Facts about backcountry skiing and travel insurance: it’s not about ‘out-of-bounds’

Many travellers who backcountry ski have a hard time getting a straight answer from other insurers when they ask: “Do you cover backcountry skiing?” Technically speaking, it’s not illegal to ski out of bounds in Canada, but for most travel insurance providers, the defining line between out-of-bounds and off-piste or backcountry can be rather grey.

At TuGo, we define backcountry as a “mountain area that is not marked, not patrolled and/or not cleared for avalanche dangers, but where public access is permitted.” We don’t cover “out-of-bounds”, defined as: “any mountain area that:  Has been closed off to public access; or,  Has been identified as “out-of-bounds” and/or can typically only be accessed by crossing a fenced, gated or roped-off area that has been marked as off limits according to recommendations of safety authorities in the area”.

In essence, backcountry skiers know that looking for travel insurance coverage for backcountry skiing shouldn’t evoke a discussion about ‘rope-ducking’. Too often insurers get things confused. The main difference between backcountry skiing and rope ducking is the amount of preparedness and safety precautions taken.

Backcountry skiers must have avalanche training, a high level of competence using self-rescue equipment (beacon or avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe), knowledge of the terrain and weather reports, and ski companions with the same safety knowledge and procedures.

Rope duckers have none of that: they ignore warning signs and venture unprepared into unpatrolled terrain that’s likely “un-skiable”, dangerous, or impossible to access in rescue situations.

Backcountry skiers knowingly accept the calculated risks, (and the majority return home safely), while rope duckers are simply ill-prepared for the risks. Trained backcountry recreationalists know rope-ducking without the proper avalanche safety training and equipment is just plain dangerous and unwise.

Although Search and Rescue will rescue any injured or lost victim, SAR or the resort’s ski-patrol might charge irresponsible out-of-bound skiers for a costly rescue, like these rope duckers on Grouse Mountain in 2009. They were billed for their rescue costs and banned from the resort for life. Needless to say, travel insurance doesn’t cover this kind of thing.