S1.E17: Understanding Risk & Adventure with Grant Statham

Understanding Risk & Adventure with Grant Statham
Risk is an essential part of any adventure experience, but what is risk and what does it mean to manage it? In this episode, ACMG / IFMGA Mountain guide Grant Statham joins Chris and Jordy to explore the topic of managing risk. Grant currently works for Parks Canada as a visitor safety specialist doing mountain. Rescue and avalanche forecasting. He also works as a risk consultant, and as a mountain guide.

Key Takeaways
A risk is a chance: When we take risks, we have a chance of losing something, but we also have a chance of gaining something. The uncertainty of not knowing which will happen is the risk.
Not taking a risk, comes with risk: It is impossible to live a life without risk. Not taking risks comes with a danger of missing out.
You can’t have adventure without taking risks: Challenge, adversity and risk taking are essential components of any adventure experience.
Have a process that helps guide you in your risk taking: This can be a decision-making tool, framework, philosophy or a list. The process that we use to make decisions will increase your chances of having a positive outcome.
Reserve your decision until you have as much information as possible: Waiting until you have to make a decision keeps your options open. This means that if new information becomes available, you haven’t committed yourself to a course of action that may be hard to reverse.

Guest Links & Resources
Instagram: @stathamgrant
Ted talk on Risk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WGZu5Lzgv1A
Thinking in Risk: https://thepowdercloud.com/learn/avalanche-education/thinking-in-risk/
Avalanche Canada Ice Climbing Avalanche Atlas: https://www.avalanche.ca/resources/ice-climbing/atlas
Gordon Graham: Video

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Grant Statham: I was recently on a panel where we all had to discuss, um, near misses, and then they got analyzed by, uh, the audience and the group and the, the pattern through all of these near misses. These were from veteran people who had been at it for years. The pattern is doing something that they kind of knew they shouldn’t be doing.

Something was off, but they did it. And so, if we know that that’s an obvious pattern that leads to accents, how do we try and get out of that?

[00:00:27] Chris Kaipio: This is delivering adventure. Welcome to the podcast that explores what it really takes to share adventure like a pro with your friends, your family, and as a profession.

My name is Chris Kaipio, and I’m coming to you from Whistler, British Columbia.

[00:00:48] Jordy Shepherd: And I’m Jordy Shepherd. Recording from Canmore, Alberta. After a lifetime of working extensively in different parts of the adventure guiding industry, Chris and I have teamed up to launch this podcast. In each episode, you’ll hear top adventure guides, managers, marketers, and athletes share their best stories, advice, and trade secrets.

The goal of this podcast is to share how you can take yourself and others farther from the mountains to the office and.

[00:01:17] Chris Kaipio: In this episode, we are joined by Grant Statham who helps us to understand the role of risk and adventure. Grant Statham is a mountain guide and Visitor Safety Specialist with Parks Canada based in Banff, Alberta. Starting at 17 years old as a climber and ski patroller, Grant became an ACMG/IFMGA mountain guide by age 24 and has pursued a 35-year career in mountain and ski guiding, avalanche forecasting, mountain rescue and risk management. 


Grant’s study of risk has-led to the development of many of the avalanche risk management systems used today, including the Avalanche Terrain Exposure Scale and the Conceptual Model of Avalanche Hazard. Grant is an adjunct professor with Simon Fraser University’s avalanche program, and a long-time Arcteryx Ambassador who works internationally as a risk consultant and ski guide.

[00:02:14] Jordy Shepherd: Managing risk is an essential part of delivering adventure while avoiding misadventure. Understanding what risk is and how to evaluate it is really the first step in managing it.

This is the first of two episodes featuring Grant Statham that we are putting out to explore this super interesting and important topic. I’ve known Grant for quite a while. He has many mountain community achievements. Chances are if you do any ice climbing or back country ski touring in Canada, north America, and even throughout the world, you have.

Really been touched by a lot of the risk process that Grant has brought. Uh, anything to do really with, uh, decision making in the back country, in the winter environment specifically, uh, anything to do with the Avalanche Train exposure scale, uh, that we’re going to talk about here. Coming up. Grant has really been a big driver of that and part of that process.

[00:03:10] Chris Kaipio: Well, that sounds awesome Jordy. Let’s bring Grant into the DA studio.

Hello, Grant, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?

[00:03:14] Grant Statham: I’m fine, thanks, Chris.

[00:03:17] Chris Kaipio: Where, where are you coming to us from?

[00:03:21] Grant Statham: Uh, I’m in my house in Canmore, Alberta.

[00:03:26] Chris Kaipio: Awesome. What’s the weather like outside?

[00:03:28] Grant Statham: Uh, it looks beautiful. Uh, crystal clear. I think it’s about minus 20, about 10 centimeters of snow on the ground.

And, um, I’m planning to go for a Nordic ski after.

[00:03:37] Chris Kaipio: Wow. That sounds great. To start off with, can you tell our listeners a little bit about your background and how you got into the adventure industry?

[00:03:46] Grant Statham: Well, I grew up on the west coast of Canada, um, Vancouver Island, and, um, was always interested in, I mean, my parents took me out camp.

We did a lot of outdoor stuff, so that’s really where it started for me was camping and canoeing and hiking with my parents. Um, and, and I was always interested in mountaineering from my house. I could look across, uh, Juan de Fuca Strait and see Mount Olympus this beautiful big mountain in Washington state.

And I, I looked at it all my life growing up. Um, started rock climbing in high school. My mother made a firm rule in the house. Uh, no mountaineering if you don’t take a class, which seems like a pretty good rule. Uh, so I came to ban right after finishing high school like it was here the week after. Uh, took a mountaineering course, uh, returned back to Victoria.

Uh, climbed Mount Olympus that summer, uh, which remains one of my highlights because that was a pretty cool feeling. I was 17 years old and then, like six weeks later I was in Banff, um, for one winter apparently. And um, got a job at a ski hill and that was 36 years ago. I’m still here and, uh, you know, I guess getting here and just, my goal was to learn to ice climb.

