Chilled to the broken bone: why take the plunge without winter sports cover?

The medical bills can run into thousands but nearly a million Britons who are bound for the slopes don't have proper protection. Esther Shaw reports
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If you're planning to hit the slopes in the coming weeks, then there's another form of cover you'll need apart from the sun block, ski goggles and bobble hat.

More than three million Britons are looking to take to the piste this season, but price-comparison service Moneysupermarket.com estimates that over a quarter of them will not be insured properly, either because they have not read the small print and are unaware that their travel policy does not cover skiing, or because they do not feel insurance is worthwhile.

"This means they are not covered for injury to themselves or others and are therefore taking a huge financial risk," warns Peter Gerrard, spokesman for Moneysupermarket.

Insurer More Th>* has found that the five most common injuries are torn ligaments, fractured tibia, sprained wrists, back injuries and dislocated shoulders.

"It's estimated that one in seven of us will seek medical attention while away skiing," says Mike Gyde, marketing director of insurer Extrasureonline.co.uk. "Given that these medical bills can run into thousands of pounds, it's vital to arrange appropriate cover."

In Europe, for example, a helicopter mountain rescue service costs 1,500, while repatriation back to the UK will leave you footing a bill of around 4,000, says price-comparison service Insurancewide. com. Head for the US and these expenses climb still higher, with repatriation costing up to 35,000.

Many people believe that a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will provide them with full medical cover, but this is not the case. While the EHIC which replaced the old E111 entitles you to free or cut-price basic medical treatment on the same terms as all nationals in EU states, the cover is limited. It will not, for example, stretch to costly extras such as an air ambulance, personal liability, trip cancellation or loss of baggage, and should not be seen as a substitute for winter sports insurance.

If you already have travel cover, don't assume that it is fit for the slopes. "Many policies do not include winter sports as standard," says Mr Gyde at Extrasure-online. "Ski cover is generally sold as a bolt-on to standard annual travel insurance or single-trip policies."

As a guide, comparison service Confused.com recommends you take out insurance that will pay out 2m for medical expenses, 1m for personal liability, cancellation cover of at least the value of your holiday, 1,500 for your baggage and 250 for lost cash.

Ski insurance does not have to be costly: Money- supermarket says you can buy a policy for a one-week trip to France, for a family of four, for as little as 29.90 through Flexicover Direct, and a worldwide one-week policy from just 61.36.

You can also save money by taking out travel insurance with added winter sports cover. For a family of four, an annual multi-trip European policy would cost from 46.50 with Flexicover Direct, while an annual multi-trip worldwide policy would cost from 57.90 with the same provider.

You may be tempted to consider a dedicated ski insurer, but Mr Gerrard at Moneysupermarket says that they may not offer the best value. "Specialists such as Ski Cover may claim to provide the best deal for ski insurance," he explains, "but our research shows that its policy is 11.10 more expensive than the cheapest quote for a family of four on a single-trip basis."

Make sure you scrutinise the small print on a policy before purchasing, because ski insurance can be full of exclusions. "Even if you find a policy that claims to cover winter sports, you need to check carefully that you are covered for all the activities you may wish to participate in," says Debra Williams at Confused.com.

Many insurance policies will not, for example, provide cover if you decide to try more extreme winter sports such as heli-skiing, tobogganing, cross-country skiing, ice-lake diving and mountain climbing.

Further, many insurers have specific terms and conditions when it comes to heading "off piste".

Some policies insure only experienced participants, who must be under the supervision of a qualified instructor. They may also insist that policyholders stay within a certain number of metres from a run or authorised skiing area.

Last year was one of the warmest winters on record, which meant little or no snowfall for some of continental Europe's top ski resorts. As a result, many skiers and snowboarders who faced grassy slopes tried to claim for piste closure, but not all had their claims met.

Make sure you check for compensation limits: some policies specify that all pistes have to be shut for at least 12 hours if not 24 hours before a customer can claim.

Also be wary of indulging in a glass or two of vino on the slopes. "Virtually every travel insurance policy has a clause stating that if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of an incident, any claim may be rendered invalid," says Mr Gerrard.

"While there will be plenty of people taking advantage of the aprs-ski on offer, it is extremely important to be sensible about alcohol consumption, particularly when returning to the slopes the following morning."

She didn't break a leg ... just an ankle and a knee

Louise Doyle, 39, from Chester, knows all too well the importance of winter sports cover, having made several claims in the past few years alone.

Last year, she twisted her knee and ankle after falling over while skiing in Les Carroz, France. After having her leg X-rayed by a doctor at the resort, she had to spend the rest of her holiday on crutches.

She then made a claim with her insurer, Direct Line.

A few years prior to that, Louise broke her ankle while on the slopes in Mribel, France, and had to be flown home.

Once again, she made a claim with Direct Line for the cost of treatment and repatriation.

"I'm a really keen skier, but there's just no way I'd consider going without cover," says Louise, an events producer. "I'm off skiing again this season and have just renewed my policy."

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