There’s usually a lot of questions about travel insurance for Australians skiing overseas that pop up online, but very few sources of definitive information about what you’re actually covered for. This gets especially complicated if you’re planning to do any backcountry and off-piste skiing and snowboarding.
Thinking about the fine print in Product Disclosure Statements is a pretty boring way to get psyched for a big trip, but the reality is that if you do have a major ski accident overseas it could literally bankrupt you.
This post is written to help you know what to look for in a ski-specific insurance policy and the questions to ask if you’re unsure of what’s covered. We are not recommending any particular insurance providers here, so please do your own research and take specialist advice where you might need it.
What kind of skiing and boarding will you be doing?
A good place to start is to be clear on the type of skiing you expect to do. Are you taking a family trip to a big resort and will resist all temptations of hitting the powder stashes? There’s plenty of policies that will give you full coverage for that. Or are you a frothing powder hound who will skin way out of bounds to hit big backcountry lines? Your options suddenly got very limited.
My broad advice is to find policies that explicitly state what’s covered in relation to the type of skiing you’ll do. Many policies have a snow sports add-on that might give you some off-piste or heli-skiing coverage while others might go as far to cover backcountry skiing without a guide (the white whale of ski travel insurance). There will be a huge difference in price between these policies as the associated risk increases.
You should also never assume something’s covered if it’s not specified in a policy. If you’re not sure, contact the insurance company and get the answer you need in writing, as relying on verbal statements from phone operators will have no standing if you need to challenge it at a later date.
It’s very important that you do read the fine print in a policy’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) before you sign up, as the definition of what they’ve listed as being covered on the website may be very different from the fine print and your assumptions.
Once you’ve settled on a couple of options, search for reviews or post questions online in group ski and snow forums about how certain companies have handled emergency assistance when an accident’s happened and how well they’ve processed claims. All insurance companies will be methodical in requesting detailed information related to a claim, so always make sure you get written reports as evidence from ski patrol, doctors or police at the time an incident happens.
What is Off Piste?
Most policies that say they cover “off piste” usually stipulate there being “no warning signs” or that the terrain is within the resort boundary. Particularly in Japan, the reality of most off piste skiing is you will have ducked a rope to hit a pow stash, at which point your insurance is probably totally voided.
Can I go Backcountry Skiing?
Most policies that allow “backcountry skiing” stipulate you need to be with a qualified guide with very specific qualifications (i.e. IFMGA recognised Mountain or Ski Guide certification). If you head out alone, even through a permitted resort backcountry gate, you are probably not covered by your insurance policy.
Check with the guide you’re considering using to ensure they have the relevant certifications before you book. Many policies that do cover backcountry skiing specifically exclude any climbing that requires ropes, which you might need if you’re on a glacier.
Will I get rescued?
Most policies do not include search and rescue costs in the backcountry, which the Japanese will give you a bill for if you’re found alive, or your family if it’s your body retrieval. Most guiding companies’ waiver forms also place rescue cost coverage on the guest.
In some countries like New Zealand and Canada, rescue costs may be covered by the government. Some international Alpine clubs provide search and rescue insurance to their members and there are international insurance companies that will insure Australians for similar costs.
Are you being reckless?
Many policies have wording like “recklessly placing yourself at risk” which is wildly open ended from a legal perspective if you needed to contest it. Would a “reasonable person” consider dropping a cliff line “reckless”? If so, your insurance company will probably use this to deny your claim.
Have you had a few beers?
All policies exclude accidents that occur whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so a couple of beers over lunch could tip you over this clause, as there’s never any definition of acceptable limits of intoxication in most PDS’s we’ve reviewed.
Are you ski racing, snow tubing, paragliding or ice skating?
While you might be covered for skiing, most policies will have exclusions for all the other fun stuff you can do around a ski resort. Check the fine print before you take the risk!