Winter sports

Winter sports holidays are an increasingly popular winter break and a great chance to combine a holiday with something a bit more active. If you're planning a ski or snowboarding holiday this year, whether you’re a beginner or an expert, follow our top tips for a healthy and safe holiday in the snow.

Winter music festivals

1. Check the weather forecast 

Temperatures drop at night, so hat, gloves and appropriate clothing is essential.
 

2. Stick together

Look out for your mates – step in if you think they’re doing something silly or dangerous and make sure you stick together, including when you head back to your hotel or cabin. 

Swap numbers with everyone in your group – make sure you all have each other’s phone numbers and set-up a group chat on a messenger service like WhatsApp. This will make it easier to get in touch if one of you gets separated.

Download ‘Find My Friends’ app to your phone – this will allow you to share your location with the rest of the group so you can easily find one another if you get lost.

Use offline map apps on your phone – Google Maps, Maps.Me and Citymapper allow you to navigate outside of your hotel without needing to rely on your data/Wi-Fi. You can also save locations (such as your hotel) in case you get lost.

Don’t feel pressurised – just because your mates tell you to do something doesn’t mean you have to. If you’re in a large group, stick with the people you feel most comfortable with.
 

3. Out and about

Prevent slips, trips and falls by avoiding poorly lit areas. Don’t walk outside clearly marked pathways, so you don’t get lost. Take note of cable car, lifts and funicular operating times, and avoid being stranded far from your accommodation. In busy bars and clubs take time to check for fire exits and follow emergency instructions in the event of an incident. Don’t try to stand up or lean out of chairlifts or balconies.   
 

4. Look after your belongings

Have an emergency stash of cash – have some extra cash on you away from all of your other money, that way if your money gets lost or stolen, you’ll have some more as a back-up.

If you have a safe, use it – don’t carry all of your money on you, just take out what you need each day and store the rest in your safe, along with any other valuables.

Take another form of ID – if you have another form of ID, like a driving licence or student ID card, it might be worth taking it with you to use as proof of age. That way you can leave your passport in your room in the safe. Although some countries require you to carry your passport at all times.

Contact reception or the night porter if you lose your room key – or stay in a friend’s room. Never try and access your room via your balcony. It can also be worth paying for a spare key and keep it on you somewhere safe, away from the other key.

Your travel company is a great source of advice and help – if you’re looking to do an activity, they’ll either be able to sort it out for you or advise on the most reputable companies to book with. Remember to save their number in your phone just in case there is any sort of problem or an emergency.
 

5. High altitude acclimatisation

Some ski resorts are situated at such a high elevation that the humidity and limited oxygen available can cause a variety of symptoms and illnesses such as shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, dehydration, constipation, nausea, fatigue, insomnia, headache.

If travelling to high altitude resorts, you should allow sufficient time to acclimatise. Generally, the symptoms of altitude will disappear as the body adjusts.

For the first couple of days, eat lightly and drink plenty of liquids (two or three times more water than usual), avoid alcohol and caffeine, get plenty of sleep, limit salt and increase carbohydrate consumption.

The use of hot tubs and saunas will accelerate the dehydration process.

If you feel unwell, seek medical assistance.

The effects of drinking alcohol increase with altitude and your judgement, coordination and reaction times may be affected, as well as your awareness of the cold. 
 

6. Enjoy yourself responsibly

Alcoholic drink measures are often larger abroad – so be aware that what you’re drinking is likely to be much stronger than what you’re used to in the UK. As you would do when you are out back at home, keep an eye on your drinks at all times and don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know.

Booze and balconies don’t mix – so use your balcony sensibly, especially if you have been drinking. Never lean over, sit or climb on the balcony wall or railings, and don’t climb from one balcony to another.

Don’t do winter sports such as skiing or snowboarding if you have been drinking – alcohol can impair your senses, alter your sense of distance and make you feel disorientated.

The best selfie is a safe one – people have been seriously injured and even died when taking selfies on holiday. Make sure you are aware of your surroundings when taking your photos. 

Be wary of people trying to sell or offer you laughing gas (nitrous oxide) – legal highs such as laughing gas are widely available in some holiday resorts, they can be very dangerous to inhale and can lead to serious health issues. These risks are likely to increase further if laughing gas is mixed with alcohol.
 

7. Before you travel

Tell a next of kin or someone you trust about your travel plans – leave a copy of your itinerary with them, including contact details for where you are staying. And keep in touch, a quick text every day will let them know you are safe.

Also leave a scanned copy of your passport with them – in the event you lose your passport this will save you time if you need to apply for a replacement and your relative or friend will be able to contact the British Embassy in the country you’re staying in to provide proof of your identity.

Make sure your insurance covers the activities you want to do. Medical costs and returning to the UK following an unexpected accident can be very expensive.

Take out travel insurance – make sure it covers you for all the activities you want to do, including winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.

