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Feature - Fun at a premium

Insurance industry woes put the squeeze on adventure activities



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In the year after Sept. 11, they saw their insurance rates increase 200 per cent. The next year rates increased another 20 per cent. Great Wall is watching the situation carefully, and believes that the rates will be stable for next year.

"The insurance company we have basically told us that if we were a new company, we wouldn’t be able to get insurance. There wouldn’t even be a question as to whether to insure us," said Bob Allison, co-owner and lead mountain guide for Great Wall.

"The hard part for us is that everyone views climbing as a really risky sport, but that’s not the case. The guides we use are really qualified, fully certified mountain climbing guides who have taken all kinds of training, exams, mentorships – years and years of hard work – and really know their stuff.

"It’s a really safe sport. How many other sports are you fully roped in at all times? You can fall doing just about anything but rock climbing."

According to Allison, the owners of indoor climbing gyms around the province have grouped together to create safety standards and bargain for lower insurance rates.

Because Great Wall offers both indoor and outdoor climbing, it has different liability and can’t take advantage just yet. And while there are a few companies that do offer insurance to indoor climbing facilities, very few will offer insurance to outdoor operations. According to Allison, Great Wall’s current insurance underwriters are based overseas.

The company has absorbed part of the rate increase, and prices were raised to cover the rest. It’s not ideal for a company in Whistler because operating costs are already high for local businesses.

Although insurance is a must, Allison says his only problem with insurance companies is that they don’t acknowledge the steps companies take to ensure the safety of their customers.

"At a guiding level (the insurance companies) don’t really acknowledge how much training our guides have. If we ever had to perform a high-angle rescue, every one of my guides knows the procedures like the back of their hands, but insurance doesn’t look at that. It doesn’t make a difference to them if I hire Joe Blow, who knows how to belay a little, and fully certified mountain guides," said Allison.

"Without the training, it’s just not as safe as it should be. I feel they should look at that before they decide who gets insurance and who doesn’t."

Good timing for Whistler Bungee

Opening last summer, the owners and operators of Whistler Bungee Incorporated didn’t see their insurance rates jump – they had already jumped by the time they had opened for business.