British holidaymakers are risking sky-high medical bills by failing to insure themselves when they go skiing, the Foreign Office warned last night.
While many skiers and snowboarders have some form of holiday insurance, most do not have the right policy to cover them in the event they break bones – or worse, its research found.
Rescuing an injured skier and flying them home in an air ambulance can cost more than £5,000.
The Foreign Office said half of skiers mistakenly believed the European healthcare card covered the cost of flying people home and were also unaware of the increased effect of alcohol at altitude.
In an internet poll of 2,300 adults it commissioned, 61 per cent were unaware many policies excluded off-piste accidents and only 16 per cent always read the small print. Almost a third (31 per cent) did not take out specialist travel insurance. While useful for conferring the right to basic healthcare in the European Economic Area (EU, Iceland, Norway) and Switzerland, the European Health Insurance Card does not cover the cost of transport off the slope, a helicopter ambulance or repatriation. Foreign Office spokesman Phil Lord said: "Winter sports come with risks but the fun can soon come to an end if you have an accident and are not insured.
"We strongly advise those hitting the slopes this winter to take out comprehensive travel insurance. Many skiers will be unaware that their insurance may not cover them if they've been drinking alcohol or for skiing off-piste. Medical treatment and repatriation can leave you thousands of pounds out of pocket."
The Foreign Office said heavy drinking was a key factor in skiing and snowboarding accidents involving Britons. Dr Laurence Bristow-Smith, British consul general in Milan, said: "Many British visitors on a skiing holiday are not familiar with a mountain environment – freezing temperatures, snow and ice and slippery terrain. We've provided support in a couple of consular cases where fatal accidents in the mountains were a direct result of drinking too much alcohol. In one case the insurance company refused to pay out as the policy holder 'had put himself in unnecessary danger'."
Which? backed the Know Before You Go campaign. A spokeswoman said: "Travel insurance is an essential part of any holiday, and when going on a [ski] holiday, specialised insurance is a must. With any insurance policy, always check to see what's covered."
Which? recommended any travel policy provide at least £2m worth of medical cover in Europe and the rest of the world and a minimum of £1m personal liability cover.