Off piste ski insurance for skiers and ski tourers
This is a subject that often comes up from skiers. We wrote this article not only to help you choose the right policy for you, but also to ensure you avoid getting caught by two significant risks
- We have noticed that skiers may not realise the restrictions inherent in many policies, so we are highlighting a few important ones here
- Also it is surprisingly easy to void your policy through behaviour that falls outside the policy or may be considered reckless.
Fortunately if you follow the guidance in our training you will almost certainly be complying with the insurers requirement to respect resort advice and make the appropriate risk assessment about where and when you go off piste. If you follow the advice in this article you will obtain a policy that covers you for off piste and ski touring risks. Many travel, insurance policies do not.
How to find the best off piste ski insurance? This is a question that we are asked very often. Back in 2012 we did some research on this, but things have changed a lot since then, so we have updated our research project to create some guidance around this particular minefield.
Needless to say there is no one simple answer. It depends on many things.
We will look first at the principles of insurance and how it is organised. And then go on to suggest some questions you should ask your insurer to answer. And finally some inurance policies that seem to meet the criteria for off piste skiers and ski tourers.
The principles of insurance
One overarching principle is that you must always act as if you are not insured. You must not do anything that others or the resort might deem to be reckless. If the insurer suspects you took greater risks because you were insured they may deny the claim. Insurance is there to cover accidents and illness or things that happen beyond your control that result in costs or inconvenience or ill health. Here are three examples of how you might be considered reckless. But these are just three examples, there are many other circumstances where this principle applies.
Going against resort advice
This means do not ski down closed runs, heed warnings of exceptional avalanche danger, be sure you have made a risk assessment about the conditions and the capability and equipment of your group before you go under a rope or past a notice of danger.
At HAT we generally do not advise going into avalanche risky terrain when the warning is level 4 or 5. We advise staying away from slopes that are 30 degrees or steeper
Travel against FCDO advice
No insurance company will provide cover if you travel when the government has advised against it
Incapacity due to alcohol consumption
Almost all policies have a provision that if the accident was caused by impaired judgement or impaired ability from excess alcohol then your cover will be voided. Some policies specify the blood alcohol level and some just make a general statement. A general statement means it would depend on the assessment of the rescuers and the medical staff.
How insurance is organised
You may think you are buying an off piste ski insurance policy from an insurance company. But in reality it is more complex than that. There are often four entities involved. Each has with skills, each are necessary.
A referrer or sales business (appointed representative)
The Ski Club GB is an example of this, they design their policy as an appointed representative of Marsh Commercial.
An FCA regulated insurance business
The BMC, Snowcard and Skicover are this and are authorised provide and sell insurance directly to customers.
The insurance business and/or the appointed representatives will make the sales, handle initial customer enquiries and offer the insurance brand to the market.
This is the business that provides the funds to pay out when insured people make a claim. So they will charge the broker a fee for doing that. This is the organisation that takes the risk, then underwrites that risk and provides the cover. The underwriter will determine the policy terms and the basis of payout in conjunction with the insurance business or appointed representative.
The claims handlers
These are the people that will provide the emergency assistance and process your claim. They are specialist businesses that are appointed by the underwriters to determine if a claim meets the policy conditions and how much should be paid. They also provide logistical support for the insured party when they need help. It is the claims area where most customer frustration exists either because the laims handlers are slow or the insured feels the decision to pay out or not is unreasonable.
Four questions on off piste ski insurance that you need an answer to
Off piste skiing is a niche and specialist activity with considerable risks attached to it for underwriters if skiers are careless or reckless. There are many general insurers who cover off piste skiing. But general insurers tend not to understand the risks and as a result apply crude tick box measures to manage risk. These typically involve two restrictions.
- Off piste is only OK if you are with a guide. This is not adequate cover for most readers of this website. It also runs a risk for you since you can go off the piste without realising it.
- Do not go off piste when the resort has warnings. This is a minefield, since there are warnings all season about avalanche danger warnings and ropes are put up every day to discourage skiers venturing off piste.
Our research has revealed there are a few specialist providers of off piste ski insurance that are set up and run by skiers who understand the nature of these risks. They have created policy wording and an agreement with underwriters that means you can go off piste without a guide and still be insured. But you must still follow prevailing resort wisdom and advice about when it is OK or not OK to go into avalanche terrain. HAT training is perfect to equip you with this insight and judgement.
As a result we strongly advise you choose a specialist insurer that is run by skiers and has people who will support your claim if the underwriter gets difficult about a claim.
Here are four questions you should have an answer to in selecting your insurer
Is this a ski specialist insurer?
