New research suggests that alcohol played a part in many of the accidents that killed 30 Britons in the Alps last year and that nearly a quarter of Britons who go skiing are over the drink‑driving limit first thing in the morning.
You may well feel fine at the time, but your reaction time could be slowed and should you cause damage or injure yourself or a third party you could face a bill of thousands of pounds.
More than half a million Britons will be unintentionally skiing at almost double the drink-driving limit this season as alcohol consumed the night before puts themselves and other skiers at risk, according to More Than insurance. They reckon that 568,000 Britons on the piste will have seven or more units of alcohol still in their bloodstreams from the night before when they set off. The drink driving limit is four units for a man.
"Drinking on the slopes will increase your chances of having an accident and it could also invalidate any subsequent claim. Bear in mind that, because there is less oxygen at high altitude, you will tend to get light-headed anyway," said Dr Tim Hammond of medical assistance provider CEGA. "If you then drink on top of that, the effects will be exacerbated and you will feel more drunk and unsteady on less alcohol."
Last month, the British Consulate in Lyons launched a campaign to encourage the 700,000 British tourists who visit the French Alps during the winter season to be safer on holiday. They warn that an unfamiliar environment, cold temperatures and high altitudes can heighten the effects of alcohol, and lead to accidents and other mishaps.
Figures released by comparison website Confused.com show that one in four skiers is affected by people who have had too much to drink and that more than a quarter of skiers aged between 31 and 35 will drink two or more glasses of wine at lunch before skiing in the afternoon. Of this age group nearly half believed that regardless of alcohol consumption they would be covered for any accidents by their travel insurance.
"The amount of people in our research who admit to drinking on the slopes is a cause for concern," said Steve Williams, head of travel insurance at Confused.com. "All travel insurance contracts include an exclusion regarding claims made as a result of alcohol consumption. Skiers must be made aware of the risk they take if drinking when on holiday; insurance providers are fully within their rights to decline claims involving alcohol, as it is reasonable to assume adequate care was not taken."
Another frequently made incorrect assumption is that the replacement for the E111, the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), covers you if you have an accident. Although confusingly named, the EHIC does not offer the carrier full insurance against injury or damages. Instead, it offers up to 80pc off medical bills in hospitals that accept the card, though there is no guarantee that you will either end up in one of these hospitals or that your card will be accepted. Should you suffer a particularly complicated or serious accident you may require airlifting from the slope and face medical bills of tens of thousands of pounds, and the EHIC will not cover any of your transportation to hospital. Resorts advise that you have both the EHIC and winter sports travel insurance in order to cover all eventualities.
Dr Hammond said: "If you are injured on the slopes, resort pisteurs will probably take you straight to a private clinic, where the EHIC will not cover your medical treatment. Also remember that the card won't cover the cost of your mountain rescue, or, if you need it, your repatriation."
It is advisable that you carry both the EHIC and proof of your travel insurance with you at all times while on the slopes, so that nothing delays any treatment you may need in the event of an accident. A photocopy of your policy will suffice and make sure you make note of any important telephone numbers such as the emergency services for your holiday destination and a 24-hour emergency number for your policy provider.
When choosing your insurance the price of the cover, although important, should not be your deciding factor. Though most holiday makers know to ensure they have a winter sports supplement to their travel insurance, many do not know to check the level of cover offered within winter sports packages and that one policy can differ quite radically from the next.
As Mr Williams explained: "Travellers should check their cover includes all things they feel will be necessary, such as search and rescue. It is also important to check their policies offer the right level of equipment cover, as some will cover just the equipment the traveller owns, while others cover the loss, theft or damage of any equipment hired as well."
Make sure that your insurance covers the cost of replacing like for like as brand new ski equipment can easily cost £1,000 or more.
If you own your equipment, check the age of your skis and boots against your insurance policy's small print. Some policies will not cover accidents caused by or damage done to or by equipment more than five years old. If your skis are older, or were purchased second-hand, make sure you choose a policy which does not have this exclusion.
Regardless of the age of your equipment – or whether it is hired or owned by the policyholder, an insurer is within their rights to turn down a claim if they believe the claimant to have been negligent. When stopping for lunch make sure you park your skis and snowboards in sight of your table, and use your hotel or chalet's lockers if leaving your equipment overnight or longer. If your equipment is stolen and you have not taken precautions to ensure its safety, your claim could be turned down. If your accommodation does not have a locker, invest in a ski lock which can be bought at good winter sports retailers such as www.snowsafe.co.uk and www.bargainboards.co.uk for around £15.
Mr Williams from Confused.com warned that those wanting to ski off-piste should know that this is often not covered under normal winter sports policies. "Some insurance providers will allow it if it is undertaken with a qualified instructor," he said, "but checking the terms and conditions on this before leaving is absolutely essential."
As skiing off-piste has become more popular, check both whether you are covered to do so and what your insurer regards as "off-piste". Some will provide cover if you are injured while skiing an ungroomed but marked slope but not completely uncharted routes, while others will cover both. However, choosing a policy that covers off-piste skiing and boarding does not give the policyholder carte blanche to act as they wish. Due care must be taken to minimise the chance of injury and to ensure that in the event of an accident your insurer does not deem you negligent.
Similarly, more adventurous activities such as tobogganing, bobsleigh or downhill racing may require extra cover. You will certainly need specialist insurance if you plan to attempt the Cresta Run – but the St Moritz Toboggan Club can usually arrange cover.
Some insurers do not cover for loss of ski passes, which can be up to £400 for just one week, so consider whether a cheaper policy is good value with such reduced cover.
Groups should consider family policy travel insurance, as it is often more cost effective. Whether or not you are related, two adults and one or more children travelling as a group can qualify for a family policy. Equally, if you plan to take another holiday within a year it is more cost effective to get an annual travel policy rather than single-trip cover. Though skiing may be your most expensive holiday, it is unlikely to be your only one and it is always advisable to have holiday cover. As well as saving you money, annual trip cover also means you do not have to worry about arranging insurance should you make a short trip or unplanned holiday.
As with all financial products, it pays to shop around. Though not all insurance providers are listed on comparison websites, the majority are, including a number of web-only providers who can offer good deals through reduced administrative costs. If in doubt, try a number of comparison websites and compare quotes. Try www.confused.com, www.moneysupermarket.com, or www.moneyfacts.co.uk.
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