Without proper insurance, you're naked in the snow

Many of us give cover the cold shoulder when we go skiing. It isn't just our safety we're putting on the line
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Don't break a leg. Thanks to the multitude of last-minute skiing holidays, many people will now be looking forward to hitting the slopes on the cheap. But those who don't fork out a bit extra for insurance, and then sustain a nasty injury, are in danger of running up hospital bills of thousands of pounds.

Nearly one in five people still go skiing or snowboarding without any cover at all, reports insurer Direct Line. And three-quarters attempt slopes that are too difficult for them. If you're a beginner, meanwhile, and don't take out cover because you have no plans to take any chances, think again: 50 per cent of accidents, says American Express, occur in a skier's first season.

The first rule is that regular travel insurance won't do. Skiers need special "winter sports cover" added to their policy, says Peter Gerrard of the price-comparison website insuresupermarket.com.

This should protect you against loss of skis and equipment, and piste and resort closures, as well as paying for medical expenses and your liability if you injure someone else.

"But winter sports insurance has become more refined as skiers go for more varied and hazardous pursuits," he adds. "Many of the no-frills policies won't include these as standard."

So as well as comparing different insurance deals on price, make sure all your activities are covered.

For example, as well as on-piste skiing and snowboarding, Direct Line's winter sports policy covers injuries sustained during mono-skiing, curling, bobsleighing, luge, tobogganing, snow-mobiling, and cross-country and off-piste skiing.

But at American Express, tobogganing, mono-skiing and outdoor ice skating are the only extra pursuits included. Other sports come at an extra cost.

Still more important is being fully insured for medical costs. Break your leg in France, for example, and it will cost between £250 and £600 for mountain rescue, up to £4,000 for treatment including surgery, and around £600 for the emergency air fare home. Sustain the same injury in the US and the bills soar still higher: up to £20,000 for treatment including surgery and £4,000 for the flight home.

"If you [ski there], the medical cover should be a minimum of £2m - double that for the European travel standard," says James Harrison of the comparison website insurancewide.com.

Keep an eye out, too, for "multiple excesses" on your policy. For instance, a skiing accident in which you injured your leg and broke your watch could lead to two separate £50 excess payments: for medical treatment and damage to valuables.

Some 73 per cent of single-trip policies charge multiple excesses, a report from analyst Defaqto warned last year.

Of increasing concern are claims being invalidated by alcohol or drugs during some vigorous après-ski. Injure yourself while under the influence and insurers are unlikely to pay up.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office estimates that more than a third of young British skiers and snowboarders get into trouble abroad due to the combination of alcohol, altitude and adrenaline.

Another factor that may invalidate a claim is taking part in competitive activities. Even "end of ski-school" tournaments or timed slalom courses could count as a competition and mean you are not covered. And when having a break from the slopes, make sure your equipment is locked in a ski-rack as it might not be covered for theft unless it is adequately secured.

If you're skiing on the Continent, don't forget to take your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) as a back-up.

This replacement for the E111 form is available from post offices and entitles you to emergency medical treatment on the same terms as the nationals in all European member countries. It can bring substantial savings on any medical costs. Unlike a normal travel policy, though, the EHIC does not cover personal liability, holiday cancellation and loss of baggage and goods.

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