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  • Writer's pictureHenry

The Insurance Minefield

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Having appropriate travel insurance is a must when travelling abroad to ski. Accidents on the mountain can be painful, both for you and your wallet, if you are not insured properly, and good travel insurance will offer protection off the slopes too.

I need to preface this by saying I am not an insurance specialist; at all times you should be aware of the details of the travel insurance policy you are buying by reading the policy carefully and know that I am only able to offer general comments on the broader insurance market and types of insurance, not specific details relating to policies. Any providers mentioned are done so as an example and not a recommendation of their policies or products.

First of all, what is travel insurance? Travel insurance is a policy that is designed to cover any financial losses you incur as a result of events happening before or on your holiday. This can range from cancellation in the event of an accident or illness preventing you from travelling, your bags being lost by your airline, or costs incurred from emergency medical care whilst abroad.

The insurance industry took a bit of a battering over the COVID-19 pandemic, with a tightening re-insurance market contracting – in effect the business insurance market for insurance companies – staffing and recruitment issues impacting every staging of the buying and claiming process, and increases in medical costs being passed on to insurance companies and inevitably you, the insured.

What are some things you should look out for when buying a travel insurance policy for skiing?

Cancellation Cover

Not every insurance policy provides cover for cancellation. This is particularly the case with “emergency assistance” policies that are usually offered by banks or credit card companies; as the name suggest they provide cover in the event of an emergency whilst abroad, but not for things happening before your holiday goes ahead.

Read your policy carefully, as normally the cancellation clause on policies cover for a select handful of eventualities, such as your own injury or illness, or that of a travelling companion or an immediate relative.

Winter Sports Cover

First of all, triple check that winter sports are covered under your policy in the first place. Sometimes they are sold as add-ons marketed as part of the buying process, like when Ryanair push extra bags or reserving your seat as you trawl through their booking process. A policy wording may not be enough to confirm whether this is part of your policy, as these tend to be generic documents with all possible information included; check your policy schedule, receipts, and confirmation e-mails.

Next, have a look at the number of days covered. If you are a seasonnaire or you are planning on being away for a long period of time, you may exceed both the number of consecutive days abroad permitted under a multi-trip, or the maximum number of winter sports days allowed. Dedicated seasonnaires insurance or some single trip policies will waive or otherwise extend these limits, allowing you to ski for as much as you want.

Off-Piste Cover

Here’s where things have become really interesting in recent years.

Winter sports cover will provide for most things that happen on-piste i.e. between the markers on known pistes. As a rule of thumb, anything outside of these markers should be considered off-piste.

Travel insurance policies have been known to include the following clauses relating to off piste travel;

  • You can ski “off-piste” – off the marked trails but within the marked areas of the ski resort

  • You can ski “backcountry” – as above, but outside the marked areas of the ski resort

  • You must ski off-piste/backcountry with a qualified guide

  • You must ski off-piste/backcountry in “recognised off-piste areas”

  • You must ski off-piste/backcountry “in sight of resort”

  • “Itinerary routes” – suggested off-piste trails often marked yellow on the piste map – can be considered off-piste

As you can see, some of these clauses leave a lot of room for interpretation. Insurance companies are not skiing specialists either, so their own interpretation may differ from what you or I might interpret it as. However, I would always treat itinerary routes as off-piste, and it is possible to find travel insurance policies that permit you to ski off-piste, outside of resort boundaries (backcountry) and without being with a fully qualified guide.

Touring vs. Mountaineering

No one really knows where touring ends and mountaineering begins, with some insurance companies saying touring ends as soon as you step out of your bindings, whilst others saying it has to do with the intent to climb a mountain. I’m not going to touch this one with a 10-foot barge pole. You should 100% check this with your insurance provider - as you should with everything I've talked about in this post.

Other Types of Insurance

It is possible to buy a “top up” for your insurance, from a mountaineering club or as an add-on to your ski pass at the ticket window. Carré Neige is the best example of this, available at some resorts in the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps. These will cover the cost of getting you off the mountain and treatment at the first medical facility. If more complex treatment is required that necessitates taking you to a second or further medical facility, this will not be covered by these policies.

The UK issues GHIC (Global Health Insurance Cards) to UK citizens travelling to many European countries and some countries further afield. This covers the cost of some medical treatments whilst abroad; it is designed as a companion to, but not a replacement of, travel insurance.


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