On her annual ski trip to Bormio, Italy, Gunilla Knutson broke her leg. She was taken to the local hospital, but because she didn’t have ski insurance she had to pay for her emergency services up-front. Knutson would also have had to pay for her surgery, which couldn’t be scheduled for three days. She opted instead for a cast and prepared to head back to the States.
Though most of us may not think about the consequences of an injury until it’s too late, today’s pricey rescue and medical expenses make it essential to prepare for the worst, especially when skiing abroad. When you take an overseas ski vacation, purchase insurance that will cover you outside of the U.S. It will provide peace of mind-and it won’t take a huge bite out of your wallet.
Every country has its own ski-patrol association with different training, credentials and requirements; therefore, regulations vary on how ski-related accidents are handled. If a skier is injured within resort boundaries in the U.S., there isn’t a charge to get down the mountain. (Note: There are extra fees for helicopter assistance and transportation from the mountain to the hospital.) Similar to the U.S., many international resorts will not charge for rescue services. While ski patrol services in Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Chile, Australia and New Zealand will get you down the mountain for free, there are some countries in which they won’t.
France is one of them. Mountain rescue service is a big industry for the country, and it generates a large amount of revenue. According to Mark Labow, president of the International Ski Patrol Federation, last year, a skier could spend about $215 for an on-trail rescue, $415 for an off-trail recovery by toboggan or up to $42 per minute for a backcountry helicopter evacuation.
Labow says foreigners tend to buy ski insurance with their daily or weekly lift passes. At France’s Trois Vallées-Courchevel, Les Menuires, Val Thorens and Méribel-ski insurance adds 25 francs (approximately $5) to a daily lift ticket. This covers the ski patrol bringing you off the mountain, transportation to the hospital and most emergency services at the hospital. Beware: The ticket salesperson will not necessarily offer you ski insurance. You must ask for it.
Other ways to get ski insurance in France are with Carte Neige or through a plan provided by your travel agent. Carte Neige-a card issued by Ski France that raises money for the national ski team-offers coverage at all the ski areas in France. The card, which should always be carried with you when skiing, offers free mountain rescue, a search party if necessary, initial transport off the mountain (via helicopter, toboggan or ambulance), transportation to the local medical center and most emergency services. The card can be purchased at any of the mountains and this year costs approximately $38 for the season. Weekly cards are also available and offer a good value over purchasing daily coverage.
Many travel agencies and ski-tour operators offer travel insurance, which includes medical coverage. For instance, Tourist Insurance Services, Inc., located in Kalispell, Mont., offers $10,000 in emergency medical coverage and costs anywhere from $12 to $200, depending on the cost of your trip. So, if you book your ski trip through tour operators such as Moguls Ski and Snowboard Tours, Skican Ltd. or Esprit Travel Network, ask about insurance and make sure it will cover your activities. Be aware that these plans typically last only 14 days and each family member must pay a premium as well.
Before buying, look at the fine print on your own insurance policy: It will usually cover injury up to 30 days outside of the States and sometimes longer. According to Earl Gronkiewicz at Worldwide Assistance Services, you should verify how long your own health coverage will last, then, if necessary, get a supplemental plan through another company that will cover you skiing. “The bottom line is that the rules of the gamme change when you go outside the U.S.,” says Gronkiewicz. If you arrive at a foreign hospital without insurance, you’ll face an avalanche of paperwork and a large fee. In most cases, you must guarantee payment before you are even admitted for care, and you may or may not be reimbursed. Get ski insurance. Says Labow, “It brings you right home.”
Calories burned per hour:
Exercise bike 498
Stair climber 627
Cross-country trainer 738