The exhilaration of skiing can come with a hefty price, with season passes costing more than $1,200 at premier resorts. So an injury can mean lost money as well as lost fun.
A Montana company is offering an insurance policy that refunds part of that investment if a skier or snowboarder misses 30 consecutive days on the slopes because of an injury or illness.
"The general response we get from the ski industry is, 'Oh, gee, why didn't somebody think of this before?"' said Ron Iverson, president of Skier Insurance Services in Kalispell, which offers the coverage.
The policy costs 6 percent of the price of the pass, and includes $15,000 coverage for emergency evacuation from a mountain and up to $10,000 in accidental death coverage. That means a $1,029 pass would cost about $61 to insure.
Insurance industry officials say Iverson is most likely the first provider to offer such a policy in the United States. It's part of a larger industry trend of creating niche products for specific use, said Jean Salvatore, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit that tracks trends in insurance.
"There are only so many homes and cars out there, and business being business, you're always looking for something new," she said. "You can insure so many things, and if someone notices there's a need, they can create a product, though you don't know if it's going to succeed."
Salvatore said ski pass insurance is related to but also differs from travel insurance, another niche product. Other examples of niche insurance products are policies that cover wedding and adoption costs.
"You can already get travel insurance to make sure the trip goes well, and insuring the pass goes hand-in-hand," she said. "It's a good complement for careful consumers."
About 150 people have bought the insurance so far, which is promoted by resorts but purchased through Skier Insurance Services' Web site. Iverson acknowledged that the company got off to a slow start marketing the product; it's also not available in some states because of differing insurance laws.
Iverson also plans to offer coverage in Canada, where ski pass insurance is already available.
Deborah Lavender, 45, of Boulder, Colo., is a season pass holder at the Eldora resort in Colorado. She bought the insurance this year because she had cancer, and is never quite certain she won't relapse.
"It was cheap, and right there, so it made sense to buy it as an extra precaution," she said. "I don't want to give up any of the season, but if I did at least I'd be able to get something back."
Eldora is promoting the insurance at its ticket windows and with mailers to season pass holders.
Iverson is offering 10 percent of the proceeds to resorts as an incentive to promote the product. Many resorts say the insurance is a good option for customers because they generally don't offer refunds.
The idea is overdue, said David Perry, vice president of Aspen Skiing Co. in Colorado, whose Premier Pass costs $1,029 for four resorts.
"We're finding that guests want more security when they shell out money for a season pass," Perry said. "In more difficult economic times, people are trying to be more careful about expenditures."
Some resorts offer discounted ski passes that are cheaper than $300 for the whole season, and figure the low price alone is worth the risk. But at least one resort with a discounted pass, Mountain Creek in New Jersey, which offers a season's skiing for $229, is still promoting insurance.
'`We thought it was a viable option for what can be a sticky situation for our customers, because we don't offer refunds" said resort spokesman Bill Benneyan. "And we want happy skiers."
Vail Resorts spokeswoman Kelly Ladyga said the company is waiting to see if the program is successful this season. She said the resorts, in Colorado, offer refunds on a case-by-case basis.
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