Insurance is a slippery slope

Skiing holidays present special problems when it comes to finding the right policy, writes Ian Hunter
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Cold, broke and broken is not a bad description of how Michael Geary felt after his skiing trip last year. The 34-year-old management accountant decided to go skiing in the United States, on the way back from a posting in the Far East. Mr Geary arrived at Bracken Ridge, Colorado, on a Sunday and was not able to arrange insurance cover that night. It wasn't until the end of a day on the slopes that he decided to arrange his cover.

The result was that he had a smashing time and is still, almost a year later, not sure whether his knee or finances will ever be the same again. As the booking season for this winter's ski trips begins to hot up, Mr Geary's experience is a salutary lesson in why insurance is a must for everyone on the slopes.

Disaster struck while he was making his final descent of the day. Mr Geary, an accomplished skier, shattered his knee, tearing the ligaments in the process. His normal private medical cover did not cover winter sports.

He was taken off the slope and had soon run up medical costs of US$900 (pounds 650) for X-rays, physiotherapy and a knee brace. He was told that a knee operation might run to $20,000. In the end it proved cheaper to fly home to Northern Ireland and have the knee examined and treated privately by one of the province's experts. The cost far exceeded even the most expensive of insurance policies.

Skiing is an expensive and injury-prone sport, and so having the right insurance to cover envisaged risks is a must. And with a wide range of insurance products on the market, skiers should resist the temptation to buy the first policy the travel agent waves under their noses.

It is important to concentrate on the issues that address your particular needs. Experienced skiers may wish to ski off piste. They should check that their policy provides cover for such activity. Older skiers should check to see whether the premiums are liable to a disproportionate increase if they are beyond a particular age.

Medical cover is the most important item on any insurance policy as Mr Geary will readily testify. It is sensible to look for cover which is in the region of pounds 1m. The skier should check whether this covers every element of concern, such as local hospital treatment and, if necessary, repatriation to the United Kingdom.

For those skiing in France, in search of medical insurance, to cover winter sports there is the option of applying for a Carte Neige.

This scheme will reimburse medical costs - other than those recoverable under state or other private insurance schemes - mountain rescue and repatriation home, as well as compensation for the loss of skis or lessons. The cards, which can be bought in the United Kingdom, cost pounds 32.50 for the season which runs from October to October. A family card for parents and all children costs pounds 98.00.

The card can also be used in other European countries which have reciprocal health-care arrangements. Those skiing in Switzerland should take out additional medical cover.

Skiers should also ensure that the loss of personal baggage is adequately covered. A limit of pounds 399, which may be sufficient on a summer holiday, is unlikely to cover the loss of a pair of boots, let alone a pair of skis.

Skiers should check whether the loss of baggage entitles the insured to immediate compensation. Some policies provide that the baggage must go astray for a set period of time before compensation can be claimed. The problem is that delayed baggage is just as capable as lost baggage of ruining a holiday.

Those with demanding schedules should check the circumstances in which a claim can be made in respect of emergency cancellations. When booking a holiday it is important to establish within what period of time, and to what extent, a deposit can be reclaimed if the holiday is cancelled.

The cost of holiday insurance varies but typical 11-day cover is likely to cost between pounds 30 and pounds 40. Some insurance brokers offer special insurance rates and packages for families.

For those who ski several times a year, season-long or all-year travel insurance can work out much cheaper. Many all-year insurance policies provide a certain number of days' winter sports cover in each year.

If you do have to make a claim ensure that you submit the claim within the policy's time limits: many stipulate a 30-day period. It is also important, where appropriate, to retain receipts of purchases made, in respect of which claims are to be submitted

Carte Neige's UK agent: 01544 388146.

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