The slippery slope

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Many skiers are spurning winter sports insurance, risking possible huge expenses, says Grace Hammond. reports.

Heavy early snow in the Alps, the inspiration of the 2014 Winter Olympics, a hopeful economy; things are certainly aligning for a bumper ski season this year.

Indeed, official figures are already showing the number of holidaymakers planning a trip to the slopes is 5 per cent higher than in 2012/13.

But underneath all this good news lies something a little more worrying.

According to research by the Association of  British Travel Agents (ABTA), over a third (36 per cent) of Britons taking a winter sports holiday will not bother to purchase specific winter sports insurance. The number jumps to nearly half (47 per cent) with under 35s, the age group keenest on winter sports breaks.

Without adequate insurance, skiers and snowboarders risk sky-high medical bills after an accident or injury; treating and bringing a skier back home with a broken leg from Europe can easily see bills topping £6,000, and possibly £30,500 from the US and Canada. Care in the US health system costs around £1,250 per day. On top of all this, failure to insure means many skiers may also put hundreds of pounds in deposits at risk if they scrap planned holidays at the last minute.

The trend of scrimping on insurance – or ignoring it altogether – is not exclusive to skiers, though, it goes right across the travel industry. Earlier this year, Abta warned earlier that nearly half of 15-24 year olds travel overseas with no cover in place. The trend has accelerated since 2009 when the Financial Services Authority (FSA) cracked down on agents selling insurance as an automatic, highly lucrative add-on.

Ian Davis, a director at Crystal Ski, the largest operator, says: “Although we like customers to have insurance in place, this is an incredibly competitive area. We probably sell insurance as an add-on to about 2-3 per cent of our ski packages – with our most comprehensive cover for the Alps at £51 per person per week.

“Buying insurance isn’t an exciting thing to think about, though, and is often left until the last minute.”

Peter Hayman, director of specialist travel insurance broker P J Hayman, adds that the current ease of booking a holiday doesn’t help either. “It’s easy nowadays to catch easyJet flights to the slopes, and insurance gets left out of the booking process.”

Another travel industry expert, Richard Would at Navigator Travel, says even skiers who do arrange cover can get a shock if and when they claim.

“Many policies for skiers don’t cover off-piste skiing, for example, though our policy does. Many policies also don’t cover accidents on snow parks in US and Canada resorts, where skiers and snowboarders might try stunting and jumps.”

Navigator’s gold standard multi-trip annual cover starts at £51.80 per adult, and from £93.82 per family; but its premiums double for the 65-69 age bracket and treble beyond 70.

Abta’s website has advice section on travel insurance at  www.abta.com/travelinsurance; Navigator Travel 
(0161 973 6435 and www.navigatortravel.co.uk); PJ Hayman & Co (0845 230 3526 and www.pyhayman.com).

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