Winter holidays: What you should know before travelling to the snow and what to do in case of an accident abroad
The time of year has arrived when travellers are looking to make their way to some of Europe’s most popular winter sports destinations, including France, Austria, Italy and Switzerland. These destinations offer travellers the opportunity to participate in some once-in-a-lifetime activities, creating special memories with loved ones.
Skiing and other winter sports are a lot of fun but can also be dangerous no matter how experienced you are. Therefore, when booking your winter holiday, it's essential to ensure that you're sufficiently protected should anything go wrong.
Package holiday Vs doing it yourself
Given the current cost of living crisis, booking the separate components of your holiday yourself can seem a more cost-effective way of travelling rather than booking through a tour operator. However, in doing so you may miss out on key legal protections.
It's also important to remember, as a result of Brexit, travellers have lost the automatic right in many instances to bring claims for accidents which occur in the EU through the English courts. This means that, should the worst happen, you may have no option but to bring a claim in the court local to where your accident happened, forcing you to navigate a foreign legal system in a foreign language.
By contrast, if you book your winter sports holiday as a package holiday through an English tour operator, then your holiday will be protected by the Package Travel Regulations (2018). One of the main advantages of this is that the tour operator bears the legal responsibility for the proper performance of all aspects of your package holiday, even if certain parts are performed by local companies.
This means that you will be protected for all aspects of your holiday, including not only flights, accommodation and transfers but your ski/snowboard hire and lessons as well, so long as they were included in the package. If anything should unfortunately go wrong with your holiday, leaving you injured and/or out of pocket, you may be able to claim directly against the tour operator in the England.
In addition, booking your winter sports holiday as a package places a duty on your tour operator to provide you with appropriate assistance without undue delay… in particular by providing appropriate information on health services, local assistance and consular assistance.
This duty applies for the duration of your holiday even if the difficulty which arises is nothing to do with the parts of the holiday the tour operator provided. This could be a life-saver if, for example, your accommodation unexpectedly fell through last minute, leaving you stranded.
Finally, in the current financial climate, travellers can be reassured that if a tour operator becomes insolvent, any deposit you've paid to them will be refunded. If the tour operator becomes insolvent after the start of the package holiday, and if transport is included in the package holiday, your repatriation back home is guaranteed. In addition, if before the start of your holiday, the tour operator cancels it, you will be entitled to a refund and compensation where appropriate.
Whether or not you book your winter sports holiday as a package, it's absolutely essential that you ensure that you're covered by appropriate travel insurance for the entirety of your holiday.
Insurance can ensure access to any emergency assistance you require. In addition to medical treatment, it may also cover repatriation; trip cancellation, interruption or delays; lost or stolen luggage or damage or injury caused by you. Should you need to bring a claim following your holiday, it's also possible, depending on your particular policy, that your insurance will cover part or all of your legal fees.
It's important that travellers check the wording of any travel insurance policy they're purchasing, or the wording of any policy you may have already, to ensure that winter sports are covered as accidents arising from winter sports can often be excluded from generic policies.
It's always advisable to check the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office's travel advice website before travelling. It provides the latest information on health, safety and security, visa and entry requirements and travel warnings.
Help is at hand
In the worst case scenario if something does go wrong, the tour operator, travel insurers or embassy may be able to provide on the ground support.
In more serious circumstances where injury or losses occur, prompt legal advice should be sought from lawyers with specialist expertise in winter sports and accidents abroad. There can be strict time limits for bringing claims. Instructing lawyers with knowledge of foreign law, experts and language skills can make the process less daunting, ensure your legal rights are protected and that you get the support needed for rehabilitation and closure.
Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people following accidents on the snow at our dedicated skiing and winter sports injuries section.