Insurance definitions - VF, scrambling, climbing and mountaineering

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We're off to the Alps (Switzerland) with the kids at the weekend and I'm looking for travel insurance, but finding policy wording difficult to understand.  Specifically looking at Sportscover Direct, their Group 4 cover includes scrambling to 4500m, glacier crossings up to 1km and rock climbing (multi pitch sport, trad and via ferrata) but excludes mountaineering.

I'm struggling to understand the line between mountaineering (excluded) and the activities which are specifically included.  The obvious route to clarity is speaking to Sportscover, but all I can get is 'You need to pick a cover level for the activities you'll be undertaking'.

Can anyone shed any light on this?  Practical experience of claims with Sportscover Direct, or experience from within the insurance industry particularly welcome.

In reply to Sam W:

One would assume mountaineering is on routes with UIAA grades or French grades like PD/AD etc. that aren't multi-pitch sport/trad.  The problems are that multipitch trad in the alps has UIAA grades, and easy UIAA grades are scrambling!

In reply to Sam W:

Their website is pretty specific when you search through all the different activites. Scrambling up to 4500m is for "non-technical ascents where no climbing equipment is to be used". Mountaineering cover would presumably cover you for multi day ascents up the biggest alpine faces on the hardest routes, which I guess they think should be under a higher level of cover than VF and climbing excluding big walls. 

In reply to purplemonkeyelephant:

I think the limitations on the scrambling, VF and rock climbing are reasonably clear, what I find unclear is how mountaineering differs from these.  The definitions of mountaineering from both yourself and Toerag seem reasonable, but Sportscover don't give anywhere near that level of detail, and I would argue that even an easy scramble comes into the lower end of 'mountaineering', particularly if it's a long scramble.

Lots of pub conversation mileage in discussing the difference between the terms. and I'm sure lots of potential lawyer conversation if there was a disputed claim, but I'm keen to avoid that.  Think this may be a general conversation about insurance inclusions/exclusions, if there is a lack of clarity about a term, would inclusion or exclusion hold more weight legally.

In reply to Sam W:

Mountaineering is a superset of those, isn't it?  That is, mountaineering is all activities involving ascending mountains by whatever means?  (People wouldn't use the term for walking up Snowdon, but it still technically is).

Thus, the way you could see it is that you can't do mountaineering UNLESS it fits one of those descriptions of things that are allowed or an obvious subset?  (That is, if you can do scrambling up to 4500m you can clearly do hillwalking to 500m).

Post edited at 14:19
 morpcat 03 Aug 2022
In reply to Sam W:

In case you haven't seen it, they have a chart showing activities versus cover levels, with some definitions (mouse-over the question marks):

 morpcat 03 Aug 2022
In reply to Sam W:

Here's a summary of what is in their (infuriating!) table: 

Not covered: 

  • Big walling
  • Deep water soloing
  • Free climbing   (I would assume they mean free SOLO climbing) 
  • Soloing - rock climbing

Group 4

  • Sport climbing
  • Rock climbing (excludes mountaineering, big walling, sea cliffs, ice climbing) 
  • Multi-pitch climbing (not Mountaineering or Big Walling)
  • Indoor climbing
  • Climbing (with ropes &/or guides or bolted)
  • Trad climbing (excluding snow/ice, excluding crevassed approaches) 

Group 7 

  • Mountain climbing (with ropes and/or guides, limited to 4000m outside of Europe)
  • Ice climbing
  • Climbing (sea cliffs / ice climbing)    
  • Sea cliff climbing (roped and protected)    
  • Mountaineering (with ropes &/or guides) excluding Nepal  (limited to 4000m outside of Europe)       
  • Mountaineering (with ropes &/or guides) in Nepal     (limited to 4000m?!)    

There are a bunch of other ratings for "Scrambling", but this is defined as "non-technical ascents where you do not expect to use climbing equipment", so I guess that just means steep walking? 

If you can give examples of routes you were looking to do it might be easier to pin down which of their vague and conflicting definitions it's likely to fall under. As a general rule though, it looks like if you're at a "crag" you can use Group 4, but if you're on a "mountain" it's Group 7.

In reply to Sam W:

Look at snowcard insurance - very good including claims

In reply to Sam W:

I suppose there is a grey area where climbing, mountaineering and scrambling meet, that one person definitely would have a rope out for and another would just solo. There doesn't seem to be a specific alpine grade in their policy that they cover up to. 

I think I'd just stick to the spirit of the policy and not try to test the limits, or just go with a specialist insurer that talks climber 

In reply to morpcat:

Some good contradictions in their list!

Not covered - 'free climbing' & 'rock climbing-soloing' - if they mean 'free climbing' is soloing, then why mention it twice? If they don't, then what do they mean by free-climbing?

Which category do bolted sea cliffs fall into? what about sport climbs on mountains?  Their descriptions are so shoddy it would appear that they don't understand what they're on about and, as such, I'd avoid them and go with the BMC or Snowcard.

In reply to Sam W:

Thanks for all the comments, have gone with Snowcard.  Worth noting they also allow scrambling, but not mountaineering.  It's a family holiday, I'm happy we'll be staying on the right side of that blurred line but, as per various comments above, it does seem like one that is very hard for insurers to clearly define.

Edit to add - Snowcard have the clearest explanation of 'pre-existing medical condtions' I've seen on a travel policy e.g. youngest daughter was in A&E a couple of weeks ago for an x-ray, nothing broken and no follow up needed.  Most policies I've seen in the past would, to the letter of the Ts&Cs, require this to be listed, but Snowcard explain why it doesn't in an unambigous way.

Post edited at 11:46

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