That’s why I came up here, uh, not to ski. I did be honest with you. I didn’t even think about skiing, just remembered at the last minute. Oh yeah, there’s skiing up there. And then I got a job at a ski hill and, um, just kind of took off. As soon as I started climbing, I got really got into it. And, um, you know, within a couple years, I, uh, I, I got a job at a, at an Army cadet camp here in Banff and was exposed to some guides, uh, who encouraged me to take my guides courses, which was not something I really even thought about.

So, I did that. Um, and then I passed, which also surprised me. And at this point I was like 20 years old and still planning to go back to home and go to university. And now I was a ACMG member and I could make some money. So, I started doing that and um, started working at the ski hill and kind of went away like that.

And it’s just led to, uh, I got to say 30 some odd years of adventure. All this stuff. It’s just, uh, broken from there.

[00:05:48] Chris Kaipio: So, can you tell our listeners a little bit about what you’re doing?

[00:05:52] Grant Statham: Sure. Um, right now I work for, uh, parks Canada. I’ve been working there for almost 20 years. Uh, right now I work in Banff and Kootenay National Parks, and I’m, uh, I’m a visitor safety specialist.

And so that means I’m part of a team of about 10 people. Um, all of us mountain guides and, uh, search and rescue specialists, an avalanche forecasters. And we look after all the avalanche forecasting for the highway and for the public and all the search and rescue inside Banff Park. And then I still, um, work part-time kind of on my time off from Parks Canada.

I do quite a bit of consulting work, uh, risk review, program reviews, um, you know, that kind of stuff. And so, and some guiding still too, mostly ski guiding. I’m not guiding climbing really much anymore, but, uh, still trying to ski guide, uh, been running trips to Japan and doing some snow cat skiing. This.

[00:06:43] Chris Kaipio: So, you, you touched on climbing Mount Olympus is a, is a big achievement, uh, for you.

And those are often some of our biggest things, right? The first time we do something. Mm-hmm, something big like that, it definitely stands out in our, in our memory. Can you share some of your other notable adventure related accomplishments, some of the things that you were really proud of doing.

[00:07:05] Grant Statham: Uh, most of them are climbing related, you know, like the first 20 years up here, you know, that’s really all my focus was on climbing mountains.

You know, at the time when I was young, my dream was to, you know, climb 8,000-meter peaks by hard roots. Fortunately, I came to my senses and had a family and stop myself from doing too much of that. But, um, you know, I, I think a couple of the big ones for me, uh, I guess, I guess leading Pilsner pillar, uh, when I was s.

Like my third ice climb, I led Pilsner pillar and, uh, realized, wow, I can do this. This, uh, seemed a little bit crazy at the time it all this old equipment, but that really helped. I think some of these touch points, one of the reasons they were important to me is because, um, they maybe weren’t the hardest route in the neighborhood, but they, for me, they made me realize that I’m able to do these things.

You know, I said an objective for myself. In that case it was to lead a hard ice climbing pillar, and then I did it, and so that realization. Was huge. Um, another big one would be, uh, I climbed a, uh, the Northeast face of Mount Kron by a route called the Wild Thing. I did the second set of that in, uh, I think 1993.

And again, that was a huge for me, uh, step because that’s a big hard alpine climb on a big face that took, uh, at the time. It took multiple days and I, again, it made me realize, hey, I can do this. This is what I want to. I’ve set an objective and I actually did it. So that was, uh, that was a big one. Um,

[00:08:32] Chris Kaipio: so, so when you say a big alpine face to somebody who doesn’t climb, what does that look like?

[00:08:38] Grant Statham: Well, uh, it looks like a big steep mountain. Um, and in this case anywhere from, you know, 1500 meters. You know, four to 5,000 feet of steep rock and snow and ice, uh, at, you know, not a place where many people go, and. You know, I’ve always been drawn to these sort of places, uh, largely by the architecture and the look of the mountain.

You know, I can be pulled quite passionately into, uh, an absolutely beautiful, uh, gully feature on a mountain that might run up 3000 feet. And it’s narrow and it’s full of blue ice, and I just think, wow, I got to climb that thing. It’s just crying out to be climbed. And so, you know, that’s, I’ve always been drawn to those big, hard looking face.

[00:09:24] Chris Kaipio: So, you spend a lot of time in the risk management, uh, industry and adventure industry. You’ve done a lot through your career. Obviously, risk is a big part of your life. So, let me ask you, what does, like, what is risk to you? How would you define it and, and what does it mean

[00:09:40] Grant Statham: to you? Uh, I guess in the most simple terms, it’s about taking chance.

I mean, taking a chance that’s, that’s risk. Um, there. And you know, we can work our way down from that, as I’m sure we will over the next, uh, little while here. But that’s what risk is, is taking a chance and, um, It’s essential in life. Like you don’t go anywhere. You don’t do anything in life without taking some kind of chance, uh, depending on what your situation is.

Uh, you’ve got to get through your day. Every single day. You got to take some kind of chances or make some decisions about simple things and complicated things, and, and that’s what risk is. And every, every single one of those decisions has an element of chance. Um, and then an element of consequence. So, you ask yourself, If I do this, what’s the chance that this will happen?

And if it does happen, then what? And um, so for me that’s really the simplest form of it, is about taking a chance on something.

[00:10:38] Chris Kaipio: So, what does risk mean to you personally? Like why, like why do you take risks?

[00:10:43] Grant Statham: Uh, I bet I take risks for the exact same reason as everybody else in the world. Um, I, I do it to get through life.

Uh, I do it to, uh, get things done. I can’t get, you can’t get anything done if you can’t take a risk, uh, you know, to mostly for me to accomplish my goals, like, and not just those big climbing goals. Like anything I want to go for the Nordic ski Today, I’m coming off an injury, so I’m asking myself some questions, you know, should I do this?

And, uh, what’s the chance of me falling over today and hitting my arm? And if so, you know what’s going to happen, like everything we do. So, I feel it’s important. Um, risk is just inherent in everything that we do if we want to get through life for all people. I think that if you don’t. Take risks. You’re paralyzed in what you can do.

