Driving to European ski resorts

Brits are driven to ski

A fifth of travellers go by road, says AA

  • 22% prefer to take their car than go by public transport
  • Nearly a third don't take out travel insurance
  • 8% think EHIC provides 'free' travel cover
  • FCO advice on winter travel
More going to Europe this winter

After a shaky start many European resorts are now reporting excellent snow conditions, just as the season reaches its peak.

A record number of Brits are setting off to enjoy a winter sports holiday, and according to new research from the AA more than a fifth prefer to drive.

ABTA figures suggest that 29% of Brits have booked a winter holiday, 16% up compared with last year.* And of those nearly 1 in 10 (9%) are taking a winter sports break.

AA international travel expert Rosie Sanderson says: "Our research suggests that more than a fifth (22%) of travellers heading from the UK to European ski resorts would drive there, rather than use public transport.**

"The big advantage is that you can carry much more, including all of the family's skis, without having to worry about what you can take on a plane.

"It makes a lot of sense to hop on a ferry and set off by car, particularly as most resorts are within a 10-hour drive from the Channel ports.

"But before you go there are a few things you'll need to consider, quite apart from the obvious things like European breakdown cover and travel insurance with a winter sports extension.

"The first thing to look at are your wheels. Some countries, such as Germany and Austria, require all cars, including those driven by visitors, to be equipped with winter tyres.

"Cross-climate tyres, which can be kept on your car all year round, must carry the compulsory identification marks of a mountain range or snowflake symbol to show that they will perform well at low temperatures, and on snow-covered roads." 

"Next, if you drive a diesel car it's worth knowing that at very low temperatures, around -15C, wax crystals can form in the fuel which will stop the engine running. In countries where winter temperatures can drop lower than that, fuel is sold with a cold-flow additive to prevent waxing. So fill up as soon as you get there.

"In any case, fuel can be significantly cheaper across the Channel than it is in the UK."

Driving rules in Europe

Our research also showed that just over half of travellers (51%) said they were 'not very familiar' with the traffic laws in Europe.**

Sanderson says: "Apart from the obvious reminder that you need to drive on the right, driving rules are generally not dissimilar to the UK. But there are items that are compulsory to carry, such as a reflective jacket, which you don't need in the UK"

"And most road signs are the same as the UK, but of course speed signs are in kilometres per hour."

"Do stick to speed limits," she warns. "In France many speed cameras are not signposted, and are not painted bright yellow as they are in the UK. And it's against the law to use devices that warn of or tell you where cameras are. So that function must be removed from your sat-nav by updating the mapping or disable the function as a minimum.

"Automatic number plate recognition systems catch you on camera, so the police could stop you later and give an on-the-spot fine."

European speed limits

  • most built-up areas 50km/h (31mph)
  • non-dual carriageway roads 90km/h (56mph)
  • dual carriageways and urban motorways 110km/h (68mph)
  • motorways up to 130km/h (81mph)

You can find special driving advice on the AA website for each European country.

EHIC is not a substitute for travel insurance

It's also important to make sure you have adequate travel insurance. Our research found that only 71% agreed that they would take out travel insurance, while 8% think the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is an adequate replacement.

"The EHIC is nothing like travel insurance, in that it doesn't cover any private medical costs such as a mountain rescue, being flown back home, or specialist treatment at a resort fracture clinic," Sanderson points out.

"If you suffer serious injury you can quickly clock up a five-figure sum for treatment that the EHIC simply won't cover.

"Neither does it cover you if have equipment lost or stolen, or if the piste is closed and you lose a couple of days or more on the slopes. Decent winter sports travel insurance should cover that."

AA travel insurance held by members includes an excess waiver, so in the event of a claim nothing is deducted.

Most travellers do think about cover for their car with 85% saying they would take out European breakdown cover. Sanderson adds, though, that drivers should also make sure that their comprehensive car insurance is valid abroad.

"That's not always the case, although AA car insurance includes free European cover. Others charge for the cover or don't offer it at all."

Advice from the FCO

Michael Vibert, Head of Consular Communications, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, says: "Every year our consular teams deal with a range of serious accidents related to winter sports, many of which could have been prevented. Knowing local driving laws, having travel insurance with appropriate winter sports cover, as well as an EHIC when travelling in Europe, and wearing the right gear are some of the top tips to help you #Skisafe these winter holidays."

* ABTA winter holiday bookings data, November 2016

** Populus interviewed 17,979 AA members, 13 to 20 December 2016.

Media contact Ian Crowder, 01256 492 844.

18 February 2017