What to know about winter sports travel insurance

Winter is finally upon us, and all around the country, adventurous travelers are gearing up for a season of outdoor sports in exotic—or at least out-of-province—locations. They've tracked down the right equipment, reserved dates, booked travel arrangements and lodging accommodations, and have already started fantasizing about the photos they'll soon post on Instagram.

There's just one problem: many of them will be setting off with insufficient travel insurance coverage.

Regardless of whether they're doing it knowingly or unknowingly, scores of winter sports enthusiasts depart from their home provinces every year in a state of dangerous susceptibility to uncovered insurance costs. Needless to say, this is not smart. Not even the most capable and confident of winter athletes should be underinsured.

Here's what you need to know to make sure that doesn't happen.

Regular travel insurance might not cut it

A family can all be traveling together to Switzerland over the winter break, taking the same flights and staying in the same hotels; but if some family members are skiing in the Alps and others are just getting cozy in the chalets, then they might need different insurance policies.

Travel insurance alone rarely covers heavy duty winter sports—beyond casual activities like tobogganing, skating, and perhaps even skiing and snowboarding—because the risks are so much greater than they are for ordinary travel activities. A lot of insurers designate things like bobsledding, ice climbing, luge, and snow kiting as adventure sports and require clients to purchase an optional package if they wish to take part in them. Skiing and snowboarding may or may not fit into that category, depending on the insurer.

If the insurer doesn't offer a separate package for adventure sports, at least make sure that the amount of medical coverage provided under the regular policy will be enough to cover steep hospital bills.

Be covered if you're going off the beaten track

Winter athletes such as skiers, snowboarders, and ice climbers will often have the opportunity to go off the beaten track when they take part in their pursuit. This might seem like a no-brainer in terms of having fun, but it shouldn't be taken lightly from an insurance perspective.

Exploring backcountry or unmarked areas tends to be strictly off-limits for travel insurance policies—or at least in a different class of policy than the ordinary activity would be. If this is something you want to take part in, double check that you can do so without upgrading.

Traveling within Canada won't get you completely off the hook

Is traveling within Canada better for winter sports travel insurance from a pricing standpoint? Yes. Does it resolve you of all emergency medical coverage needs? It most definitely does not—especially if you are taking part in high-risk winter sports.

While Canada's Government Health Insurance Plans (e.g. OHIP) do allow inter-provincial travelers to receive limited medical coverage in different provinces, there are some notable exclusions to the level of coverage that gets dispensed. One of them is ambulance/heli-lift services, which could easily be necessary for someone who injures themselves doing winter sports.

So if you're trekking out from Eastern and Central Canada to pay Whistler or Banff a visit, remember to supplement your medical coverage entitlements with travel insurance.

Don't get intoxicated before taking part in winter sports

There's a reason they call it the après-ski and not the avant-ski.

Drinking alcohol and taking part in winter sports is a terrible idea. Not just because it increases your risk of injury, but because it could disqualify you from receiving coverage from travel insurance. Read the fine print of a policy and you'll probably find an exclusion for levels of intoxication that are over the legal limit.