And I, you know, people who might say that they’re, uh, they don’t take risks. Well, they, they actually do, they just take different kinds of risks. Like everybody takes risks in their day to day. Everything they do, every time you step in your vehicle and go somewhere, every decision you make is some kind of risk-based decision.

Um, and it’s different for all people. So, I think it’s important, really important that people often don’t think about it. Like risk is something they haven’t thought, oh, I’m taking a risk, but they’re just making some kind of decision. But actually, if you stop and reflect, that’s actually what you’re doing many, many times a day for everybody.

[00:12:05] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah. And really, if you don’t take any risks, there is certainty that you’re prob you’re not going to get anything done. You’re not going to move forward. You’re not going to have opportunity.

[00:12:17] Grant Statham: Absolutely. Like I, you know, unfortunately, risk is portrayed often as loss, so that’s really common. You read the risk literature and it’s talking about, you know, the consequence, the negative consequences of things.

So, if you do this, then you’re going to get hurt or you’ll lose some money, or you know, something bads going to happen. But the entire reason we take risks is so that we get benefit. I mean, that’s the other side of the consequence, which is often forgotten. But the reason to take a risk is to get some sort of benefit.

You know, like I want to go for a cross country ski today because it’s a beautiful day and I haven’t been out for a while because I’ve had an injury. So that’s really important to me and it’s going to feel great. So, I’m willing to risk the chance that I might fall over and land on my arm. And so even even people buy lottery tickets. I mean, that’s a risk, right? You can lose. You’re probably going to lose your money because the probabilities of winning are so low. But you know, you might win. Like we wouldn’t do anything if there wasn’t some opportunity to gain from it. And sometimes I think that’s lost.

[00:13:15] Jordy Shepherd: You’ll never win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.

[00:13:17] Grant Statham: That’s a certainty. Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. There you go. That’s a certainty for sure.

[00:13:22] Chris Kaipio: Yeah. Actually, just to add on to what you’re saying, Bruce Wilson, who is, uh, one of our guests, uh, his episode should be out now. He asked me a couple of years ago if it’s possible to live life without taking risks.

And I, and I sort of paused on that and, and came to the realization that actually it’s not, cause if you don’t take that risk, there’s a risk that you missed out taking, being able to take advantage of whatever. You could have gotten by taking that risk. So, if you stay at home instead of going out to go and do something, well, there’s, there’s a risk that you missed out on whatever it was that you were going to go out and do.

[00:14:01] Grant Statham: Yes. I, I completely agree. If you, again, people aren’t realizing this, but everybody’s doing this and I sometimes I think about us in, you know, in, uh, for the first world and the kind of risks that we. I mean, that’s just because we are living in this privileged, advanced society where we, we don’t have the risk that a lot of people in the world face every day of just trying to put food on the table and just trying to survive, you know, so much to the world that’s, they don’t need to introduce additional risk into their life.

Um, I have worked with the Inuit a few times up north and they, when you talk about avalanche risks to them, they’re just looking at you like, no, no, no. We just stay away from that. Traditionally we just, we don’t go near it. And, and I think it’s something that we as, um, you know, people in, in Canada and first world countries, we’ve just sort of managed to engineer so much of the day to day risk out of our lives that we introduce it in the mountains and we do things like that, which, um, because everybody seems to deal with risk in one way or another.

And. We’re lucky to live in a society where we don’t have to face these sorts of life and death risks every day. Or worry about just putting food on the table, which so many people have to be concerned with, but that’s risk too.

[00:15:11] Chris Kaipio: So, you’ve obviously thought a lot about risk. For those listeners who have maybe a little bit new to thinking about this topic, can you give us a quick rundown of what the key elements of risk are?

In your TED Talk, you do a great job of explaining some of the key elements such as probability, exposure, vulnerability, and so, and what does understanding these elements look like to you?

[00:15:30] Grant Statham: Um, well, I, I like to think of it as sort of four. I mean, there’s many things to understand, but there’s four key things, and you just touched on them there, Jordy.

Um, the basics would be probability and consequence. Um, and, and you know, I look at. I look at probability and consequence that is to risk. Um, like supply and demand is to economics. It’s fundamental and it’s almost a law. And I, I always think that everybody in life should learn the basics of probability and consequence.

You know, we should teach that to kids in school. Just the basics. You don’t have to go too deep, but it’s essential stuff. Um, you know, probability and there’s, you know, you can, there’s obviously massive schools of study just on prob. Um, but that’s chance and, um, that’s expressed in a whole bunch of different ways depending on, you know, what you’re doing.

And then consequence is, is the, the impact of something, you know, both positive and negative. And so those are the two. Sort of fundamental, most basic components of risk that one should explore. And um, and then the other two that I look at are, um, vulnerability and exposure. And those ones are important because that’s actually how we keep control of the risk and how we control ourselves.

And, um, one thing about risk is it’s very personal and it’s about, it’s about something specific. Every single risk scenario is, and it could be just about me, it could be about the three of us. It could be about your family; it could be about a building. Um, so every time you have to identify what’s actually at risk, and that’s known as the element at risk.

And then that element has a degree of vulnerability and exposure and you can control that. So, vulnerability, um, is kind of how susceptible you are to the. Of a hazard, you know?

[00:17:28] Jordy Shepherd: So, so that’d be like wearing, wearing a helmet while you’re doing the activity. Yeah.

[00:17:33] Grant Statham: Yes, exactly. Yeah. Or even, let’s just talk about financially for a second.

If you’re, if you got a lot of cash, you’re less vulnerable, uh, you know, if you’re sort of scraping by, you’re more vulnerable. So, you need to manage your risk a little bit differently. Um, you know, if you’re out skiing in the mountains and you’re with your. Very different situation than if the three of us go for a ski.

So, your vulnerability of the elements changes and as based on that, uh, you adjust your exposure. And this is the key piece. And you know, as a, as a climber and a guide, exposure is like just fundamental to everything. You know, we talk about how we move through the terrain and our position in the terrain.

