Winter sports insurance

More than a million UK skiers will grab their bobble hats and head for the slopes this winter. Unfortunately, around one in 10 of them will suffer an injury and need medical treatment during the holiday. As most tour operators do not allow customers to travel without insurance the real trouble starts when your cover is not adequate.

An estimated £7.5 million a year is claimed on winter sports insurance. 'You are twice as likely to suffer an accident on a winter break than a summer vacation,' says Michael Liddel of Sainbury's Bank. When it comes to choosing a policy, make sure you check the small print. Sainsbury's Bank estimates that during 2003, up to 63,800 claims worth about £25.5m were rejected because skiers had inadequate cover.

Buying travel insurance has never been easier but with such a wide range of providers and policies, here's how to choose cover which is right for you.

Standard travel insurance does not generally include cover for skiing and other winter sports. If you have an existing annual policy, you should find it easy to buy a top up. If you are buying a fresh policy for a ski trip then do not be tempted to settle for the small amount of reciprocal cover provided by the E1-11 form. This may provide for some basic medical costs but it will not pay for a mountain rescue, which could set you back several thousand pounds if a helicopter is needed, and it does not cover additional repatriation costs. Nor does it stretch to North America, where even a relatively minor injury can cost several hundred pounds and the average bill for torn ligaments is around £2,500.

As a guideline, good winter sports policies should include the following:

  • Personal accident cover of £2 million for medical expenses. This should include rescue and repatriation cover and the cost of physiotherapy on your return home. Many policies also offer some compensation for missed skiing or snowboarding lessons, passes and equipment hire which have been paid for in advance.

    Personal liability and legal cover (if you responsible for someone else's injury) of at least £2 million. This is particularly important if you are skiing in the US where American skiers happily sue resort and lift companies and will sue you if you are unlucky enough to be involved in a collision. Be aware that your claim may not be met if an accident occurs after a few ‘apres ski’ drinks.

    Piste closure and avalanche cover. Some insurance policies pay out if the pistes are closed because there is not enough snow or if risk of avalanche or high winds force lift closure. But most do not pay out if the reverse happens and the pistes have to be shut because of too much snow. If you are unlucky enough to suffer in this way, check the requirements of your policy - you may need a signed and dated report from the resort manager in order to make a claim. If skiing at an alternative resort is offered then you are unlikely to have grounds for a claim.

    Equipment cover. Do not assume that hired kit is insured by the hire company. If you arrive without it you may be forced to take out the hire company's own cover, at considerable expense. Theft of snowboards and skis from mountain restaurants has increased substantially, particularly in Europe. Many insurers insist that cover is in place only if equipment has been left in locked racks and some insist on skis being split and stored separately. You may want to check whether your lift pass is covered for loss or theft. Maximum levels of cover are around £600 for personal equipment and £500 for hired.

    Snow boarding and other activities. If you are feeling adventurous, bear in mind that most insurance policies stick to the basics. Nearly a quarter of those taking part in winter sports in 2003 were snowboarders. The sport has grown in popularity by more than 200% in the last three years but do not assume your insurance will automatically cover you. Check your cover beforehand if you are considering snowcat skiing, heliskiing, skidooing, bobsleighing, glacier skiing, tobogganing and ski races.

    Off-piste. For those intent on heading off-piste, things become trickier. Watch out for policies that do not cover going off-piste, even if it happens unintentionally. Approximately one in five fall into this bracket. Most will provide cover but look out for small print requiring you to be with an instructor or be an experienced skier.

Cost of cover

Many single trip winter sports policies cost more than annual policies and so anyone going abroad twice a year or more, could make significant savings with an annual world wide multi-trip policy that includes winter sport insurance. But make sure you do not exceed any limits to the number of days of winter sports cover provided.

To get the best value for money, do not cut corners and avoid leaving insurance until the last minute. UK holidaymakers waste up to £235 million every year by settling for the cover offered by their travel agent instead of shopping around.
Hiscox's do an excellent policy, designed specifically for Winter Sports.

However, words of advice, if you are looking to do some serious sports, i.e. off-piste or extreme ski-ing, ice climbing, then do look around.

there are specialist companies/brokers that deal in this - you will obviously pay more, but that normally means that in the event of a claim, they will settle quicker.

hope this helps.
Viro made a good point when I last covered this which was to check whether your travel insurance (skiing or general) covers you for late cancellation caused by last minute postings.
From my days doing aeromed for insurers:

Read the policy wording. Tedious, but often worth it in the long run.

