James Walker: Without winter sports cover it’s a slippery slope

Increasing numbers of us are forgoing Christmas and the New Year in Britain and are heading off for a winter holiday. While many will chase the sun, large numbers of people decamp to the slopes for some skiing (and après ski). But less than one in five travel insurance policies cover winter sports.

Being rescued in the snow won't usually be covered by basic insurance policies

If you’re doing anything in the snow or at higher altitudes, from tobogganing to even taking a walk, you need to make sure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy including winter sports cover.

Alarmingly, tons of people still rely on their European Health Insurance Card. While this is useful to have, it’s not even remotely comprehensive, varies from country to country and doesn’t cover the potentially massive expenses that can arise when you have a travel disaster.

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 Them’s the breaks: Firstly, when things go wrong on a Winter holiday, they can be both brutal and expensive. Broken limbs are common and that can mean getting around and getting on a plane can be tricky. At the more extreme end of the scale, people get lost in the snow and suffer frostbite (or worse); severe accidents involving broken necks or full body casts also occur. A much higher proportion of people injure themselves on a winter holiday – many before they’ve even get the skis on – so insurance policies keep a tight reign on what’s covered.

 Repatriation: This is the act of getting you back home if you’re injured (or worse). Many of the horror stories involving travel insurance that I’ve seen over the years have involved getting people who are injured back to the UK. Disputes often arise over the health of the person who has been injured, costs over air ambulances and the fact that you may have to leave the injured person alone because your policy probably won’t cover you for injuries that occur to another person – even if it’s family.

 Private treatment: Insurers will expect you to contact them about potential treatment if it’s not a life-threatening situation. I recommend keeping the insurer’s emergency number on your phone with your policy number, just in case. Private medical treatment may not be covered by some policies and can be amazingly expensive. Yes, the insurer can insist you are transferred to a “standard” hospital – but you can disagree if it will damage your health. It also makes sense to have a credit card handy in case you have to pay up front. Don’t expect any niceties if you come off your skis in Aspen. Those US hospitals are ruthless when it comes to cash.

 Randomness: Storms can sweep in very quickly in the winter months. I’ve seen a couple of cases where tourists have been billed for the cost of air rescue teams that have been scrambled to save them. Needless to say, this isn’t cheap. Insurance policies do cover search and rescue but the costs vary wildly and if you’ve needed to be rescued while skiing, for example, you must generally have taken winter sports cover.

 Booze on the slopes: If you’re racking up the raclette, firing up the fondue and settling down for some après ski drinks, bear in mind that the fun police at insurance companies have been quietly introducing drinking clauses into contracts for a few years now. Ultimately, it’s on the insurer to prove you were drunk. And not by word of mouth either. But bear in mind, if you’re hospitalised, they may seek blood alcohol tests.