So, exposure. And let’s go back to financial risk again. If, if you’re less vulnerable and you have lots of cash, you can afford to expose yourself more to financial risk. Whereas if you don’t have a lot of cash and you can’t risk losing it, then you’re, you’re, you’re more vulnerable. So, you need to expose yourself less.

You know, the same could be set in the mountains. Um, when we have that group of kids, you know, we going to back off the exposure, keep the risk down. Whereas maybe if it’s just, uh, you and your friend and you’re strong and everything’s going great, then maybe you’re going to jack it up a little bit and ski some stuff that’s steeper.

So, you’re going to increase your exposure.

[00:18:47] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, and I like to think about. I like to think about exposure as being kind of two pieces. One is how long are you exposing yourself to the potential consequence? And then the other is how, how much assets are you putting into that, whether it’s people or money or whatever that is exposed to that consequence.

[00:19:06] Grant Statham: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yeah. Yeah, you’re right. Like if you have more at risk versus less at risk, is that what you mean?

[00:19:12] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah. So, more time or, or more stuff at risk.

[00:19:15] Grant Statham: Yep. And, and I sometimes, certainly in the mountains, uh, I think of exposure as having similar to you, um, two components both time and space. So, um, if we take, you know, mountain travel, um, how long are you in the position and, um, and where is the position?

So, the actual location itself, which is space, and then how long, which is.

[00:19:42] Jordy Shepherd: Are you a little closer to that ice fall or are you a little further away from that ice fall? And then how long are you actually spending around that ice fall?

[00:19:50] Grant Statham: Exactly. And every step you take to the left or the right, your exposure could be just a little bit different.

So, you know, I think that’s how we control it. That’s how we can keep control on the risk, is to manage our exposure to it.

[00:20:03] Jordy Shepherd: I’ve had trips like going up the Athabasca Glacier is classic where you’re choosing, are you closer to the racks off of Mount Snowdome or are you closer to, uh, CREAS Fields on the other side?

And you know, where, what is the, what is the bigger risk? What is the bigger ha biggest hazard to you? And what are, what is the biggest potential and where are the unknowns of all that?

[00:20:24] Grant Statham: That’s a good one to explore. So, if you are going to. You know, if you’re going to go up under the rack, you’re, you’re taking a different kind of risk than if you’re going to go up through the cases where maybe you could see them or, you know, they’re just, they’re very different scenarios.

[00:20:39] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah. And one, you might be able to go more quickly, uh, under Thera Hazard where there’s less crevasses, or you might be going more slowly through the crevasse field, and that that whole extra time that you’re spending in your day is a certain amount of risk associated with that.

[00:20:56] Grant Statham: Yep. That they’re there as exposure again.

So, if you go through those crevasses, you’re going to, you know, whatever, double your exposure time.

[00:21:02] Jordy Shepherd: So, can you give us a practical example? We’re just kind of talking about that right now, uh, of when you really had to think about these elements and then share with us what your, as a professional and all these things you think about in risk.

What was your thought process?

[00:21:16] Grant Statham: Um, okay. Uh, before doing that, I just maybe want to just, I guess like, what I got to say is like, when I’m. Out there managing risk for real. And on the ground, I am not calculating probabilities and I, you know, I don’t think any of us are doing that. No one’s doing math or anything like that, uh, on the ground.

So, I, I kind of look at this as having two ways and, um, you know, we, I think these days, many of us recognize that sort of two ways. We think there’s a sort of the system one method, which is intuitive and. Um, you know, we, we take information in and we make judgements and, um, it’s, um, you know, subjective type of decision making and it happens in real time and it happens fast.

And, um, so that’s how we make decisions and. In the mountains or on my bike or anywhere where I’m actually making risk decisions quickly. Uh, and I would contrast that with a, a system two or a slower way, a more calculated, uh, mathematical, possibly a more structured way of thinking about risk. And that is slower.

And, uh, so you can’t do that when you’re, you know, ripping downhill on your bike or you’re, you know, necessarily skiing. And so, I use both those systems. And the reason I wanted to start with that is because to describe scenarios like you asked, like the first one, if we pick some kind of skiing scenario or, um, let’s, let’s pick climbing a hand crack, for example.

Okay. I climbed a fantastic, uh, splitter in the bug was this summer. Um, climbing is an excellent place to think about risk because, uh, you know, I’m looking at this crack and. I’m, I’m not thinking about probability, consequence, exposure, and vulnerability while I’m leading that pitch. I am not, I’m mostly thinking about not falling off and getting some gear in.

Um, but those elements are there. They’re always there. And I find upon reflection, Um, whether I’m looking back at a situation or if I’m planning it ahead of time and I have a little bit more time on my hands, then I can kind of shift to slower analysis and I’ll say, okay, well, uh, this is a five nine hand crack, which is not hard for me.

So, the probability of me falling off is, is not that high. Um, and I can get a lot of gear in because it’s a nice crack. So, the consequences of me falling off are, are also not that bad. So, I’m going to, the. Totally reasonable. Um, whereas I might think, okay, well here’s a mixed climb, for example, it’s sketchy. Um, I’m going to have to go for 10 meters between pieces of equipment, like a long kind of, uh, difficult climb.

Well, that’s a whole different thing. The probability of falling off is maybe way higher, and if I can’t get good protection and then the consequences are way higher. So, I, I’m always looking at it like that. Maybe not explicitly when I’m standing there on the mountain, but when I’m thinking about it ahead of time and when I’m reflecting on it later, and if I’m writing about it, then I bring in those elements.


[00:24:06] Jordy Shepherd: And do you use any, uh, specific tools in your professional or recreational? Uh, adventures, things like, uh, there’s the evaluator, which, uh, helps us, you know, kind of look at, uh, risk. Um, you plug a bunch of variables in, actually not that many variables. And, and the type of terrain, uh, which you’re obviously very familiar with, the Avalanche Train Exposure Scale being one of the creators of that.

Um, you know, or, uh, there’s a risk, uh, sorry, the response assessment and decision-making support tool RAs, that, uh, some SAR teams use it. It came out of Bridge Columbia and there actually is kind of some, a bit of math associated with that, but the end result is it puts you into a heat. Where you can kind of see, you input some variables and then it shows you, oh, am I kind of in the more, in the green or the yellow or the full-on red zone.

