One day, an astute underwriter will compose the ideal winter-sports insurance policy. Until then, we all have the chore of examining various policies to see which of the inadequacies are acceptable and which are not.

You can buy insurance of several different basic kinds. Tour operators try hard to persuade package buyers to take the policies that they provide - because selling insurance is much more profitable than selling holidays. You can buy ski-holiday cover from anyone who sells insurance: a travel agent, a broker, or direct from an insurer. You can get season-long skiing cover, or year-round travel insurance that covers skiing as part of the deal.

I like year-round policies, for two reasons. First, if you make several trips a year you are relieved of fixing up insurance each time. Second, the cost - particularly with family policies - is low. The American Express Centurion family policy that I use cost me pounds 179 this year; whether that turns out to be remarkable value or just good will depend on how much travelling we do, and in particular whether or not we manage a family skiing trip.

When you come to look at policies, decide first which elements of cover matter to you and which do not. I am not interested in hospital benefit, which gives you a daily sum for being confined to bed (especially when, as in the case of my Amex policy, it relates only to injuries resulting from assault).

Personal accident cover (a pay-out if you are disabled or killed in an accident) plays on our innate fear of flying and being abroad. If you want cover against disability or death in order to provide for your family, you should have more comprehensive and substantial cover than that offered by a travel policy.

The main elements of cover that matter to me are: cancellation and curtailment; medical and associated expenses; money and possessions (or baggage); delayed baggage; and missed departure.

Cancellation and curtailment is mainly of interest when you are travelling on a package or pre-booked transport where you can't change your plans or cancel and get your money back. Beware curtailment cover limited to the price of your original holiday: returning home because of an emergency can result in claims for much more than that, particularly if you go home early in the trip (I was once summoned home the moment I arrived at Geneva airport). And identify the circumstances in which you might have to return home; illness of a business partner, for example, might not be covered.

Once, medical cover was problematic because some policies specified an uncomfortably low claims limit. The pounds 1m or more that you are likely to find these days seems adequate. The point to watch now is off-piste skiing.

Insurance companies continue to deal with off-piste skiing in an unreliable fashion. Basically, you should avoid any policy that excludes skiing off-piste, or any policy that seems to limit where, when or how you ski off-piste. This applies to all skiers except absolute beginners - you won't always know, when you're skiing, what is off-piste and what is not.

Once, the Centurion policy suddenly excluded skiing off-piste; I only went back to it when the cover was resumed. This year it lays down guidelines on off-piste skiing, including the requirement that skiers 'must observe the rules of the resort or area'. This is worrying: in St Anton, for example, you are told to hire a guide to ski the front of the Valluga, but no one ever does.

Personal baggage cover is fraught with pitfalls. Many policies don't pay out replacement cost; there are often limits on claims for a single item, and the quite common ceiling of pounds 300 is inadequate for a smart pair of skis and bindings. Possessions left unattended may be excluded from cover, and leaving skis outside restaurants is unavoidable.

With delayed-baggage cover, which provides for the purchase of essential items if your bags go astray for more than a specified time, look for the shortest specified time - I think 24 hours is unacceptable. As for missed-departure cover, check the grounds on which pay-outs for a new ticket are excluded: some policies cover delays on public transport only.

It may be that there is someone out there who buys (or sells) a policy that is perfect for winter sports, avoiding all the pitfalls. If there is, please get in touch.

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