The snow which has gripped Europe and North America does have an upside if you're a skier. But a spell out of the country zooming down the slopes has the potential to end up in a hefty bill. Even if you are an expert, you can never be sure who you'll be sharing the slopes with and you need to be protected.
The bare minimum cover you should expect from a winter sports policy is medical expenses, piste rescue and repatriation. "Everybody can cope with losing equipment or the lifts being closed," says Alison Patrick, head of travel insurance for Axa, "but if you do yourself some damage without a policy it can be very expensive."
In Europe, a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover state-provided care, but according to insurer esure, airlifting an injured skier from the slopes can cost as much as £1,800, and for an air ambulance back to the UK, you're looking at upwards of £4,000. Despite being a medical expense, neither of these costs is covered by the card.
Go skiing in North America and not only will you not be covered by the EHIC, but the expense of repatriation and medical treatment will be much higher. Nevertheless, Axa estimates that around one in four skiers takes to the slopes without any travel insurance, risking their financial as well as their physical well-being.
Although your first priority is your own welfare, any good policy should include personal liability cover. "If you go on a ski slope without personal liability insurance, you are mad," says Perry Wilson, founder of the specialist travel insurer insureandgo.com. Hidden ice patches, sharp turns and rented equipment can catch out even the most proficient wintersports men and women and you may be held accountable if you cause an accident.
Other policy must-haves include the cost of replacing stolen equipment, as well as lost lift passes, piste and lift closure due to technical faults or weather, and unused tuition costs due to accident or sickness.
When it comes to buying your insurance, there are several options. The first and most common is to add a winter sports cover on to a standard travel insurance policy. But when winter sports cover is an extra, it is essential to understand what you are actually buying: "You've got to look at the small print and know exactly what you're covered for," says Betony Garner, spokeswoman for the Ski Club of Britain. "General travel insurance is potentially not enough, even with snow sports cover added."
The clause that catches most people out with a wintersports add-on is off-piste skiing. "It's a lot easier to go off-piste now than it was because of advances in equipment, but once you're away from the marked slopes it's more difficult and costly to rescue you, so many standard travel insurance policies won't cover off-piste skiing without a guide," says Ms Garner. Unless you're 100 per cent sure, stick solely to the marked slopes: sacrificing off-piste cover to get a cheaper premium may not be a good idea.
"If you're a keen skier – rather than a beginner taking to the nursery slopes – you have to ensure you're covered to go off-piste, even by accident, without an instructor," says Mr Wilson.
Another common policy exemption is non-ski activities such as snowboarding, tobogganing, dog-sledding or even a turn around the ice-rink.
Thousands of Britons have annual travel insurance policies through signing up to their bank's fee-charging current account. However, be wary of these "freebie" travel policies, as more often than not they offer only minimal cover – limiting policyholders to trips in Europe, and winter sports are usually excluded. Some banks such as Alliance & Leicester offer customers the opportunity to add a winter sports upgrade, but at an additional cost.
Excesses on claims are similar across policies (typically between £50-£100, although it can be higher), but a huge potential catch with the less expensive policies is the cap on claims. "Most policies have maximum claims limits for medical expenses of around £2m," says Ms Patrick, "but with some price comparison websites you can get policies with seriously low claims limits, so you need to watch out." Claims limits for damaged or stolen equipment can be important if you've got expensive gear. And, if you have forked out for a long-haul ski holiday, it is essential to check that the cancellation claims limit covers the full cost of your trip.
If you opt to add on winter sports cover to an annual multi-trip travel insurance, make sure you are covered for the full duration of all your skiing holidays within the term of the policy. "If people are going to take a long ski trip, and they've only got an annual policy, there may be a limit on the amount of days you can spend out of the country," says Ms Garner. "So you need to make sure you don't exceed this limit." And whatever policy you go for, be careful not to overindulge: most insurers will not pay up if you have an accident under the influence of drink or drugs.
Essentially, for the most comprehensive cover it may be worth exploring a specialist policy offered by firms such as Complete Ski or insureandgo.
What to look for from winter sports cover
Medical and air ambulance; personal liability cover; stolen equipment; piste and lift closure; lost luggage, passport and cash; holiday or flight cancellation
Accidents off-piste; other standard winter sports activities; loss of ski pass
Cover for adventure sports; no excess payment
Male, 37, skiing in Europe: Single trip cover for one week £15, Columbus Direct;
Annual multi-trip policy (incl winter sports) £35.02, Swiftcover
Woman, 54, skiing in North America: Single trip cover for one week £31.45, Columbus Direct;
Annual multi-trip policy (incl winter sports) £45.99, Multitrip.comReuse content