And then you still might go, but you might adapt what you’re doing too. So do you, do you use any of those types of tools in your, in

[00:25:07] Grant Statham: your life? Uh, I would say yes at the workplace. I do, uh, personally, not really. Um, but I, if I was starting out new, I definitely would. Like you described the evaluator, I think that’s an excellent tool, um, uh, to get started.

And I think that eventually people are going to grow out of it, but it teaches you to think in a risk framework and to have the proper inputs. Um, and then you described, um, you know, the search and rescue tool and I work, you know, in a national park we have, we use different tools, but similar thing, and this is where you’d have almost institutional risk management.

You know, we have, uh, lots of different systems at work where, you know, it’s like various conditions need to be met in order for us to be able to go or not go. And, um, those are, I. Because they take away, uh, my personal risk tolerance, and they set almost a company risk tolerance. So, the agency says, all right, we don’t want our staff exposed to risk any higher than this level here.

And they build these systems around it, and then we use them at work because all of us have different, like you and Chris and I all probably have a slightly different tolerance for risk. And when we’re trying to. Work for the company. Uh, we need to get on the same page. And so, I think those tools are really useful for that, for helping us get the right inputs and also helping keep us on the same page and to control the risk and keep it inside a corporate risk tolerance maybe.

[00:26:27] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, and I would encourage our listeners to find a tool and a process that works for you and use it because if you don’t use it, then you’re just kind of wing. Have some sort of a process or, or tools or set of tools that at the very least starts the conversation with yourself and with others. And then once you lay that out on the table there, it doesn’t have to take long and it doesn’t have to be complex.

Um, but it starts the conversation and then that’s where these, it, it leads you down the road. If somebody saying, well, you know what? I just don’t feel great today. Uh, or, you know, my great Aunt Edna died yesterday and I’m just not feeling it. Maybe, maybe we shouldn’t kind of push the limits as much today, because I’m, I’m kind of focused on that.

Yeah. So have, have a process and then actually follow it and not to say that you’re going to be right all the time or, you know, the whole group’s going to be right all the time, but it at least gets a conversation started.

[00:27:30] Grant Statham: Just going to say it probably helps to manage group dynamics quite a bit too. You know, in any group you are going to have someone who might want to take, you know, a little bit more aggressive than someone else. And if you’ve got a process that everybody’s kind of believing in, then it sort of helps to manage it on behalf of the group.

[00:27:46] Chris Kaipio: Yeah, we’re going to touch on, you know, some risk management strategies in our, our next segment, but I spend a lot of the last few years developing, uh, risk management and decision making training, uh, here in Whistler for the snow school, uh, to affect the, the ski industry and in that area, and the injury rate for instructors, skiing, snowboard instructors in the snow school.

Really high. It is comparable to construction workers, uh, and logging. And there’s been a, a real push to bring that down and, and it is having a huge effect. There’s a lot of really good people making some, um, good policy, uh, decisions and, and trying to be really innovative and progressive and changing. Um, the.

Instructors go about their business because of course, you know, as a guide and an instructor, outdoor leaders, our job isn’t to avoid risk, it’s to actually expose people to the right amount of risk, uh, so that they can get all of those positives that you outlined earlier, grant, and, you know, going down this, this path.

To me it really feels like we have. Things that we often sort of categorize to deal with, with managing our risk and from sort of an institutional level. And, and Jordy really just touched on one of them, and to me it’s what I’m seeing is, is that culture, its rules and its tools and that culture is setting.

What’s acceptable? Like you were saying with Parks Canada saying, okay, well you can, you can take this much risk. Or from the snow school side, you know what I’ve tried to convey is it’s not normal to go home from a day of teaching skiing with a concussion. Like it’s a job, right? Like your dentist doesn’t go to work and come home with a concussion or a separated shoulder or a blown-out knee.

Like that’s not normal, but it has been normal for a long time, right? It’s like, oh, well, you know, Bob blew his neo. Well, it sucks for Bob. Oh, well. Um, you know, and, and that’s, so that’s, that’s, that’s not normal. And then you know your rules. Often are those guidelines, principles, hard rules. If you do this, this happens.

And, and those are set up all over the place. You know, in a park, it’s, this area is closed because there’s a, there’s a, a, you know, a, a grumpy grizzly bear, uh, there, and we want you to stay away from there. I mean, that’s, that’s a rule. Um, whereas those tools, are exactly what Jordy is saying, those things that we can create from ourselves.

Training, uh, you know, call a friend for, for help guidebooks, you know, all of those things. And, and just kind of circling back to rules for a second, I find the rules are often aimed at trying to limit or or reduce our exposure. Is, is, you know, when you kind of think of them in, in those terms. What, what are your thoughts on, on that?


[00:30:44] Grant Statham: I agree. And, uh, I think you’re right. Those rules do aim to reduce our exposure, um, but hopefully they integrate, um, vulnerability as well. So, an example would be, uh, if you have a lot of training, uh, you should be able to take a little bit more exposure than someone who’s brand new and doesn’t have any training.

So, I, I think it, it has to have both, uh, to be reasonable. And, um, yeah, I mean, I think it’s really, this, this stuff is important, especially in a, in sort of a company or a corporate thing because, um, I think what’s, when you’re, when you’re new, what’s so bit difficult for people to realize is that they’re not managing their own risk.

I mean, they are, nobody wants to get hurt themselves, but when you’re, when you’re employed by somebody else, um, they’re employing you to manage somebody else’s risk or something else. So, um, that’s a shift. You know, if you, if you think about some other kind of risk tolerance that isn’t your own, so it might be easy for you to just say, oh yeah, I’m willing to do that.

But, um, but that’s not necessarily what you’re doing. So, I think that’s one difference when you begin working in the field, is having to adapt to other risk tolerances and be able to manage to that. Whether it’s down or hopefully not up. Nobody wants to manage to a higher as tolerance than they’re comfortable with.

