

Read the small print

As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail, and this means reading the small print because the conditions and exclusions in a policy can cost you dear. Check things such as conditions around cancellation of a trip, cover for pre-paid lessons, lift passes and equipment hire – if you’re ill or injured and can’t use skis, for example, you’ll need a doctor’s certificate to claim. Other things to check include what you can claim if the pistes are closed due to lack of snow or risk of avalanches, what cover you have for off-piste skiing and whether your insurance provides helicopter rescue.

Activities like dog sledding might not be covered by your policy Credit: soren hald/getty

Save the beers for later

Drinking at altitude could affect you much more quickly, and insurance cover may not be valid if you injure yourself (or others) while intoxicated. This is definitely worth remembering if you’re in a big party resort. And steer clear of too many drinks at lunchtime, however tempting it may seem when the weather comes in, remember you’ve still got to get down the mountain safely. 

Up your security

Lost or damaged equipment catches a lot of skiers and snowboarders out each winter. A number of loopholes often apply to this part of the policy, so you may not receive compensation for those unlocked skis left outside a mountain bar or that lovely jacket you invested in for the season. 

Don’t rely on your EHIC

The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) won’t cover all your medical costs, private treatment or return to the UK – travel insurance is required to ensure you are fully covered. If you have an accident, or become ill, your EHIC will allow you to receive state-provided medical healthcare at the same rate as a citizen of that country. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, UK registered EHICs will no longer be valid.

Know your limits and ability

If you are to make a claim you’ll need to show that you followed all the resort’s advice and rules. It is important to be aware of how pistes are classified to indicate their difficulty and not to attempt slopes beyond your level of ability. If heading off piste, always check the resort’s weather and avalanche reports and make sure you’re fully prepared with the correct equipment – an avalanche transceiver, a probe pole and a shovel.

Check for extras

On a ski holiday the fun doesn’t stop when the lifts close, après activities such as snowmobiling, ice skating, tubing and dog-sledding, which all carry a level of risk, may not be covered by all policies, so if an accident happens you might not be able to claim.

Read the forecast

Snow reports, weather forecasts and avalanche risk levels are available in resorts at the lift stations and hotels or chalets to help you plan your day on the mountain and stay safe. At the other end of the spectrum the sun is much stronger at altitude, so appropriate strength sun cream should be worn, along with goggles or sunglasses, which offer adequate UV protection. 

Go head first

Following racing driver Michael Schumacher’s high-profile ski accident in 2013 and a general rise in awareness of head injuries – the main cause of death or serious injury among skiers and snowboarders – helmets are increasingly seen on the slopes. Many insurance policies now require you to wear a helmet on the slopes regardless of the local legal requirements – if you don’t your insurance may be void.

Get slope fit

Skiing and snowboarding is a physically demanding activity, it’s beneficial to get fit before your holiday to help you enjoy it the most. Pre-season training regimes, like that released by Snowsport England and Olympic Skier Dave Ryding, not only help with fitness but reduce the risk of injury on the slopes.

There’s a lot to consider before you set off on your next ski holiday, but being prepared and booking the right insurance can go a long way to ensuring a fun and injury-free trip – whatever your level, and wherever you go. 

Among the companies offering comprehensive policies is The Ski Club of Great Britain. Chief executive Ian Holt says: "Our specially designed insurance product caters for all forms of mountain experience, ensuring full cover for almost all eventualities, to suit skiers of all levels.”