Was this business set up by skiers to serve skiers and provide off piste ski insurance? Do the directors understand the nature of off piste risks? Will the policy wording work for you.
In particular look at the wording around going off piste with or without a guide. Insurers’ default option is to expect you to manage risk by takin a professional guide. Specialist insurers have managed to get underwriters to cover you for going off-piste without a guide.
Will they support my claim?
All the businesses we recommend below have people who will act on your side to represent your case to the underwriter. (provided you were not reckless!). This is your best hope to get paid if the underwriter starts thinking you took unreasonable risks or ignored resort advice.
Whereas if you rely on insurance from your bank, just imagine expecting them to support you or understand the risks you are taking. They won’t and they can’t.
What is off piste or backcountry?
Insurers seem to have three areas and you should be clear what you are covered for.
- Between the pistes
- Direct access off piste within resort boundaries where rescue is covered by the piste patrol
- Ski touring or backcountry beyond the resort boundary
When is it OK to go off piste?
This is the least well defined area. Insurers use terms like “you must not go against resort advice” This is hard to define. Hence why we beleive you should isnure with a specialist who will be able to argue that even though you ducked a rope, the resort deemed that reasonable at the time. The advice in our accident reduction framework provides considerable guidance in this area.
Some off piste ski insurance policies do meet these criteria
Here are four companies that fit the criteria and we would be happy to use. This is not an an exhaustive list, there will be others that we have not found. In every case we recommend you call the company on the phone. Each policy has specific requirements. They all offer upgrades that could well meet your needs. This might be about your age, your trip duration, your level of adventure, your previous medical conditions. If you call them you are much more likely to get the policy that fits your needs.
We have focused on the medical and rescue cover in the event of an accident. And in particular whether they cover going off piste and ski touring. We have not assessed all the other elements of cancellation, lost baggage, piste closure, lift pass etc. etc. If you would like to see a more detailed comparison of many travel insurance companies. Then this website is a good starting point – even if a little overwhelming. Thatsinsurance also gives some detail on each of the four companies mentioned here. A number of these policies allow you to remove elements of cover to reduce the premium.
We have described annual multi-trip insurance here. with trip lengths up to 30, 45, 60 or even 90 days. The longer the trip the higher the premiums. The upper age limit for annual multi-trip cover seems to be 75 or 80 years old. But companies will provide single trip quotes above that age. They all also offer seasonal and longer periods of insurance cover if you are planning a full season.
All these policies require you to have a valid GHIC card (see below)
The Ski Club of Great Britain has a policy built by the club that includes going off piste without a guide with very few caveats. It also includes participating social holiday type races (e.g. The Inferno). The policy wording is broad and if needed you can upgrade to higher risk activities. The Platinum policy inclides membership of the club with its benefits (discounts, ski with rep, events programme, Freshtracks Holidays, advice lines). The standard policy is limited to 24 days per trip and 45 ski days per season, but this can be extended. Notably it covers you until 80 years old.
With regard to alcohol consumption and claims, the policy states
You are not covered if: You drinking too much alcohol or alcohol abuse where it is reasonably foreseeable that such consumption could result in an impairment of your faculties and/or judgement resulting in a claim. We do not expect to avoid drinking alcohol on your trip but we will not cover any claims arising because you have drunk so much alcohol that your judgement is seriously affected and you need to make a claim as a result.
The underwriter is Millstream Underwriting Limited and the claims handling is Claims Settlement Agencies
Another policy built by the members of a club designed to support adventurous activities. The policy wording is especially broad in relation to terrain you can ski. It not only includes going off piste but also ski mountaineering and back country. The BMC are the insurance compnay acting on your behalf. Their customer experiences seem positive and you get to join another club. You can have single trips up to 30, 45, 60 or 90 days and unlimited ski days through the year. Like the Ski Club GB the annual multi-trip insurance works until you are 80 years old.
with regard to alcohol consumption, the policy states
You are not covered if: You drinking too much alcohol or alcohol abuse where it is reasonably foreseeable that such consumption could result in an impairment of Your faculties and/or judgment resulting in a claim. We do not expect You to avoid alcohol on Your Trips or holidays but We will not cover any claims arising because You have drunk so much alcohol that Your judgment is seriously affected and You need to make a claim as a result;
The underwriters are Antares Syndicate 1274 at Lloyd’s. The claims handling is by Insurance Administration Services Ltd
A company established by Skiers to provide skier travel insurance. They cover every type of skier and have policy provisions that allow for all kinds of terrain and you choose how adventurous you want to be when you buy the policy. They will cover up to 75 years old for annual multi-trip insurance and can cover up to 60 days of skiing per trip. In addition, they have a single-trip option for skiers up to the age of 84. They have good customer reviews. They operate with several different insurers and use their knowledge to get the right policy for your needs so it is worth giving them a call on 0330 880 5099. They specify you have to follow resort advice about when and where it is safe to (go) ski off-piste in the resort and outside the resort, ski touring can be added if you are skiing with a locally qualified guide. It is worth speaking to them to clarify what that means. If you follow HAT advice you should be within the terms of the policy.
