Conal Gregory: Travel cover can help stop that ski holiday from going downhill

The eyes of ski enthusiasts are on the Winter World Masters Games which open today in Innsbruck. It is a timely reminder to all those planning to go onto the slopes to ensure they are protected with good travel insurance.

Travel cover can help stop ski holiday from going downhill. Pic: PA Photo/Crystal Ski.

Skiing and snowboarding can be exhilarating, dangerous but financially disastrous. An amazing one-third of British skiers risk taking to the slopes without adequate travel cover, according to a joint report by the Association of British Travel Agents and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Those aged 18-24 are the most likely to ski without insurance.

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Winter sports cover will not only protect against costs which can be of galactic size involving helicopter rescue from a mountainside but provide expert assistance when help is needed.

Too many skiers think that carrying a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is adequate. It is still valid for UK citizens and can be used in state medical facilities in continental Europe (as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland).

It will pay for free or reduced cost treatment but will not cover private care, which is usually the only form available at ski resorts. It will also not reimburse for medical staff and transport from the accident point to the hospital and to home.

Take care to avoid misleading websites which offer the EHIC for a service fee. The card is free. Even those with travel cover should use it as most insurers will then waive the excess (the first part of any claim).

Direct Line has revealed to The Yorkshire Post the top five reasons for claiming:

Medical emergencies and expenses

Lost personal possessions

Lost ski pass and travel documents

Cancellation of holiday and associated bookings

Travel delay and missed departure.

Aviva’s top claims include damaged belongings and piste closure. Among costs covered which may be overlooked are subsequent visits to a clinic or hospital to be prepared for onward travel, obtaining a ‘fit to fly’ certificate, special seating on an airplane – often business class for space – and attending medical personnel to the UK.

Winter sports cover usually forms part of a comprehensive annual travel policy but can be purchased separately.

It may be offered with home cover, such as Select, part of Leeds-based UK Insurance. Some package bank accounts include it but it is sensible to check if the wording and compensation are wide enough.

Defaqto, the ratings agency, has examined 1,172 annual travel policies and found 16 per cent include winter sports as standard while 79 per cent allow it for an extra premium.

Virgin Money, which absorbed Yorkshire Bank, includes winter sports in its annual multi-trip policy as free which sets it apart from most others. Underwritten by Mapfre, four levels are offered with increasing benefit values.

The Silver is most popular which, based on a 35-year-old travelling in Europe, costs £45.83 annually. A single trip including skiing is available, such as 10 days for £32.50.

Take time before travel to shop around for the right policy, not only in terms of premium but one that covers all likely activities. “Be aware of any safety requirements in the policy that you will need to follow for your cover to be valid,” warns Laura Dawson of the Association of British Insurers.

The range of winter sports has grown rapidly in recent years. If you plan to kite ski, heliski, snow kayak and ice kart, check that you are insured “as these activities would not normally be covered by a standard winter sports policy”, say Aviva.

Safety on the slopes is important but using a helmet is still not required by insurers unless the resort makes it a condition, such as Nova Scotia and parts of Austria. This is rather like the period for drivers before seat belt use became mandatory.

However, a claim resulting from an injury or death where the individual failed to follow safety guidelines and make use of the necessary safety equipment will be excluded.

If you fancy trying out some tricks in a ski fun park, be careful. Defaqto says that only 11 per cent of policies accept claims injuries sustained in such parks as standard.

Do not overlook skiing into someone else. Injuries to a third party can exceed £50,000, says Rebecca Davidson, the insurance specialist at NFU Mutual. One policyholder collided with two other members of their party.

The impact was so severe that both helmets cracked and both were knocked unconscious, having to be airlifted to hospital. One suffered serious facial and dental injuries resulting in emergency surgery.

Most policies will protect for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling but on recognised paths, dog sledding, dry slope skiing, sledging and snow shoeing.

However, glacier walking and snowboarding is likely to require an accompanied qualified guide. Mono-skiing is becoming more acceptable with 79 per cent accepting it as standard, four per cent for an extra premium but 17 per cent not allowing it.

Dr Matthew Connell, at the Chartered Insurance Institute, says that tobogganing and snowmobiling will not be within standard cover.

A last-minute invitation to join friends with such an activity means you are uninsured. Virgin Money states that bobsleighing and heli-skiing incur an increased £250 excess and cover under the personal accident and personal liability does not apply.

Connell also advises to look at the likely costs of medical treatment abroad and to ensure your policy will pay adequately. This should be at least £1m in Europe and £2m in North America.

Davidson says that claims for winter sports medical care averaged £1,590 in 2018 with a range from £100 to £72,000.

Few enjoying winter sports realise that alcohol consumption is a reason for claims being refused.

Recent research from YouGov and Aquarium showed that 30 per cent of skiers did not know how much alcohol could invalidate their insurance.

Ski equipment can be expensive. Check on the level of cover (Churchill offers £500 per person and to £300 for replacement equipment hire at £25 per day) as well as any conditions for storage.

This may, for instance, exclude equipment racked to a car roof unless the vehicle is within sight.

If the weather means tuition fees, ski pass or hired equipment cannot be used, good policies will reimburse, such as £500 with Churchill.

With many comparison sites not showing the full range of sports included or excesses that will be applied, use one of the experienced ratings agencies. Defaqto gives just a single star to AA Bronze, Cover-More Economy, Go Travel Standard and Standard Essential, Premier Care Silver and Sun Selection Silver.

However, its top rating with five stars is awarded to such policies as Asda Money Superior, Benenden Gold, Co-op Platinum and Gold, Direct Travel Platinum Plus and Premier Plus, HSBC Premier and Virgin Money Premium

Conal Gregory is AIC Regional Journalist of the Year.