Money: Don't slip up on the road to the slopes

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The Independent Online
GOING skiing without insurance is the next worst thing to canoeing without a paddle because of the high risk of having an accident, even with the most sophisticated of equipment, and the still higher cost of medical care for skiing injuries. But an increasing number of British skiers heading for the Continent are now taking an additional risk which could be just as costly, by driving to the snow rather than going by train or plane.

Zurich Municipal, the insurance group, says 200,000 British skiers will now go by car, twice as many as in 1990, taking advantage of the Channel Tunnel as well as the traditional ferry route.

The average cost of taking a car to the Alps and back is around pounds 350 in petrol and road charges. French motorway tolls alone will cost around pounds 30 each way. Petrol prices on the Continent vary from a high of 68-69p a litre in Italy to 65p in France, 58p in Austria and 57p in Germany, down to 48p in Switzerland and a low of around 46p in Luxembourg if it happens to be on your route. Hiring a ski rack can cost pounds 30 a week and a ski box can cost pounds 50 a week, although you can expect to save up to pounds 20 on petrol because of the lower drag factor. Snow chains can cost another pounds 20 to hire.

But cars will be making long journeys involving high-speed motorway driving and will be subject to temperature extremes unknown to vehicles used to the soft life in suburban garages. A quarter of them will have no form of breakdown cover, and this could be expensive.

Motorists could help themselves by taking precautions including hiring a set of snow chains for the trip, and taking jump leads, de-icing fluid, a warning triangle, a blanket, car jack, first-aid kit and maps. However, almost 6 per cent of UK motorists taking their car abroad need some form of assistance, according to the AA, and the proportion will be higher in winter.

Recovering a broken-down vehicle and taking it back to Dover from the French Alps can cost pounds 800, rising to pounds 1,000 from Switzerland and pounds 1,200 from Austria. Even a flat tyre or a flat battery will cost you from pounds 30 to pounds 100 depending on what exactly went wrong and where it happened.

Conventional ski insurance will cover you for skiing accidents and medical bills and for the loss of equipment and the need to hire replacements, as well as travel difficulties in standard holiday packages, but they will not normally cover motoring costs incurred in driving to the resorts and back.

Without a European breakdown policy Lee Jones, a 33-year-old sports teacher from Southampton, could have faced a hefty bill when his car brakes froze as he was leaving Tignes in the French Alps last December. But a single call to a helpline produced a breakdown truck and mechanic who fixed the problem free of charge.

Zurich Municipal offers its UK customers a three-point continental motoring package consisting of free motor insurance for up to 90 days in the EU plus Norway and Switzerland, a full year's European breakdown cover for a car and up to five passengers for pounds 46.80, with Green Flag providing the service, and a free 24-hour motoring helpline. Detailed quotes are available free on 0800 445588.

Many other motor insurers now offer add-on travel insurance with varying levels of cover. AA's Five-Star Breakdown policy will cover the costs of roadside repairs up to pounds 300 and alternative travel arrangements up to pounds 1,000, including up to pounds 100 a day for car hire and up to pounds 500 for emergency hotel accommodation, and recovery back to the UK if the vehicle cannot be repaired within eight hours.

Premiums range from pounds 38 for seven days to pounds 48.50 for 14 days and pounds 53 for 17 days for members, who get a 10 per cent discount on the cost for non-members.

Five-Star Breakdown policy-holders are also entitled to a 15 per cent discount on premiums for Five-Star Personal Travel Insurance taken out at the same time.

The PTI policy provides up to pounds 3,000 for cancellation or curtailment of the trip, up to pounds 750 worth of car hire, unlimited medical insurance cover for illness and injury including emergency dental work, pounds 25,000 of personal accident cover, and up to pounds 600 for medical "inconvenience", including pounds 25 a night for hospital stays.

There is also a special ski section providing up to pounds 400 for loss or damage to equipment and up to pounds 200 to cover the cost of facilities which cannot be used because of illness or injury. Premiums cost pounds 15 for seven days, pounds 22 for 14 days and pounds 25 for 17 days' cover, less 15 per cent for Five-Star Breakdown policy-holders.