If you're one of the many skiers and snowboarders planning on hitting the slopes, travel insurance may not be top of your to-do list, but going without could prove costly.
One in five people goes on holiday uninsured according to travel association Abta, but this makes little sense when findings from insurer Esure show a helicopter evacuation alone would cost around £1,500, while being carted off the slopes on a blood wagon could set you back around £200.
“Repatriation bills will also cost you dear,” warns Asia Yasir from Esure.“From Europe it could cost you £4,000, while from the US or Canada this figure could rise as high as £8,000. No matter what your level of competency on the slopes, accidents do happen, and you can soon rack up huge medical bills.”
This is a view shared by Stephen Ebbet from insurer Protect Your Bubble, who warns that one of the firm's highest winter sports claims totalled almost £15,000.
“Anyone hitting the slopes without the correct cover is taking a massive financial gamble,” he says. “There are few of us who could afford to pay a medical bill or mountain rescue bills for several thousand pounds.”
As a starting point, it's worth applying for a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), as this gives UK residents access to state healthcare for free, or at a reduced cost, within the EU. There is no cost for the card (visit Nhs.uk) and it is valid for five years.
“It's useful to carry an EHIC card with in Europe, but it's no substitute for having proper travel insurance,” warns Jeremy Cryer from Gocompare.com. “The provision of state care varies from country to country, and you can't expect to be treated as you would if you visited your UK doctor or hospital.”
He points out that few EU countries pay the full cost of medical treatment that you would expect from the NHS. “An EHIC also does not cover the cost of medical repatriation following accidents or serious illnesses abroad,” he adds.
This is why you also need to shop around for a decent travel insurance policy that includes specific winter sports cover.
If you already have an annual policy, you need to check whether cover for skiing and boarding is automatically included, or whether you need to upgrade your insurance. The same applies if you're relying on a travel insurance policy linked to a bank account or credit card.
When buying a policy, Bob Atkinson from Moneysupermarket.com recommends aiming for a minimum of £2m cover for medical expenses, £3,000 cancellation, and £250 for cash. He also suggests flight delay cover of £20 per hour for the first 12 hours is advisable, as weather-related delays are not always covered by standard compensation.
Cover levels for ski equipment will vary, but the key is to have enough to replace all of your gear if it is lost, stolen or damaged. When it comes to personal liability cover, at least £1m is advisable.
“If you ski into someone and injure them and they take legal action against you, costs could run into thousands of pounds,” warns Mr Ebbett. “Comprehensive winter sports cover will include personal liability to protect you should this happen.”
On top of these standard criteria, you should also look for features such as piste closure, no snow, avalanche delay and loss of ski pass.
“A policy with cover for piste closure can be helpful in case you can't ski due to a lack of snow, or other adverse weather conditions,” says Mr Cryer. “This cover will pay an amount towards transporting you to an area where it is possible to ski – or offer some compensation if you can't ski at all.”
Crucially, however, you do need to scour the small print, as some policies will only cover if the piste is closed for 24 hours or more.
If you're planning on taking part in “adventurous sports” during your time away, you also need to check your paperwork carefully.
“Winter sports insurance may cover activities such as sledging, sledding, ice-climbing, snow-mobiling, ski-touring and ice-diving, but you may have to pay a higher premium if you want to be protected,” says Mr Cryer. “Other areas of your cover may also be affected, such as having an increased excess for medical treatment, or losing personal accident or personal liability cover.”
Michael Ward from Payingtoomuch.com adds that skiers and boarders also need to scour the small print if entering any competitions.
“Many policies will only cover for non-competitive winter sports,” he says.“Generally speaking, you are unlikely to be covered when engaging in organised competitions; the same applies when skiing against local advice or warnings.”
As a seasoned skier or boarder, you may also be unaware that going off-piste is not automatically included in your insurance.
“Some policies will only offer cover subject to certain conditions, such as being with a qualified instructor,” says Mike Powell from analyst, Defaqto. “In addition, you now also need to check whether your insurer insists you wear a ski helmet before hitting the slopes – both on-piste or off-piste.”
This is a relatively new requirement from certain insurers, such as Essential Travel.
“While a helmet does not reduce all sports injuries, it seriously reduces the risk of potentially fatal injuries,” says Stuart Bensusan from Essential Travel.
“Skiers who do not wear a helmet risk invalidating their policy.” At present, many insurers will still cover you even if you're not wearing a helmet, but you do need to check this.
Finally, think carefully before indulging in too many drinks while on the mountainside as if you're drunk and an accident occurs, you could unintentionally invalidate your insurance.
“Most policies will not cover you if you have an accident under the influence of alcohol,” warns Lynda St Cooke from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The key is to drink in moderation, or save your drinking until you've finished skiing or boarding for the day.
Zac Schwarz from London knows the importance of having winter sports cover in place after a nasty skiing accident last February.
“My intention was to propose to Laura on the mountain on our fourth day in Switzerland,” says Zac, the 32-year-old creative director. “But on my way to meet Laura, I was hit by someone. I have no idea exactly what happened. I was found on the slopes dizzy and confused, with a cut above my right eye. By the time I reached the clinic, I had very bad memory loss and my face was very droopy.”
He was taken to a hospital in France; this involved a 45-minute ambulance ride.
Zac ended up needing to claim for just over £1,000 from Global Claims Ltd, the independent claims handling firm used by his insurer, Columbus. “This included costs for the hospital stay, clinical examination and ambulance,” says Zac. “I was very grateful I had the right cover, without it, this would have been a very costly trip.
“I was also fortunate to be able to propose to Laura later that same week – albeit in a neck brace; very happily she said yes.”
'Without insurance, the clinic, hospital stay, and ambulance would have been very costly'