Skiing, insurance: Sorry, this mountain is closed

Before you book that long-awaited ski holiday, make sure your tour operator offers piste-closure insurance. It could save you a packet - and a headache

After a longish search, I found what I was looking for in this season's Crystal ski brochure. There it was, inside the back cover. "Piste-closure cover details" was the heading above a short paragraph set in a page dense with information about the tour operator's winter-sports insurance policy.

After a longish search, I found what I was looking for in this season's Crystal ski brochure. There it was, inside the back cover. "Piste-closure cover details" was the heading above a short paragraph set in a page dense with information about the tour operator's winter-sports insurance policy.

The gist of the text was similar to such clauses in other winter-sports policies. Generally, piste-closure insurance offers financial compensation (in Crystal's case, £30 per day) to policy-holders who are unable to ski in a resort because of bad snow conditions, either to cover the cost of transportation to another resort or - when that is not possible - to simply make up for their disappointment. But it was the exclusions that particularly interested me. The compensation benefits, said Crystal's terms, did not apply "to piste closure due to adverse conditions other than lack of snow or too much snow (for example, high winds)".

Then I flicked back to the previous season's brochure. The terms of the 1998/9 piste-closure insurance were almost identical, with one significant difference. Here, the policy excluded liability if piste closure was due to "adverse weather conditions other than lack of snow (for example, too much snow)".

Why this sudden interest in small print? Because last summer the travel-trade press reported that (to quote Travel Weekly) "insurers have been forced to widen cover on their winter-sports policies after clients were unable to claim for ruined holidays following the avalanches that hit the Alps last season". Although piste-closure insurance was designed to deal with the lack of snow, it was - so the reports said - having to be extended to cover the situation where excess snow effectively closed a resort.

The massive snowfall in the central Alps last January had tragic consequences: 75 people were killed, most of them in the avalanches that hit Galtür in Austria and the Chamonix Valley in France. It also caused severe problems for British tour operators. Some clients were trapped in resorts and unable to ski; others wanted to cancel holidays before departure because they were concerned for their safety.

Andy Perrin, the group managing director of Crystal International Travel, recalls "a very intense operation over a very short period. We didn't have people in Galtür or Ischgl [the other resort most affected by the avalanche in Austria], so our problem was primarily in nearby St Anton.

"For one week, we allowed customers who had booked holidays there to simply cancel them. And we switched about 200 people to different resorts. The expenses we incurred [Perrin would not divulge how much the operation cost] were mainly accounted for by purchasing airline seats and booking hotel rooms in different resorts: we had to pay for them as well as the unoccupied rooms booked in St Anton."

Crystal's operation far exceeded the liabilities under any piste-closure scheme. But to what extent have the avalanches made compensation available, as predicted, to those unable to ski because of excess snow? Very little. True, the resort of Ischgl, whose main access road is subject to closure during periods of high avalanche risk, has introduced an "access guarantee", under which guests snowed-in will get free accommodation until they can leave, while those snowed-out will be put up elsewhere in the Tyrol area until the road reopens. (In both cases the scheme - the first of its kind in the Alps - only comes into operation after the first 24 hours of road-closure). But as far as winter-sports insurance in the UK is concerned, the changes have been limited.

Even the amendment in Crystal's terms was not, in fact, prompted by the avalanches: it was made for the "preview" issue, which went to press before the avalanches occurred. Certainly some specialist insurers have added excess-snow cover; but the one I consulted, Hamilton Barr, had not done so - because its premium Excel policy already provided for a payment of £35 piste-closure compensation per day for those "unable to ski because of the failure of ski lifts due to strike, industrial action, bad weather or power failure". The Excel policy costs £39.09 for 10 days' cover in Europe; the company's cheaper, standard policy, costing £33.66, still excludes excess-snow conditions.

Hamilton Barr has responded to the avalanches, by extending the Excel cover so skiers whose resort becomes inaccessible can cancel their holiday and claim its entire cost. This was at little risk to the company, I suggested to its sales director, Michael Pettifer, since avalanches similar to last season's had not occurred for 50 years: "People said the same sort of thing about the storms in Britain in 1987, but look what happened in 1998," he countered. Yet some operators' insurance policies, unlike Crystal's, still exclude pay-outs in the case of excess snow.

The First Choice piste-closure terms (in a policy costing £39, compared with Crystal's £43.50) merely cover lack of snow, and are activated only when 85 per cent of the resort's lifts are closed; Thomson's (£43) is similar, although it requires only 80 per cent closure, while Neilson (£44.50) adds the demand that the local ski-school director considers conditions are "unsuitable to teach". But the Airtours (£42.99) terms refer to "adverse weather conditions", presumably including excess snow; and although Inghams (£42) requires almost total closure of the lift system, it will pay compensation if that is caused by "any reason beyond the control of Inghams".

How important piste-closure policies are to skiers is a moot point. The number of claims is startlingly low: Michael Pettifer estimates that Hamilton Barr insures more than 50,000 skiers and boarders, yet it had only 17 piste-closure claims last season. But as Pettifer says, the policies offer "a comfort" and if skiers want peace of mind, excess-snow provisions are essential. Why? Andy Perrin explains that although piste-closure insurance was prompted by poor snow conditions, "the no-snow situation has been rare recently, and if it arises, we prefer to call people up and offer them an alternative resort rather than move them around by bus. But although skiing is more limited when the snow is poor, snow-cannons mean that the question of large-scale piste closure shouldn't arise if resorts do their jobs properly - which, by and large, they do."

Excess snow, however, still occurs - albeit rarely on the scale of last season. "It's usually a big overnight dump, and resorts have to close because the piste-maintenance people can't cope. And in those circumstances the compensation means that, at the very least, customers can go out and have a big meal, and still enjoy their day."

Hamilton Barr, 01483 255666. All the insurance-policy prices quoted are for up to nine days' winter-sports cover in Europe, except Hamilton Barr (10 days) and Airtours (eight).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleMemoir extracts show iconic designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
fashionAlexander Furyon London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late on stage in Brixton show
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
News
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam