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Guide to Winter Sports

Here is our short guide on what you need to know about winter sports – and all things related! We hope you enjoy it.

  1. Introduction to Winter sports
  2. Type of equipment
  3. Where to do stuff
  4. What you need to consider
  5. Winter sports insurance - what is it?
  6. Why do you need travel insurance?
  7. Where to buy it

1. Winter sports

Within living memory, winter sports had something of a reputation of being a pastime of the rich and what at the time was referred to as the "jet set".

However, from roughly the 1970s onwards, the popularity of winter sports began to rapidly increase, as both resorts and tour operators recognised that this was potentially a mass market waiting to be exploited.

Today, millions of people all over the world travel to the mountains in order to get some serious fun and excitement on the slopes or in associated winter sports.

The main destinations

For Europeans, the French, Swiss, Italian and Austrian Alps have always been popular.

One of the biggest attractions has always been that they are relatively easy to access by road and rail from just about anywhere else in Europe. The advent of budget airlines and cheap air fares into airports such as Geneva and Lyon has only made it even easier and more cost-effective to get there.

However, there are other alternatives.

The Pyrenees have some attractive skiing possibilities and destinations further afield in the east of Europe and Russia have also been developed, as travel across the continent has become easier. In terms of European contenders, it shouldn't be overlooked that winter sports are also a big thing in parts of the Scottish Highlands even though the weather isn't always reliable.

Further afield, there are now winter sports opportunities in places such as the USA, Canada, New Zealand and parts of South America.

For those who like making the most of snow, the world is becoming their oyster!

No longer just skiing

This huge explosion in winter sports shouldn't just be seen as being restricted to the skiing fraternity.

Although some might debate whether or not this has its origins in North America or Europe, what nobody would deny is that over recent decades the numbers and different types of available snow sports has increased by orders of magnitude.

Just a brief sample of some of the sports under way in snow resorts these days might include:

  • snowboarding;
  • ice skating;
  • glacier walking;
  • para-skiing;
  • tobogganing;
  • bobsleighing; etc.

There is a bewildering variety of sports to choose from and you are unlikely to be bored.

Off-snow activities

Even the most devoted snow enthusiasts will occasionally want to do other things while they are in a ski resort.

Traditionally this involved the bonhomie of the après-ski scene but this isn't just a question of eating and drinking in the evenings - perhaps to the limits of a little excess!

Even during the daytime, you might appreciate the chance to do something else and that's why many modern ski resorts place greater emphasis on providing facilities such as swimming pools, saunas, health and fitness centres, cinemas and so on.

Today these are all big areas where ski resorts will compete against each other in order to offer visitors the most diverse range of activities possible.

Accidents, injuries and illness

Of course, just like on any other holiday, the typical traveller is always at risk from things such as accident, illness or other types of misfortune.

In the case of snow sports, as they are predominantly based around physical activity, that may mean that the risks of physical injury are higher than might be the case in everyday life.

That's why winter sports insurance is important and why we at Bengo Travel are keen to help provide advice and guidance on both the pleasures of winter sports but also some of the protection it might be advisable to put into place before your departure.

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2. Type of equipment

It probably goes without saying that each individual snow sport brings with it certain requirements for its own paraphernalia – in other words, the various types of kit required in order to participate.

The types of equipment needed will vary very significantly from one sport to another but it might be possible to break it down into a number of individual general categories:

  • essential sport-related. Typical examples might include skis, skates, snowboards and so on. These are the things that you will need to have as a bare minimum or else you would not be able to compete in your chosen activity;
  • safety and environmental. This is all the ancillary clothing and perhaps other equipment that you might need in order to ensure that you are comfortable and safe when you are out and about around the resort and environs. It might include things such as insulated clothing, snow goggles, boots, various types of body armour and so on;
  • holiday related. These are all the items that you might need to take with you when you are on any sort of holiday not just on the slopes. It might include things such as cameras and new holiday outfits etc.

Where to find your equipment

If you have previously engaged in snow sports and enjoy them, you may or may not wish to invest in purchasing your own equipment. There is a lot to be said for having kit that you are fully familiar with and won't need to waste time becoming used to when you finally get to your resort.

However, if you are relatively new to snow holidays and aren't entirely sure whether they are likely to be for you in the future, it might make more sense to hire some of the items under the first two categories above once you get to your resort. Most modern resorts will typically have extensive hire facilities available and unless you have chosen a particularly up-market destination, hire charges are likely to be relatively modest in the scheme of things.