With regard to alcohol consumption the policy states
You drinking too much alcohol where it is reasonably foreseeable that such consumption could result in a serious impairment of Your faculties and/or judgement resulting in a claim. (We do not expect You to avoid alcohol on Your trip but We will not cover any claim arising because You have drunk so much alcohol that Your judgement is seriously affected)
Their underwriters and claims handlers vary according to the policy they select for you.
Snowcard was one of the pioneers of travel insurance for the more adventurous. Russel Dadson has led the business for many years is committed to providing cover that works for off piste skiers. You can choose to cover resort based off piste or add on ski touring depending on the activity level you choose. Again you must follow resort guidance, adopt the principles that HAT teaches and you will be covered. They can cover annual multi trip policies up to 75 years old. You can get cover for up to 90 days for a single trip and unlimted ski days through the season.
With regard to alcohol consumption the policy states
We will not cover any claim as a result of you being under the influence of alcohol, solvents or drugs, or doing anything as a result of using these substances (this excludes drugs prescribed by a GP, unless they are for the treatment of drug addiction).
You are not covered under this section for any claim if at the time of the accident, you were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, unless the drugs were prescribed by and taken on the instructions of a doctor, except to treat drug addiction.
The underwriters are Insurance Company ‘Euroins’ AD and the claims handlers are Mayday Claims. Snowcard are moving insurers in October to Allianz Assistance who are both the insurers and assistance providers and settle claims in house.
Other options to consider
There are two other cards that you should consider carrying. The GHIC card and the Carre Neige. The insurance companies require you to carry the GHIC card since it will reduce their costs as it gives you access to state provided healthcare in European countries. The Carre Neige is not a requirement but offers some benefits.
The Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC). You can use this card to access medically necessary state-provided healthcare when you’re visiting an EU country or Switzerland. Medically necessary healthcare means healthcare that cannot reasonably wait until you come back to the UK. This card replaces the EHIC. Insurance companies expect you to access state provided healthcare where it is available. In practice this means you can access healthcare in any country in the same way that national citizens of that country can. Some of that will be free and some will not.
Carre Neige is an insurance that you can buy when you purchase a lift pass in France. This is whether you purchase a day pass a week pass or a season pass. Now everything that it covers will be covered by your travel insurance. So why get it? The reason you might want to buy it is that if you have an accident and you need a resort rescue and you have Carre Neige then the rescue service will not charge you anything, they will not impound your skis pending payment and you do not have to make a claim. So it saves a lot of bother.
Carre Neige provides medical costs and rescue in the event of an accident in or around the resort where you bought it. It also covers repatriation and reimburses your unused lift pass. It is simple to buy and covers off piste and ski toruing in the resort area. See the information here.
It is not a full repacement for travel insurance. But may be a low cost useful add on
Now the more financially sensitive may be thinking that if you have the GHIC and the Carre Neige then that is enough. And it is true that these two cards provide a considerable amount of cover for you against the costs of an accident in the resort area.
However the Carre Neige policy is really designed for French nationals to supplement their personal health insurance and cover at home. In the case of a foreign national it dos not cover the following
- Medical and repatriation cover for incidents outside the resort area.
- Non accidental incidents and medical situations where you need treatment
- Holiday cancellation, lost baggage, delays, piste closure, legal expenses and many other things covered by holiday travel insurance.
The GHIC is really quite limited and will not cover repatriation
Don’t forget to get trained.
If you have good training and up to date information about conditions, then you are less likely to need to make a claim on the insurance. You can find some help on this website. Follow our blog and our facebook. Attend training sessions. Read our advice and our snow reports.
Attend our talks to learn how to apply the Accident Reduction Framework so you can make going off piste no more risky than driving to the resort. You can come to live events or via Zoom webinar
Join one of our sessions so that if the worst happens, you are well prepared. You will learn how to locate a victim in 5 minutes and dig them out in 15 minutes using the transceiver, shovel and probe.
Come skiing with Henry Experience the off piste and learn how to apply the HAT checklist and risk management on the snow. Discover the amazing off piste terrain in Val d’Isere and Tignes.
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