So that doesn’t, well, shouldn’t really happen. But usually, it’s the other way around. As an expert, you’re usually more comfortable with the risk than the people you’re working for, and they’re hiring you to manage to their level, uh, not necessarily to your own. So those tools and the culture and the rules and the tools, they all contribute to that.

I think the culture is a, is a big part of that, you know, and, and understanding whose risk it is. You’re actually.

[00:32:23] Chris Kaipio: Not to go off on too big a tangent here, but often when we’re leading people, they, they don’t actually have the ability to assess that risk for themselves. And I do find that people can sometimes get lulled into a sense of security thinking, well, okay, Chris knows what he is doing.

So, if Chris says this is okay, then, then that’s okay. And actually, had a client once say to me, you know, she says, well, I know that if you take me down something. I can do it and, and nothing’s going to happen. And I said, well, actually I don’t, I actually don’t know that for certain. Like, you could surprise me.

The terrain could be different. Uh, there’s any number of vulnerable, uh, variables there that, that could change. Uh, I could just simply make a mistake because we’re, we’re human calculators. We’re just trying to calculate this and we’re, we’re very imperfect. You know, and, and I followed up by saying, look, you know, I’m just really good at, uh, you know, making those quick assessments, calculating that probability, um, which is what we do intuitively.

Like you said, we don’t often think of it as, you know, okay, I have a 32% chance of making this happen, and, and there’s a, you know, there’s a 68% chance of this not happening and, and there’s a 30% chance of, of this happening. Like, we’re not, we’re not running it that way, you know? The more experience you get, you tend to get better at, at recognizing that.

But you also get better at being able to deal with things when they, um, fall apart. You know, when things don’t get, don’t go very well, and we’re able to become resilient and, and handle it. It’s like falling off a bike. The stronger you are, the less likely you are to, to hurt yourself. Whereas if you fall off your bike and you’re already injured, you are a lot more vulnerable.

[00:34:14] Grant Statham: Mm-hmm. Yeah, most definitely. And I think that speaks to like your example of, uh, the person that you’re skiing with. I mean, that’s just in the, in the, certainly the adventure business and in guiding, I, I think any professional will, will, should know this. I mean, we know this, it’s our guests who need to know this, that we’re not infallible and they’re not hiring us.

They can’t hire us to keep them safe. I mean, you know, they hire us to manage risk and that means that we all accept some risk and we accept the probability that something might. You know, if you want to do adventure sports, you have to just accept that upfront and then you can hire somebody to keep those chances down and reduce the consequences.

Uh, but they’re not going to go away. Um, or you won’t be doing an adventure.

[00:34:57] Chris Kaipio: How do you have that conversation with your guests when you’re, when you’re guiding, like how do you frame that?

[00:35:03] Grant Statham: Well, I like to start early. I think that’s important. Like risk. So, this would be risk communication, which is a whole nother field of study.

Um, You know, something that I find kind of funny is a lot of times in the adventure industry, they tell, they’ll tell you to use the waiver, um, you know, give your guest the waiver, which explains all the things that can go wrong, and use that as an example to disclose the risks to people. And I personally think that’s weak.

Um, the waiver is a tool to transfer risk, financial risk, and li. True risk communication means conversations to people, um, like what we’re having right here and saying like, okay, well there’s a chance that this could happen and here’s how I’d like to manage things. You know, I’m going to, here’s what my, the way I approach things.

I, you know, on days like today I’m going to ski in the trees, um, because of these reasons. And, um, you know, but there’s a chance you could still, we could trigger something over here. And it just, to be really honest with people, really honest and make sure that people don’t think that, that, you know, That you’re going to keep them safe, , you know, you’re going to do the best you can, but, uh, nobody can keep anybody safe and if they want to actually achieve their objectives in adventure.

So, I just make sure I have that conversation early.

[00:36:15] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah. And there’s also communicating past that, saying if something goes wrong and which I’m not expecting it to, but if it does, then we have all these pieces in place with a. We have, you know, we have communication out, we have, you know, these resources we can call upon.

I have this stuff in my backpack. Uh, so there, you know, that there’s actually been a plan put in place for, for dealing with emergencies should they arise?

[00:36:39] Grant Statham: Yeah. And communicating that to the people. Yeah, you’re right. As part of the trip planning to say, yeah, we have these things with us for this reason.

[00:36:46] Chris Kaipio: But you do, you raise a, you both raise excellent points there.

Even having that conversation with others helps us to have that conversation with ourselves. Sat in on a number of, um, sort of peer review, uh, processes where you hear a, a work colleague go through how they got injured. And in every case, there is at least one vulnerability, if not a set of vulnerabilities that ended up making that person more susceptible to getting hurt.

And in, in every case, your kind of are left wondering, well, did that person recognize how vulnerable they were in that position? And if they had, that would’ve helped them to take steps to, to avoid that. You know, it’s that the. The example of, you know, being a, being on a, above a cliff without a, a rope. Well, did you, did you recognize that you were in that position or, you know, standing on a, on a busy ski run?

I’ll give you an example that, that I heard of, of, uh, you know, an instructor is skiing down a slope. It’s super busy. It’s day one of the season. It’s hard snow. Everybody around them is, is gung-ho because they haven’t gone skiing for six months and the instructor sees a, a skiing on the, the snow below them because somebody’s crashed.

And the immediate response is, oh, I better stop and I better help that person. Well, they have three choices in that instance. You know, one choice is to just keep going and, and leave. Situation to that person to sort out for themselves. Second choice is to stop above the ski and pick it up and help the person.

And the third choice is to stop below the ski and help that person. And you know, the, the least vulnerable option would be to just ski by and think, well that sucks for you buddy, but I’m not stopping to help you because I don’t want to end up being run over by somebody. You know? The second one would be to stop above the.

You can pick it up, but now you can’t see anybody skiing towards you because that hazard is all of the other people coming towards you. And the third one would be to stop below the ski so that at least you can see everybody coming towards you. Uh, the instructor in this case actually stopped above the ski and got smoked from behind, uh, and ended up being injured.

