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Hit the slopes, not your bank balance

Ski gogglesHaving an accident on your winter sports trip may not just spoil your holiday, but could also leave you with a shocking bill if you're not properly covered. 

By Kate Hughes

The pistes have opened, you've booked your flights, the lift pass is waiting, and, with all the snow expected this winter, you may even be able to ski to the airport.

But an off-piste shortcut or a few too many vins chaud while skiing or snowboarding could instantly void your travel insurance. If you are injured while on a winter sports trip you can expect a typical £25,000 bill to get you home - reason enough to make sure you don’t get caught out this season.

Wrong place, wrong time

A hike in insurance premium tax announced in the last Budget means snow lovers are being urged to book theirs before 4 January 2011. In fact, AXA Insurance is warning that around 1 million Britons won't buy it at all due to squeezed finances, leaving them at risk of a financial disaster should something go wrong.

Of those who do buy travel cover, choosing the bare minimum could mean a very false economy - as 30 per cent of all skiers and snowboarders will make a claim at some point. If yours is an annual travel policy, it’s vital to check, before travelling, whether it covers winter sports, and where in the world you’re insured. And while you’re reading the finer details of your policy, also make a note of how many days your policy covers you to ski, as some will have limits.

If you’re not covered, have exceeded your days, or you’re only covered in Europe, you could end up in big trouble. A wipe out in Whistler, Canada, for example, could cost in excess of £30,000 if evacuation from the slopes, an operation and air ambulance home is involved. In fact, for a head injury, the cost of care could run to £250,000, according to The Post Office.

Do you skidoo?

It may happen on the same slopes, but you could need additional cover if you plan to try your hand at extra activities such as skidoo-ing- like jet-skiing, but on snow.  

Meanwhile, off-piste and heli-skiing may offer the ultimate experience but it also carries a far higher risk of injury.  As a result, some insurers will exclude these activities, or require that you are accompanied by a qualified guide. If you don’t comply and have problems, you may not be covered. In fact, simply skiing down a closed run could mean you’re not covered if you fall.

Don’t walk away

You wouldn’t abandon your expensive gear on the local high street, so don’t do it on the slopes. A lunchtime break regularly means leaving your skis or board outside, but you must keep an eye on them if you want to stay covered. Some insurers will not pay out for replacement equipment unless you have taken reasonable care to prevent the theft. If you think your ski equipment has been stolen, you’ll need a police report and, ideally, receipts for the originals to claim successfully.

Apres Ski

If you’ve spent any time in ski resorts it may be little surprise that a recent study found 22 per cent of holidaymakers drink heavily while on winter sports holidays.  Four out of 10 people ski while hungover and, according to the research, each person will drink an average of 10 units of alcohol every night.

But if you’re under the influence - and that includes the morning after - there is a real risk you won’t be covered. Consider avoiding that bar bill to beat a far bigger hospital one.

The good news

As well as policyholders’ claims, ski insurance will provide cover for injury caused to others - a fact 50 per cent of skiers and boarders don’t realise, says AXA. 

And if the pistes are closed while you are away, some insurers will refund policyholders for lift passes that can’t be used. However, in order to claim successfully, the resort must officially close the piste and you’ll need proof to make a claim.