TAKE a tip from me. Don’t try to save a few pounds on your ski holiday this winter by going away uninsured – it really isn’t worth it.

The temptation is to say to yourself ‘it won’t happen to me’. It can and does, as the Sutcliffe family discovered on a fateful Friday the thirteenth in France earlier this year.

 Skiing between Les Menuires and St Martin-de-Belleville in the Three Valleys, on a perfect day for it with the snow immaculately pisted, my wife took a tumble.

Alison knew she was in trouble by the time she stopped rolling down the mountain. She thought she had broken her leg at first – and in some respects it may have been better if she had.

My wife had ruptured three of the ligaments around here knee, not that we knew that at the time, and for most of the next six months she was off work and limited to hobbling around on crutches while the damaged muscles knitted back together. Eight months later, Alison still walks with a limp. A broken leg would have healed by now.

My first thought on the mountain was to call the emergency services. Helpfully, the emergency number was printed on the lift map. My second thought was ‘thank goodness we are insured’.

Within half an hour Alison had been taken down the mountain on a ski-stretcher towed by two members of the ski patrol. At the bottom they wished me a good day and handed me a bill for around £400.

Next was the ambulance ride to the medical centre and an appointment with the doctor, whose tiny surgery in Les Menuires was packed with that morning’s casualties.

Two hours later we were sent off with a £150 bill for the consultation, x-rays and ambulance ride, and a prescription for the pharmacy next door to pick up pain-killers, crutches and a knee brace that looked like some medieval instrument of torture. The bill? Not much change from £250.

It is worth pointing out here that the European Health Insurance Card (formerly an E111) isn’t worth the plastic it is printed on up in the mountains. An EHIC will get you treated in a French hospital, but not a private medical centre. The nearest hospital was an hour away and not an option.
According to Sally Leeman of insurance giants Aviva, who insure the Sutcliffes, too many people go skiing in blissful ignorance of the size of a possible bill.

“We conducted some research in 2007 and around 17 per cent of Brits holidaying in Europe believed they didn’t need travel insurance if they carried an EHIC,” she told me.

“The EHIC card entitles you to state-provided emergency medical treatment in EEA countries. 

“However, the level of state-provided emergency medical treatment will vary between countries and it may not cover all the treatment costs and services that are free through the NHS.”

It is worth pointing out here what is covered by a typical travel insurance policy, but not by the EHIC: 
Rescue services from mountain in ski resort.

•  Additional accommodation and travel costs if you need treatment or need to get back to the UK.
• Accommodation you have lost through being hospitalised.
• Repatriation back to the UK.
• Support and advice through 24-hour helplines with multi-lingual staff.
You won’t believe how grateful we were for the multi-lingual staff at Aviva for getting us home and taking the strain out of a stressful situation.

Aviva contacted the ski patrol and paid the bill direct. Next they arranged the private ambulance to take Alison the airport for the trip home – and a taxi for myself and the children.

Our tour operator wouldn’t take Alison back on the flight to Southampton as she was regarded as a safety risk owing to her lack of mobility. Aviva organised three seats for her on an EasyJet flight – one to sit on, two to stretch her leg out on – and seats home for the rest of us.

When we arrived at Gatwick a private transfer had been arranged back to Southampton, where our car was parked.


The grand total was £4.055, which even included a rebate on my wife’s lift pass for the days she couldn’t ski on. Aviva paid everything on our behalf from the moment we left the medical centre – and refunded those costs within a few days of us getting home.
Our renewal notice came through a couple of days ago for our annual policy, which covers us for a month away every year. It’s around £160. Money well spent if you want my opinion.

It goes without saying we were impressed by Aviva. If this piece reads like an advertisement for them I can only apologise.

What is important is not so much who insures you, but being insured at all. If you go away more than once a year it is worth getting an annual policy like ours. Alternatively, you can generally buy travel insurance when you buy your holiday, either on line or in an agents.
You generally get one last chance in resort when you buy your lift pass as most companies offer some form of insurance to get you down and get you home. Believe me, it is money well spent.
Conrad Sutcliffe