And so, we often don’t think about managing our risk. In that way because we’re not running those calculations. But having that discussion like you’re seeing with ourselves, you know, over and over and over again, so that we can actually realize that that situation that we’re in, I think is super important.

How do you, how do you think we can do that? Because a lot of us just kind of turn off, switch off and we just go sort of full steam ahead. Like, how do you do this? Like when you’re out there taking risk, Like, what are you thinking about?

[00:39:41] Grant Statham: Um, well the first thing is that I’m not thinking about, oh, I’m out here taking risks.

It just, you know, that’s not my frame of reference. I know there’s risk involved in what I’m doing. Um, so I guess, yes, I am out there taking risks, but I mostly think of it as, uh, you know, I’m going out to go ride my bike and I’m going to try and do this trail today. And it’s a little bit hard in this spot, you know, a little bit more practical look at it and.

You know, so that’s how I, how I approach it. But I, I guess I try to be very flexible and I, I, I think this is, it’s funny, I sometimes this has come back to haunt me in my life because um, I like to prolong decisions or I like to be open to changing my mind up until the very last minute. And I think I’ve learned that through a career and a life in the mountains where I’m constantly got my head on a sw and I’m always ready to change.

And I know that’s caused me some trouble at home because I’m always ready to like, you know, listening to the latest information. And, but I do think that that’s really important is to be, if you’re able to, to be prepared to change your plans, even if it’s. Even if we want to go down to the micro scale, if you’re, you’re traveling down a slope to be able to say, okay, look, oops, we were going to go down here, but now we’re going to go to the left by 50 meters.

Or we were going to ski this run. We’re all set up, but now I’m changing my mind and I’m going over here. And, um, I think that’s essential actually for good risk management. It needs to be, uh, open to what’s to be very, uh, spatially. And, um, aware of what’s going on around you and to be ready to make adjustments constantly.

So, I feel like it’s always happening in real time. I don’t think of it like I’m taking risks. I just think of it like I’m really paying close attention here and I’m going to reserve my decision until sort of the last moment if I can, based on the information that’s coming at me.

[00:41:29] Chris Kaipio: You raise such an excellent point.

As soon as we decide to do something, we take ownership of that and, and as soon as we own something, we tend to want to follow through on it. One of the things that I try to really do is to not make the decision before I have to. Like, there’s no reason to. Uh, you can certainly review all of the options.

Well, we can go to the top of the peak. We can go partway to the peak. We don’t have to go up the peak at all. Like those are all of the options. Well, the option you might choose is to. Okay, well, let’s see if we can work our way up the peak. And, and the goal is to try to get there, but we haven’t actually made the decision that we are doing this.

Like that’s not, that, that a hundred percent thing. So that you still have that opportunity to say, well, you actually, you know what? Things have changed. You know, I don’t think we can make this happen. Let’s, let’s. Let’s return. But that’s hard for people especially, and I, and I find as a leader, if you communicate to people, this is what you’re doing beforehand.

All of a sudden now you’ve taken ownership. And so, if you said, well, we are going to the top of that ridge because it’s a beautiful day and you’re going to love it when we get there. And then you see that big black cloud coming towards you and you think, well, maybe this isn’t such a good idea, but now you’ve promised.

People or even yourself that you’re going to do that. It makes it really hard to backtrack.

[00:42:53] Grant Statham: Yes, but, but, but, uh, the backtracking and the error correction is so important. Like, you know, you committed to something, you’re, you know, you’re into it and suddenly you realize, wait a second, this is wrong. I shouldn’t be here.

Um, you get extra points for getting yourself out of that situation because it’s so easy to just want to continue. For so many reasons, and I, you know, I’ve had so many near misses in my life where that was the situation where I think, you know what I, I know this isn’t quite right, but I’m just going to, you know, I’m just going to give this a shot because I don’t feel like, uh, you know, uh, our rescue, let me give you a rescue example.

So we are, um, always getting called, uh, at dusk. At dusk. Things just seem to happen. You know, I’ll get a, in the summertime, uh, the phone rings at seven o’clock at. And I know it’s dark at nine and I got to go get in a helicopter and go get somebody. And, um, I have to make these decisions together with my team and with the pilot, like, can we do this or not?

And so, the alternative, if I ca I want, I really want to use the helicopter. Cause I’m going to be done in about 90 minutes. I can get the whole thing finished. And if I don’t use the helicopter, I’m going to be up all night. Hiking in the dark, which I don’t really want to do. So, there’s this pressure to, I feel it, uh, I want to use that helicopter, but it’s going to be dark soon.

And it’s definitely riskier. So sometimes having to make those decisions, you know, you get yourself into a, we start, and then we just have to realize, you know what, I, we can’t do it. We just have to just. Take option B. I think you’ve said earlier, we’ve always got a few options. So, this case we’re going to take option B.

It’s not the desirable option. I do not want to go hiking all night in the dark here, but it’s the right choice and those decisions I think are hard to make because they have an impact on you. Like all of a sudden, instead of being able to be in bed, you know, in a couple hours, I’m going to be awake all night.

So, you think. Wow. But I find once you actually make the decision and it’s over and you move on, you always feel good about it every single time. I always think, I’m glad I walked out of that slope, or I’m sure I’m glad I bailed. You know, I, I climbing some route. I really want to do this thing and it’s just not working properly and I’m just tormented as to whether I should continue up or I should go down.

I, there’s not a single example I have of descending off of something like that where I thought to myself later that was a mistake I should have kept. That’s never happened. So I, I think those are hard decisions to make, but they, they seem like really good decisions. Uh, afterwards.

[00:45:16] Jordy Shepherd: I also find if it’s becoming a bit of a difficult decision and you’re like, well, should I do this or should I do this?

It’s often not actually that difficult. The decision, the decisions actually presented itself. The, the or the pro, the proper solution. And you are, you’re just wrestling internally with yourself on that or within your. And you can back off and say, you know what? If we’re having this much discussion or this much angst about it, then there’s probably a pretty clear path.

It’s probably not the one that we want to take, but probably the one we should take.

