Thousands of us jet off during the winter in search of adventure on the slopes but too many of us run the risk of wiping out our savings by being underinsured.
In the UK, more than one million people will go on a snow holiday this winter. But of those taking part in sports such as skiing or snowboarding, only 58% will be fully insured, according to insurance firm Aviva. Risking the snow without insurance is a mistake says insurance firm esure; last year, one in 14 skiers had an accident on the slopes, with each claim costing an average of £1,490.
The mistake many skiers make is assuming their normal travel insurance will cover them. A standard travel insurance policy will cover you for lost luggage, cancellation and medical bills if you fall ill while you are away, but is highly unlikely to cover injuries associated with dangerous sports - and insurers can class everything from skiing to a sleigh ride as high risk.
If you don't have insurance and you're unfortunate enough to have an accident, the costs can be huge.
For example, in Europe a helicopter rescue can cost from £2,000, hospital admission for five days £4,500, emergency surgery up to £10,000, and repatriation - getting you home - costs from £500.
These costs vary widely around the world, but, according to insurer Europ Assistance, in severe cases you could end up with medical bills amounting to £250,000.
There are also other less obvious costs to think about, such as extra hotel accommodation, transport to and from hospitals, and the cost of changing flights.
DON'T RELY ON YOUR HEALTH CARD
Another fair assumption made by many people travelling in Europe is that their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will cover their medical costs. The EHIC entitles UK citizens to the same state provided medical treatment as a local resident would receive in any EU country.
But given that the standard of public health services can vary a great deal across the continent you cannot rely on an EHIC to cover all your medical fees. There are also exclusions to bear in mind as you won't be covered in all countries. For example, not all UK residents are covered in Denmark, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, so check the EHIC website (ehic.org.uk) before you go.
And be aware that when you are in a ski resort many of the clinics at resorts are likely to be privately run so treatment received at them will not be covered by the EHIC, meaning you'll still end up paying the bills even if you have the card with you.
In order to protect yourself, you can either buy winter sports cover as a standalone policy or as an addition to your annual travel policy. Standalone policies cost from around £8 a week or adding winter sports cover to an annual policy can cost as little as £7 for 21 days cover a year.
What is included varies for each policy but on the whole most winter sports policies cover standard sports such as skiing, snowboarding and iceskating. Other activities such as sleigh rides, bob sleighing, heli-skiing and off-piste skiing are unlikely to be included in a standard package and you'll need to pay extra for this or buy separate insurance from a specialist provider.
For example, Travel & General Insurance Company (tgiconline.com) offers single-trip cover for elite sports such as heli-skiing in Europe for £54.99 for up to 45 days.
A standalone winter sports policy will cover the same things as a standard policy – cancellation, delay, theft, loss and personal accident – plus extras such as inability to ski due to illness or injury. When picking a policy, choose one that compensates you if the lifts and slopes in your holiday resort are closed due to a lack of snow or bad weather conditions and covers your equipment for theft, loss or damage.
BEWARE FALSE ECONOMY
"People often make the mistake of looking for the cheapest cover possible. While basic policies will cover you for the essentials, such as medical emergencies, cancellation and lost baggage, the bills you could run up on a ski trip can be extensive. We've dealt with individual claims of more than £12,000 so it's important to check that you choose the right cover for you and the activities you plan to undertake," warns Matt Reid, spokesperson at protectyourbubble.com.
Greg Lawson, spokesperson for Columbus Direct Insurance, says: "With regards to winter sports, the most likely medical assistance claim would be no more than £100,000 and on average £15,000. Minor medical injuries such as a dislocated shoulder will be no more than £10,000. The recommended medical cover would be £2 million as there have been no claims in excess of that."
However, just because you have the insurance doesn't mean you can throw caution to the wind; there are still things that will invalidate your policy. For example, don't assume you will be covered if you go off-piste as most policies only cover this if you are within the resort boundaries or with a qualified guide. Most policies also require you to act with reasonable care, so if you are taking unnecessary risks such as skiing on a run that is far beyond your abilities you might not be covered. This also applies with alcohol.
If you're found to be drunk on the slopes – or over the limit after the night before – this can invalidate your policy. Although there isn't a hard and fast rule for this as it can differ between insurers, Lawson urges skiers not to drink more than you would if you were going to drive.