Keep a photocopy of your insurance certificate with your ski pass. In quite a few ski resorts (particularly in France, unsurprisingly, but also the USA), this will prevent hassle about money if you are injured, because the ambulance service, hospital or doctor will be able to get a guarantee of payment directly.

Get receipts for anything you have to pay for.

Insurance policies only cover what is medically necessary, so don't ask for a private room unless you want to pay the difference. Extras such as meals for visitors and phone calls normally have to be paid for before you leave. In France some hospitals ask the patient to pay a small daily charge (forfait journallier), which can be reclaimed from the insurer.

Always contact your insurer's medical assistance company as soon as possible after you are admitted to hospital, or get someone else in your party to do it. This is almost always a condition of travel policies. The hospital may have contacted them about their bills, but you still need to call them yourself. Get a reference number from them to save time if you need to call again.

Don't be tempted to try and arrange your own repatriation. If you are badly injured you won't have much choice, but many people who have injured knees and so on try and do their own thing. Firstly, it will be a policy condition that you allow the assistance company to make the arrangements, or they won't pay. Secondly, you need medical clearance from the airline, not just a 'fit to fly' chit from the doctor. I have seen many cases where people were not allowed to board aircraft, and have then ended up paying several thousand pounds to get home because they thought they knew better than the assistance company.

Remember that insurance policies don't cover injuries occurring whilst, or as a result of, being pished. Insurers are really tightening up on this because of the increasing cost of claims from morons going over balconies in Ibiza etc. Two examples: 1. a guy in France wandered out of a bar completely bladdered, and got lost. He was found much later by the police, hypothermic. The insurers declined the claim for the cost of a one night admission in hospital because the police report showed he had been drinking. 2. A student was on holiday in Andorra. He got pished with his mates and subsequently went back to his room and choked on his own vomit. The insurers declined the cost of repatriating the body, and his parents also had to pay the hotel the cost of a new door because the tour rep had kicked the original one in to reach him. The insurers don't need blood alcohol tests etc., the doctor's opinion is enough.

Don't hand your passport over to hospitals; it is not unknown for them to be held against the cost of things like phone calls (or even the hospital bill if the insurers won't pay - see above), or to be passed to hotels against payment of bills for damage etc. If this happens and they won't give it back, contact the nearest British Consulate, who can advise you and, if necessary, issue an Emergency Travel Document.

Do not assume that the military will help. Unless you are on duty, the military won't pay any bills, nor will aeromed come and get you. If you are BFG based, make sure the insurers know this - most will only repatriate to UK. In Germany, the ADAC have a good policy which will get you home.

Finally, be aware that the commission on travel insurance is usually about 40% - more on tour operator's policies, so buying direct can be the best route, but shop around and check policy wordings to make sure you get the best policy for you.
ViroBono has made some very valid points. As FS pointed out, you should check that you are covered for last-minute postings. Also, if you are based outside of the UK, check that your policy will repatriate you to the right country!

There are significant benefits to using a policy designed for the military, and the NAAFI Financial Travel Insurance will cover you and your partner for HM Forces obligations and repatriate you to a UK or BFPO address.

You can choose a level of cover appropriate for your holiday or ongoing travel, and work out what your premiums would be online using our Travel Insurance Calculator.

Plus, if you have our Kit and Contents Insurance, you’ll get a 20% discount on our Travel Insurance.

Visit your local NAAFI Financial branch or phone us on:

00800 76 76 77 77
Free from the UK and Germany

+44 1603 205 209
from the rest of the world
As an aside to this thread, I wouldn't mind getting some dangerous sports insurance to top up my life policy. Most of them seem to offer some fairly frugal number, the most I found was £15k, and not enough to dig my battered corpse out of the ground.

Any one know of anywhere?

IS Ski Geek

War Hero
I personnaly use DSV Supershutz insurance. This covers dangerous sports as well as ski racing and off piste. It covers for hospital bills as well as the all expensive helicopter of the mountain which a lot of people seem to forget about. Its not to expensive and can be ordered over the internet. I know it is German but they do not care if you live abroad. Most hospitals will just take your insurance form and do the rest. Quite good really.

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