[00:45:46] Grant Statham: Totally agree with you and that’s funny because that’s happening in front of you and it’s hard to see it, but I think you’re absolutely right. If all of a sudden you realize it’s like I’m swimming against the current here and I cannot seem to get anywhere, you just realize, okay, I give, let’s do the easier thing.

[00:46:05] Jordy Shepherd: And how many accidents have we all heard about or all been part of where it’s like just kept pushing, kept, kept, trying, trying, you know, this way didn’t work, so I’m going to try this way just to make it work. And then lo and behold it doesn’t work. Mm-hmm. and there’s a, a bad outcome. There’s a consequence of that.

[00:46:21] Grant Statham: Mm-hmm. Yes.

[00:46:22] Chris Kaipio: So, we’re going to talk about, uh, more of the rules and tools, uh, ways. Strategies of, of managing risk. So why don’t we finish off this segment here, just by sort of defining then like what is that culture? Because both of what you’re speaking to here really does form that foundation of what risk-taking culture is for, for each of us.

You know, just to summarize, you know, that idea of. Getting to that position where, wow, this is just way harder than I, than it should be. You know, if, if you’re struggling to make those decisions and to convince everybody that you’re with, it’s just a really good idea. Well, maybe that’s, maybe that’s normal and maybe that’s starting to exceed some of our risk tolerances.

One of the things that I’ve worked, uh, with in the Snow School in are really seen as a shift to define success as. Finishing every day, uh, and being able to go home, you know, going home at the end of the day, uh, is, is how they put it in. And wheel gad actually framed it even, even in a, in probably a better way that a lot of people can really connect with, which is in the bar by six is how he actually summarized it.

And so, you know, just expanding out on that, uh, that. How would we define responsible risk-taking culture for each of us, because that’s really what’s informing our decision making. Whether to, whether to, to make that decision to pick plan B because it’s the better one. Or to just go for it and see what happens.

[00:47:56] Grant Statham: Well, I think you have to step outside of yourself in order to be able to do that and put your humility aside. You know, like so many accidents all, all trace back to. Human fallibility and our own desires and bias overcoming what we know to be true or we think is true. So, the situations we’re describing here where we really want to do something, but we actually, we kind of know that we shouldn’t do it.

Um, I was recently on a panel where we all had to discuss, um, near misses, and then they got analyzed by, the audience and the group and the, the pattern through all of these near misses, these were from veteran people who had been at it for years, but the pattern is, um, doing something that they kind of knew they shouldn’t be doing.

Something was negligent, but they did it anyway. And, and so if we know that that’s an obvious pattern that leads to accidents, how do we try and get out of that in terms of being good risk managers? And that, I think that’s really managing our human bias and managing our, umm, our own emotions and being able to somehow step out of that and do what Jordy said and recognize, you know what, this is just not the right thing to do today.

And having the humility to back it off and an adventure, you know, you guys have experienced this, you know, you, you do that. Okay? So, you do, let’s just say you have a really challenging day of managing risk and you’ve had to back off one or two spots and you know, you get in at the end of the day and everybody thanks you for a nice.

And, uh, you know, cause they’re polite. Uh, but let’s contrast that with a day when you decided to actually go for it and you didn’t back off and you skied a couple of slopes that were steep and deep and you thought to yourself, well, I shouldn’t have done that. Come on. You know, somebody wipes out on the slope and you’re just kind of holding your breath that nothing happens.

And then at the end of the day, they tell you that it was the greatest day of their life and they’re all buying you drinks. And, and it’s, um, the perception of the people you’re with. You know, it’s just not really connected to reality in terms of you managing the risk. So, you, it’s hard to step out of yourself and back off and turn around.

It’s hard to do that, but, um, that somehow, we have to find a way out of our own egos and bias and make those decisions. Thanks, grant.

[00:50:14] Jordy Shepherd: We’re going to pause here so that we can recap what we’ve covered so far. We’ll continue this conversation in the next episode. If you would like to learn more about Grant and see some of his work, please check out our show notes.

This is where we have posted links to his TED Talk, Instagram and a couple of other resources that we recommend you check out. Well, Chris, what were your takeaways from what Grant had to stay about understanding risk and adventure?

[00:50:37] Chris Kaipio: Well, Jordy Grant had a lot of amazing things to say, but I’m just going to recap three of them.

First off, when it comes to defining a risk, a risk is really just a chance. When we take risks, we have a chance of losing something. That’s how often how we frame risk. However, we also have a chance of gaining something. Second point I want to touch on. Not taking a risk comes with a risk. It is impossible to live a life without risk.

Not taking risks comes with the danger of missing out on whatever it is that you could have got if you didn’t take that risk. And the third point is that you can’t have an adventure without taking risks. Challenge, adversity and risk taking are essential components of any adventure experience. Jordy, what were your takeaway?

[00:51:32] Jordy Shepherd: Those are great points. Chris, a couple that I got out of this session with Grant is have a process that helps guide you in your risk taking. This can be a decision-making tool, a framework philosophy, or even a list. This process that we use to make decisions will increase your chances of having a positive outcome.

Another one that, uh, really struck home for me is reserve your decision until you have as much information as. Waiting until you have to make a decision can keep your options open. Sometimes you have to make a decision more quickly, but if you can, uh, you know, delay a little bit as you’re coming up to a fork in a road, then choose to do that and make decisions with the best, most recent information possible.

Something might have changed in your group dynamic, uh, how everybody’s doing. And if you commit too early to decision A, it might have some negative outcomes, whereas if you’d chosen decision B, well, maybe things will be a little bit better for you and your group safer and, and, uh, much better experience.

So, this means that if new information becomes available, you haven’t committed yourself to the course of action, that may be hard to reverse.

[00:52:47] Chris Kaipio: Excellent points, Jordy. Now I have a question for our listeners. Did you enjoy this episode? If you did, please share it with your friends so that they can enjoy it too.

This will help us to keep this show going and your friends will appreciate it as well. In our next episode, we continue the discussion with Grant and move on to exploring some of the key strategies to managing risk while leading adventure for ourselves and others. Thanks so much for listening.

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