Sun, snow, fondue and endless carbs: when a ski holiday goes to plan, it's a dream. But when things go wrong - from no snow to too much of it, luggage lost at the airport or a crash on the slopes - a little preparation can go a long way, says ski journalist Abigail Butcher.
- When the runs are closed, try something new
- Always check the small print and ask the right questions
- Don't give up on your holiday - it could cost you compensation
1. Help: there's no snow!In recent seasons, the snow in Europe has been unreliable, but resorts are so skilled at making artificial snow that very few have had to close their slopes. Indeed, the Dolomiti Superski area - 1,200km of skiing - is almost entirely open despite a lack of natural snow.
Few policies will cover cancellation of the entire holiday unless it's specifically for ski touring or heli-skiing - so make the most of the off-slope activities on offer.
Ben Moore, founder and editor of family ski website Parallel Trails (@ParallelTrails), decided to celebrate Christmas 2015 in La Clusaz with his wife and their two boys, but arrived at the resort to find it struggling with little snow.
'Less than a third of the runs were open,' Ben says. 'It could have been disastrous, but it actually turned into one of the best family holidays we've been on - we tried e-biking, Nordic skiing and biathlon. After a morning skiing the open runs, we spent the afternoon at the hillside swimming complex, which had a heated outdoor pool.'
If you're stuck in a resort without any skiing, or if the lifts are closed due to bad weather, your travel insurance should provide some compensation - so read the small print and choose carefully before you buy. LV= winter sports cover insures the cost of unused lift passes, guides, ski hire and lessons, but make sure to get written proof from the ski resort that it is closed. And next year? Aim high or try North America - and take walking boots!
2. Dealing with injuriesIt's a good idea to carry a foil blanket, water, snacks, bandages and a pair of first aid scissors to deal with minor injuries. If someone in your group has an accident, keep the injured person still and as warm and comfortable as possible, taking off their skis to make a cross on the slopes above them to warn other skiers.
The European emergency number is 112, while in North America it's 911. Remember that ski instructors are trained in first aid, as are ski patrollers, who'll organise the rescue.
As soon as you can, contact your insurer. Carry your policy details with you for both the 24-hour emergency number and to show the rescue team you're covered for a mountain evacuation.
Carry a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), which will entitle you to medical care in all EU countries plus Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. LV= won't charge you an excess for any costs not covered by the EHIC. If you need medical attention on your holiday, go to a public hospital with your EHIC card and you'll be treated like a resident of the country.
3. Cancellation of lessonsLessons can be cancelled due to any number of reasons, from avalanches on the mountain to lift closure, or even accident and illness. In the first instance, have a chat to the ski school. If they've had to cancel, they may refund you or help make alternative arrangements.
If the lifts are closed, all might not be lost: for example, I once spent a whole morning doing drills on a nursery slope in Verbier when bad weather closed the lifts.
Depending on your individual policy, your travel insurance may pay compensation, so check the small print and get written confirmation from the ski school, doctor or ski resort as proof of the reason for cancellation.
'Spaces in each group or session would have been allocated and on many occasions other skiers may have been turned away due to the classes or allocated spaces being full, so refunds on lessons due to injury or illness on the whole are pretty tricky for any ski school to give unless they're able to refill your place,' says Phil Smith, the director of Snoworks Ski Courses (@Snoworks). 'Plus, the ski instructor or mountain guide usually still has to be paid by the ski school, whether you take your lessons or not.
'If you can let the ski school or agency know well in advance about cancellations, they may have time to resell your place,' continues Phil. 'Some ski schools may offer to transfer missed lessons to a future date. On the whole, even though it's always worth checking, don't expect a refund or transfer of lessons - anything you might be offered will be a bonus.'
4. Ski gear lost in transitFirst of all - don't panic! I was recently on a three-day ski trip with experienced heli-skier and mountain guide James Orr, whose bag got lost in Gatwick. James hired boots and a helmet, borrowed ski clothing from our hotelier and bought new socks and base layers, dealing with it calmly. He didn't miss a day on the slopes.
'There's no point getting angry about something you can't change - it would have spoiled the trip,' says James (@JamesOrrHeliski), who was reunited with his bag on our return to Gatwick. 'On the plus side, I didn't have any washing to do when I got home!'
Airlines will pay some compensation, but only within set perimeters, such as reporting the problem immediately and claiming within a certain deadline. You must contact the airline first to claim for lost items, before contacting your home contents or travel insurance provider to claim back anything that isn't compensated by the airline.
Another note of caution: while you'll be covered for items being lost or stolen, tot up how much your skis, bindings, boots, helmet, gloves and clothing is all worth and check it's within the policy limits.
5. Flight delays and cancellations
Under EU law, if your flight's delayed by more than two hours you're entitled to food and drink (in the form of vouchers), access to phone calls and emails, and accommodation if you're delayed overnight.
If the airline is responsible for a delay of more than three hours, you have a legal right to compensation. The amount depends on the distance of the flight, where you're going and how late you turn up to the resort. More details are available from the Citizens Advice Bureau.
Your travel insurance will also kick in at some point, covering you for cancellation/abandonment or extra expenses incurred - when and for how much will depend on the individual policy and the amount of time you are delayed.
A final word of warning: if you decide to abandon your holiday altogether, you'll only receive a payout if you show that you have made all reasonable attempts to make alternative arrangements, so don't just give up on your ski trip. You never know - you might find a whole new sport to fall in love with!
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