Choosing the right insurance for your winter sports break

If your winter sports break turns out to be a fracture or your bindings become bandages, you will want to be certain that you have chosen the right travel insurance.

Although people spend hours poring over holiday catalogues, browsing hotel websites and sitting across the desk from a travel expert, rarely do they dedicate a similar amount of time to choosing their travel insurance. This is despite the fact that the Financial Ombudsman Service dealt with around 3,000 complaints about travel insurance in 2017. It found against the insurer in just 40 per cent of those cases, which suggests that customers are not choosing the right policy.

Industry figures show that risking inadequate insurance on a winter sports holiday could be cripplingly expensive. Costs that are unlikely to affect an accident on a beach holiday or city break could include mountain rescue and medical procedures such as treating a joint dislocation or a fracture. Frequent travellers may have a free travel insurance policy from their bank or an annual policy. Either way, it is important to check whether such policies specifically cover winter sports.

Checking

There are cheap policies available on the market. However, these inevitably involve lower levels of cover and possibly high excess charges. Often such a policy can prove to be a false economy and is unlikely to give you peace of mind once you step onto the slopes. Researching your choice of policy will ensure that you will be properly looked after in the event of an accident.

Although many medical costs will be covered by a European Health Insurance Card, you should not rely on this when on a winter sports trip. It will not cover rescue or many of the treatments you may require following a typical winter sports accident.

When checking your policy, there are several things to look out for. Are there safety requirements, such as compulsory helmet wearing? Are there references to local rules on the slopes? Insurers can withhold cover if you are in breach of local rules or ignore advice about using particular runs. If you have an annual policy, check whether there is a limit on the number of days for which you are covered on a winter holiday – it is often the case that cover is limited to between two and three weeks. Finally, always check the cover for your equipment. If it is stolen, always report the loss to the local police, as failure to do so will affect your ability to re-coup losses.

Ombudsman

Winter holidays also involve an added risk when it comes to cancellation costs. If you have booked your own holiday direct, always check that your cover includes problems prior to departure, including delays.

The Financial Ombudsman Service recently highlighted a case where a holidaymaker was injured prior to departure and tried to claim for cancellation costs as she was not fit to ski. The insurer countered by claiming she was fit to travel and could still enjoy her holiday and refused to cover the costs of the cancellation. It seems the policyholder's doctor had not distinguished between being fit to travel and fit to ski. The ombudsman found in favour of the policyholder, as the purpose of the holiday was to ski. As she was unable to do so, it was decided the insurer was acting unreasonably in withholding payment by strictly applying terms and conditions.

Despite the success of the appeal to the ombudsman, this remains a cautionary tale and confirms the need to choose a policy carefully and check the terms and conditions.

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