Be aware that, depending upon your exact holiday circumstances, some resorts, pistes, clubs, activity centres and so on may have minimum standards of safety equipment that participants will be expected to use before they will be allowed to join in.

The risks to your equipment

When eagerly anticipating the joys of a holiday, it's not pleasant to sit down and start to think about all the things that could go wrong. Unfortunately though, it might be sensible to do so.

That's because your equipment and possessions are likely to be expensive and they are vulnerable to:

  • loss or damage in transit;
  • theft in transit;
  • theft at the resort itself – there are thieves who specialise in this type of activity.

Tips to try and reduce the risks of trouble arising

Where humanly possible:

  • do not leave your equipment unattended in airports or around the resort itself;
  • avoid presuming that your hotel is necessarily a secure environment. Many are not and they may or may not have the space to offer secured facilities for larger items of sports equipment;
  • don't hand over your bags or equipment to anyone posing as an official unless you have been able to verify their identity (remember, photo-ids are easily faked);
  • notify your ski transfer company in advance of your equipment transfer requirements - this avoids them being surprised and trying to somehow jam your kit into an insufficient and insecure space in their vehicle.
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3. Where to do stuff

Earlier on in this guide we briefly mentioned the wide variety of geographic choice now available to modern day winter sports participants.

Although space clearly won't allow us to go into a detailed description of every resort around the world, nevertheless, a few general observations might be useful on the pros and cons of certain areas.


Winter sports opportunities exist today in most European countries – including the UK.

In fact, it is difficult to identify a single European country that does not offer some sorts of potential winter sports activities.

The Alps, Pyrenees, Scandinavia, plus increasingly Eastern Europe including Russia, all now offer holidays based around the idea of snow sports.

Some of the classic advantages of the European winter sports centres include:

  • ease of access and reduced travel times;
  • well-established resorts with vast amounts of expertise in providing great winter holidays for people of all ability levels;
  • a wide variety of background cultures to be explored with huge differences sometimes within just a few kilometres as you cross over the border from one country to another;
  • other local historical sites to explore while you're in the general area;
  • fantastic local cuisines.

Just one example of a large resort covering both France and Switzerland, is that of the three valleys*.

European resorts will also usually pride themselves on being relatively sophisticated even when catering for the mass markets. At one time perhaps slightly mistaken for snobbery, in practice, this is usually a commitment to trying to make your stay part of a much wider cultural and holiday enjoyment experience.

USA and Canada

Although skiing in these areas is superb and long-established, in practice it has only relatively recently come to the attention of European holidaymakers as travel costs have reduced.

Just some of the advantages of North American resorts might include:

  • in the US and Canada there is usually a culture of "your dollar is as good as anyone else's" and this means that there is often a markedly reduced amount of posing and pretension when compared to some European resorts;
  • they usually have an excellent snow record and even if the weather is a bit challenging, the extensive use of snow cannons is normal to ensure holidays aren't ruined;
  • many North American resorts offer exceptionally good value for money plus great service and associated facilities. That's driven, in part, by the typical refusal of the North American consumer to accept poor service and facilities and their willingness to complain if things aren't up to scratch;
  • a huge amount of choice. For example, here you will find some extremely interesting facilities and great skiing covering just one area of one individual state – Vermont*.

On the downside, it has to be stated that travel times from Europe to some U.S. and Canadian resorts might prove to be intimidating to some. That might be particularly the case for those resorts based around the West Coast in states such as Washington etc.

The travel costs to get there will also typically be higher but to some extent this might be something that can be offset by taking into account the perhaps lower cost of things such as entertainment and eating once you are there.

Should you choose North America or Europe? Should you perhaps be even more adventurous and choose some of the southern hemisphere resorts?

Ultimately that's a decision for you and your budget – but it's a nice one to face!

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4. What you need to consider