Leave a copy of your insurance with your relatives or a trusted friend back home. Carry the policy number and insurance phone number on you too so that you or your friends have it to hand if you need it. If you do get taken ill, call your insurance company, they have the experience to know how you can get the best help. 

Make a note of the emergency services number – in most European countries it’s 112 but may be different if you’re travelling to a destination further afield. 

Check the local laws and customs – these will often be entirely different to the ones you are used to in the UK and may lead to serious penalties if broken. You can find out more about any safety and security advice for the country you are travelling to by visiting www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Travel insurance

Make sure your insurance covers the activities you want to do. Medical costs and returning to the UK following an unexpected accident can be very expensive. Many policies will not cover damage to rental equipment or skiing off-piste without a guide, or helicopter repatriation from a mountain. Many policies require you to wear a helmet at all times and some have altitude restrictions so it’s worth checking the finer details of your policy before you go.

European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)

Travelling in Europe? It’s essential that you take a valid EHIC with you. If you have an accident or become ill it will allow you to receive state-provided medical healthcare at the same rate as a citizen of that country.

Check your EHIC is in date - it needs renewing every five years, so if it has expired apply for a new card prior to travel. The EHIC is valid in the European Economic Area and Switzerland. But you still need to take out travel insurance, as an EHIC won’t cover all your medical costs, private treatment or return to the UK. Some insurers now insist that you hold an EHIC, and many will waive the excess if you have one. Apply for your free EHIC now at: www.nhs.uk/ehic.

Know your alcohol limits

Alcohol affects your resistance and awareness of the cold, and also impairs your judgment, coordination and reaction time. Drinking alcohol at altitude will affect you more quickly and your insurance cover may not be valid if you injure yourself or others whilst intoxicated.

Use of helmets

Whilst wearing a helmet is a personal choice, more and more people are choosing to wear them. In many countries it is a legal requirement for children to wear helmets. Remember, many insurance policies require you to wear a helmet on the slopes regardless of the local legal requirements. 

Visit www.skiclub.co.uk for more information, advice and tips.

Goggles and sun cream

The sun is much stronger at altitude so appropriate strength sun cream should be worn. When it comes to eye protection there are two main options; ski goggles or sunglasses. Always ensure goggles or glasses offer 100% UV protection. 

A comprehensive guide on appropriate eye wear, ski and snowboard clothing and equipment can be found at www.skiclub.co.uk.

Be at your peak

Get fit so you can enjoy your holiday; if you’re not physically prepared you’re more likely to injure yourself. Warm up and do stretches before and after any activities. For ski fit exercises visit www.skiclub.co.uk.

Take lessons

Whether you are beginner or not, ski or snowboard lessons can help everyone to improve their skills and confidence. Ask your travel company for more information for booking classes on the slopes.

Choose the right route/pistes

It is important to be aware of how pistes are classified to indicate their difficulty. This will make sure you don’t overstretch yourself and get into a tricky situation. Know your limits and don’t attempt slopes beyond your level of ability. 

Green is the easiest, followed by Blue then Red and then Black. Itineraries are runs marked on the piste map but they are not groomed or patrolled and are therefore for the more experienced skiers. 

Be aware that piste classifications vary in different ski resorts and countries. Piste conditions change during the day; what was a cruising blue run mid morning could be difficult, and more like a hard red by 4pm. Note that this also works in reverse, and sometimes a quiet red at the end of the day may be a lot easier than an icy and crowded blue.

Assisting in case of an accident

  1. Secure the accident area - Protect with crossed skis or planted snowboard well above the injured person. If necessary post someone to give warning.
     
  2. Report to a Pisteur or lift operator and alert the rescue service:
  • Place of accident (piste name and nearest piste marker)
  • Number of people injured
  • Type of injury
  • If serious report to the police as soon as possible.

Off-piste safety

Off-piste skiing and snowboarding has become more popular in recent years with the attraction of heading off the marked runs and seeking out fresh powder. But you should not head off-piste without being fully prepared. For example, you should make sure you take and are able to use competently the appropriate equipment - an avalanche transceiver, a probe pole and a shovel.

And don’t forget that many insurance policies won’t cover you for damage to rental equipment or skiing off-piste without a guide. So make sure you check your policy!

Details of equipment required and courses can be found on www.skiclub.co.uk.

Check weather and avalanche reports

Snow reports, weather forecasts and avalanche risk levels are available in resort at the lift stations. Snow and weather reports, and information on avalanches are available at: www.skiclub.co.uk.

The International Ski Federation’s rules of conduct

For all mountain users, the International Ski Federation (FIS) has ten rules for skiers and snowboarders to help everyone stay safe on the slopes. They must be followed at all times.

  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.

For further information visit www.skiclub.co.uk.

FCDO travel advice

For the latest country travel advice, tips and winter sports information, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

Ski safe
Tips to prepare for the slopes and stay safe