When booking their skiing holidays, families, groups of friends, and novice skiers should make protection a priority over savings & use a package rather than a DIY-internet holiday, urges Michael Gwilliam, Head of the Travel & Tourism Unit at solicitors, Vizards Wyeth. The wide-ranging statutory protection surrounding holidaymakers on packages means they offer much better protection when the inevitable injury occurs than independently-organised trips.
More people are taking part in winter sports than ever. The number of people who go on skiing holidays has increased by 8.5¹ percent since 2000. More than 1 million Britons will go skiing this season, and over 200,000² of these will be lured by the prospect of organising their own DIY bargain ski breaks.
The increasing interest in winter sports will snowball in the coming months. October sees the Daily Mail Ski & Snowboard Show in London, the British Ski & Board Show in Birmingham and The Northern Ski & Board Show in Manchester. Next month, the legendary extreme snow sports athlete Warren Miller releases his latest ski action film “Higher Ground” in the UK. In February, the Winter Olympics 2006 will take place in Turin, practically on our doorstep in skiing terms.
Vizards Wyeth estimates that of the 1 million Britons who will go skiing or snowboarding in 2006, around 20,000³ will receive injuries requiring immediate medical attention on the slopes. Not surprisingly, statistics show that the people particularly likely to be injured are children, teenagers and first-time skiers. But not all accidents occur on the slopes and not all claims relate to accidents.
“The best protection for skiers, snowboarders and their families is to buy and pay for their holiday in the UK before they go. That way if things do go wrong abroad, whether poor service at the hotel or an accident caused by a supplier arranged by the tour operator, the traveler can claim damages in the UK from the tour operator” explains Gwilliam. Common examples of things that cause injuries and illness include faulty ski equipment, incorrectly set bindings, slipping on icy steps or wet floors in the hotel lobby, tripping as a result of poor lighting in hotel corridors and stairwells, food poisoning in the hotel restaurant and transfer coaches crashing. For all of these the tour operator may be directly responsible if this component of the holiday was paid for in the UK as part of a package.
Michael Gwilliam adds: “By contrast, independent holiday-makers can be left nursing both a nasty injury and a big bill if something goes wrong. Examples of common holiday problems other than an accident include: hotels and ski schools accepting bookings and then going under; crèches putting children in the hands of blasé ski bums rather than qualified attendants; or even just a hotel being so grotty that you are obliged to seek alternative accommodation on the hoof.”
To make a claim, DIY holidaymakers will need to identify the individual responsible for that part of their holiday – the ski hire company, hotel owner, transport company or local authority – and pursue lengthy and costly battles through foreign courts or, most likely, write off the money altogether.
To the 1,000-2,000 DIY bookers who will risk going skiing without insurance this season, Michael Gwilliam gives this advice: “It is a widely held but erroneous belief that British skiers injured in EU countries will receive free treatment (if they have completed the correct form) from public sector hospitals. In practice, such facilities are not as widespread as they are in the UK, and are particularly infrequent in mountainous ski areas, and most injured skiers will be treated at private clinics where there will be substantial charges.”
Happily, the number of accidents requiring medical attention involving skiers and snowboarder is going down in many locations, although teenagers and children still form a worringly high proportion. To reduce the risk of an accident on the slopes, Michael Gwilliam strongly recommends following the International Ski Federation rules of conduct:
1. Respect: Do not endanger others.
2. Control: Adapt the manner and speed of your skiing to your ability and to the general conditions on the mountain.
3. Choice of route: The skier/snowboarder in front has priority – leave enough space.
4. Overtaking: Leave plenty of space when overtaking a slower skier/snowboarder.
5. Entering and starting: Look up and down the mountain each time before starting or entering a marked run.
6. Stopping: Only stop at the edge of the piste or where you can easily be seen.
7. Climbing: When climbing up or down, always keep to the side of the piste.
8. Signs: Obey all signs and markings – they are there for your safety.
9. Assistance: In case of accidents provide help and alert the rescue service.
10. Identification: All those involved in an accident, including witnesses, should exchange names and addresses.