Filed Under:Agent Broker, E&S/Specialty Business

What you need to know about insuring extreme winter sports

Businesses that specialize in heli-skiing, whitewater rafting and hunting all have major liabilities that need to be addressed.

Heli-skiing companies must observe daily avalanche forecasts and avoid flying in the wind.(Photo: iStock)
Heli-skiing companies must observe daily avalanche forecasts and avoid flying in the wind.(Photo: iStock)

It doesn’t matter if you are on top of the world’s most treacherous mountain, floating down dangerous rapids, or in the darkest neck of the woods, there is always risk when to participate in extreme sporting activities.

More than 4 million injuries have resulted from extreme sports accidents from 2000 through 2011, according to data collected by the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, some even fatal. In 2012, an Alaskan Heli-skiing company was sued after two skiers were killed in an avalanche. In May 2016, a Maine rafting company was scrutinized when a Boy Scout chaperone was killed after falling of the raft. And most recently, in November 2016, police have investigated how and why a hunter was accidently shot and killed while with a hunting party in Western New York.

Review coverage annually

Agents and sporting business owners should review insurance coverage annually. The agent must understand all of the activities the policyholder offers, because certain activities can be excluded unless underwritten for in advance. The policyholder also should annually review liability releases with a lawyer. A properly drafted release is the foundation to defending the sporting company in court. In the event of an accident, secure the original waiver and lock it away, only copies should be supplied to official requesting parties.

Managing an adventure sports business, whether it is heli-skiing, whitewater rafting or hunting, comes with major liabilities that need to be addressed. Agents and their sports business clients should develop an incident response plan that includes a structured checklist of actions for when an accident happens. 

How heli-skiing guides can avoid tragedy

Heli-skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing or snowboarding that is accessed by a helicopter. It’s no surprise that it’s been listed as the second most dangerous sport by Wonderlist. The risk of partaking in this extreme activity is so high that many of America’s most popular skiing destinations, including Aspen, ban it all together.

Managing a heli-skiing company takes an immense amount of responsibility. The No. 1 way to assure safety is to identify all of the tell-tale signs that could lead to a tragedy. Know your local weather patterns and plan accordingly. Having advanced knowledge of how weather systems work in your area can mean the difference between a positive or negative scenario. Guides should observe daily avalanche forecasts and keep away from any at-risk areas. If heavy wind is in the forecast, avoid flying. If a blizzard is expected, understand the snow-pack and be mindful of changing conditions.

To prepare for an emergency, guides should ensure that their staff is trained and understand their roles in the event of an accident. No one wakes up the morning of a major accident and thinks “it’s a great day for a loss,” but by continuously practicing for emergency situations, your employees will be well equipped for any potential obstacle.

Related: Airport's 'parachute jumping' policy exclusion leaves injured thrill-seeker without coverage

Rafting companies should ask clients to disclose prior medical conditions before embarking. (Photo: iStock)

Preventing a whitewater rafting disaster

When water levels are high, whitewater rafting accidents can be deadly.  In Colorado, more people were killed during guided rafting trips in the past two seasons than in the previous five years combined, according to The Denver Post. To prepare for the worst, the most cautious rafting companies monitor water flows and weather in their area and have written procedures that include go and no-go trigger points. On days where water levels reach dangerous levels, guides should cancel trips.

Smart rafting companies will also ask about any prior medical conditions that clients may have. There is a greater risk of fatalities related to clients who suffer from heart conditions and succumb to cold water immersion.

Guides should make sure they have written incident response plans and evacuation plans for all types of whitewater accidents. Understand the limitations of local emergency response; you are not always in the best place to receive quick medical help. Anticipate the worst case scenario and have a plan of action.

Shooting down the possibility of a hunting accident

When inexperienced shooters get their hands on shotguns and rifles, accidents can happen. Approximately 1,000 people in the U.S. and Canada are accidentally shot by hunters every year, according to the International Hunter Education Association.

To prepare for a crisis situation, hunting guides must remember their limitations of local emergency response capabilities. Their response times will be much longer than if you were in the frontcountry (outdoor areas easily accessible by vehicle) and the extent of services they can offer will be limited. Efficient hunting guides will have a good line of communication such as short wave radios, satellite phones, or a Spot device. They will also carry a well-stocked backcountry (remote, undeveloped, rural area) first aid kit. There are products now designed to help stop life-threatening bleeding in emergency situations

Tyler Martin, is the vice president of sales at CBIZ Sattler Insurance

Related: 20 sports that cause the most injuries



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