If you are considering a winter sports holiday for the first time or are still a relative novice, you might find some of the basic holiday selection check list below to be useful. In particular:
  1. are you reasonably physically fit? You don't have to be a superhero to participate in snow sports and no one is going to ask you to do more than you are capable of. Even so, a significant degree of physical activity and associated exertion is usually involved in all forms of snow sports. You should ask your doctor to give you a quick check if you have any doubts – particularly if you are suffering from a significant medical condition or no longer consider yourself to be 'young';
  2. the snow can't always be guaranteed. Some resorts have a much better snow record than others. Make sure you research what the snow record is for the resort you are considering before you book your holiday;
  3. it is not unusual for some types of snow holiday accommodation to be communal in totality or in part. For example, many Alpine chalets may have individual sleeping accommodation but shared dining, rest and perhaps even bathroom and toilet facilities. If you select such accommodation, make sure that you know you are comfortable with being in close proximity to strangers for significant amounts of time;
  4. keep in mind that après-ski activities can be great fun but in some isolated resorts there may be relatively little competition between establishments and that might mean the prices of drinks and food will be higher than you are perhaps used to;
  5. every year some novice winter sports holidaymakers find, to their amazement, that they are suffering from significant sun burn. At altitude, the sun's rays are not being filtered by the same density of surrounding atmosphere as at sea level and on top of that you may be getting a lot of snow reflection. So, use barrier creams on exposed areas of your skin;
  6. consider booking your transfer from the airport to your resort as part of your holiday package or at least in advance. You can secure transport on spec from the airport after arrival but that can be risky and involve either severe delays or heavy cost at peak times;
  7. in some developing resorts that have only relatively recently started to put a tourist infrastructure in place, you may need to be pragmatic about the nature of some of the facilities available. If you have high expectations of service and facilities, then it might be sensible to choose a more established resort;
  8. make sure you choose a destination that has excellent facilities commensurate with your level of expertise in your given sport. If you are relatively new to snow sports holidays them by definition you are likely to be a beginner. So, look around for holiday deals that stress a wide variety of beginner level facilities;
  9. although you may not see it mentioned openly on a resort's website, experienced snow holiday participants will tell you that in Europe some resorts are specifically targeted at certain market segments. That might be say primarily family type holidays, serious winter sports participants or perhaps those whose primary interest is being seen in the right places. There is nothing wrong with any of these things or orientations but make sure that you are selecting a resort that will be comfortable for you. Research this through various objective travel review sites and resort gossip forums.

Further useful advice for beginners is issued by ABTA* though it is oriented towards skiers.

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5. Winter sports insurance

Having talked a lot about the joys of winter sports holidays, it's necessary to realistically consider some of the issues that such holidays may bring with them.

In the introduction, the possibilities of accidents, illness and misfortunes (including theft) were touched upon but it might be advisable to outline a few specifics.

What is it?

At Bengo Travel we offer award-winning (the 'Best Buy' in several categories - Which Magazine 2013) insurance – but what does that mean for you?

Essentially, it means a range of financial protection that will help to insulate you from some of the very expensive costs you may incur if you are unfortunate enough to experience any of the types of problems outlined above.

For example, there is a common misconception that the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) will pay for your medical expenses if you suffer ill health or an accident in an EU member state. In fact, the EHIC only entitles you to the same level of free emergency medical attention as would be available to local citizens of the country you are visiting.

So, you may wish to ask yourself if you are skiing in Europe and have an EHIC only:

  • how would you cope if your injury necessitated emergency medical repatriation to the UK by air? These costs could easily run into tens of thousands of pounds and would not be paid by the EHIC, as citizens in that country themselves would not require medical repatriation;
  • who would pay for air travel costs of a relative flying out to be with you and their accommodation expenses while they were in your resort? That again would not be an EHIC issue;
  • not all European countries have the same definition of emergency medical requirements. If you were ill (or suffered an accident) and required treatment in a country where your condition was not designated to be an emergency issue, you may be expected to pay for it yourself out of your own pocket.

Of course, outside of the European Union the EHIC has no value and remember that in North America, medical treatment costs can easily move into six figure sums.

Health isn't the only issue where insurance may save you from financial disaster. Other factors might include:

  • the loss or theft of your luggage / equipment;
  • the need to go elsewhere should there be no snow at your resort;
  • holiday travel delays; etc.
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7. Why do you need travel insurance?

In fact, there is typically no legal requirement for you to have travel insurance at all.

If you like to live dangerously and gamble with potentially very significant amounts of your money, then you may start to wonder whether or not it is really required.

However, you should be aware that in some countries you may find it difficult to obtain any form of medical treatment whatsoever, including emergency treatment, unless you are able to show that you have insurance cover in place or the available cash to pay up-front.

This isn't just an insurance provider making this point. If you doubt the wisdom of taking out such cover, you may wish to consult the foreign and commonwealth office's advice* on this very subject.

It might be a salutary lesson to look at some of their cost estimates for emergency medical repatriation to the United Kingdom (for example £35,000-£45,000 from the East Coast of USA*).

Could you pay such costs from your own financial reserves?

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6. Where to buy it?

At Bengo Travel our primary interest is ensuring that you have protection in place which is suitable for the risks you face on your snow sports holiday.

That is more important to us than simply selling insurance.

So, why not take a few minutes to look at our site in a little more detail and specifically our winter sports insurance offerings?