Managing Risk in Adventure with Grant Statham
What are some of the key strategies to managing risk while we are leading adventure and delivering it to ourselves? Grant Statham is back to continue this discussion with Jordy and Chris. Grant taps into his experience as a well respected thought leader on mountain risk and understanding. Grant is an ACMG / IFMGA mountain Guide, Parks Canada Visitor Safety Specialist, avalanche forecaster and a risk consultant.
List of options: A good decision is one where we pick the best option. Identifying all of the options beforehand, is a crucial step to making good decisions.
Understanding intuition: If you get a feeling that you should increase the risk, you need to be able to justify your decision to do so, with hard facts.
Avoiding overconfidence: Beware the expert opinion; often wrong, but rarely in doubt. We often think that we know more than we do, but we rarely want to admit this.
We can reduce our risk with knowledge: The more information we have, the easier it is to pick the best option.
Build yourself a buffer: Building in a bigger margin of error can protect us from mistakes, or simply misjudging a situation.
Slow down: Slowing down gives us more time to process the information coming at us.
Guest Links & Resources
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
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[00:00:00] Grant Statham: I, I’m always amazed at what actually doesn’t happen to people. I mean, how many times you look at somebody doing something and you think, oh, look at that, that’s crazy. Or, oh boy, I wouldn’t climb up that slope today. And you know, nine times outta 10, nothing happens. A, that always strikes me like people get away with more than they probably should.
Um, and also that that’s non-event feedback. So, people are overconfident. They just. You got away with it doesn’t mean it was a good decision.
[00:00:30] Chris Kaipio: Welcome to Delivering Adventure. This is the podcast that explores what it really takes to share it venture 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.
[00:00:49] Jordy Shepherd: And I’m Jordy Shepard, 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. Welcome back to Our Exploration of Risk and Adventure with Grant Statham. In our last episode, grant helped us to better understand risk and its core elements. In this episode, we are going to take this conversation further by exploring some of the strategies that we can use when we are leading adventures.
If you miss the last episode, Grant Statham is an ACMG / IFMGA Mountain Guide Grant currently works for Parks Canada as a visitor safety special. Where he is involved in mountain rescue and avalanche forecasting. Grant also works as a risk consultant and speaker.
[00:01:50] Chris Kaipio: We have a lot to talk about in this episode, so we are going to get straight to it.
Like all of our episodes, we will be doing a recap of the key takeaways at the end so you can sit back and relax. Okay. Let’s bring Grant back into the DA studio.
[00:02:07] Jordy Shepherd: We’re welcoming back, Grant Statham here, uh, back to the Delivering Adventure Studio and Grant, we’ll start with, uh, just, uh, there was, there was one event, uh, that was a big catalyst for a lot of us in the, uh, rescue world, in the, the risk management world in Canada.
And that was the Knot Creek accident. Uh, an avalanche accident February 1st, 2003. Glacier National Park, the Glacier National Park in Canada at Rogers Pass in British Columbia. And, uh, we’ve got, uh, yourself, uh, Grant myself here and, uh, in the studio along with Chris, our co-host. And you and I both are very connected to that incident, kind of in, in slightly different ways.
So, I’ll just paint a picture of what happened there. Uh, there was a, a large group. Uh, ski touring in Connaught Creek behind the, what used to be where the hotel was at Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park and, uh, large Avalanche. Uh, they were all involved in a large avalanche. Uh, it was a group of 17, 14 students.
Uh, grade 10. School students from a private school in Calgary and three adult chaperone teachers that were involved. And I came in as the rescue branch director there working for Parks Canada. And, and then grant you, uh, you came in, uh, subsequent to that as a risk specialist for Parks Canada. So maybe we’ll just, uh, yeah, we’ll just talk about, yeah.
How. How did you come to the decision to work for Parks Canada there and, uh, and also how is, how is all of that shaped you in, in how you personally, professionally manage risk and, and understand risk?
[00:04:03] Grant Statham: Well, that was a turning point for, uh, well, for so many people. Um, tragically for many and like professionally, for me it was a huge turning.
Um, like I always wanted to work for Parks Canada ever since I was like, uh, you know, 17 years old. I, I used to see the, the rescue people in their orange jackets skiing around and think, that is cool. I gotta do that. But, um, just wasn’t in the cards for me. Uh, so I pursued this guiding career and, um, you know, it took it a fair ways.
I feel like I did what I wanted to do with it, actually. And, um, then, you know, 2003 that avalanche happened that you spoke about Jordy and that was just a taste. And, you know, it happened also, I should say, uh, 10 days after another catastrophe had just happened and killed seven adult ski tours nearby. And so, you know, uh, working in the industry at that time, uh, we were reeling a little bit, you know, especially after I heard that seven, 10 grade 10 kids had been killed in an avalanche in Rogers Pass.
I just, it’s like, cool. I, I don’t even know what this means. I just know it means a lot and it’s going to be big and everything’s gonna change, but I have no idea what that. And I just continued about my guiding business, to be honest with you. I didn’t pay much attention to policy or government or anything like that at the time.
Uh, then actually that summer, so that would be summer of 2003, um, I had a five-year-old, um, and I was, you know, earning money for the family. I was the worker in the house and I, um, Burnt my hand badly, uh, in a sort of a white gas accident, uh, right at the start of the summer. And I ended up having to sort of give up all my summer guiding work and, uh, therefore income.
And, uh, I, you know, now I can tell you that that’s vulnerability. Uh, I’ve realized, wow, I’m in a really vulnerable position here. I, I have no backup. I’m, I gotta provide income for my family. And now I’ve just with a simple accident with a stove and I can’t work all. So, boy, I gotta think about doing something else.
And right. Then coincidentally, I received a, an opportunity to apply for a job with Parks Canada. They were looking to hire somebody to implement recommendations coming from a review. So, you know, that’s what governments do after a big catastrophe. They have a review and they bring in experts to look at the situation and make recommendations about how it could be.
and that had been done and Parks Canada had a report with 36 recommendations in it, and I was hired to implement those recommendations. So that’s kind of how I got started. That was a big shift. Uh, it definitely was not how I ever expected to be working for Parks Canada as a policy guy. Um, I, I kind of, I thought to myself, well, this is an opportunity to get in the door, to be honest with you.
I’m going to take it. I’m going to try and get this job, even though it’s not quite what I want it to do, but let’s see where it goes. And it turned out to be probably the best career move of my life, that’s for sure. And when I started, um, you know, was really intimidating, uh, you know, working into a government office, working in the bureaucracy with a background like mine, I was as green as it.
Could be. And someone handed me a box of business cards on my first day. Here you go, you’re, they’re getting me set up with my desk. They’re signing me up a human resource and they, they handed me a box of business cards that someone had made and I looked at it and it, my title was Avalanche Risk Specialist.
And uh, uh, that’s quite serendipitous really when I think about it now. Cause I remember looking at it and thinking, risk avalanche, risk specialist. I wonder what that means. I better figure out what that means because that’s apparently on my business. And I’m not kidding. That’s actually kind of how I started, was, uh, looking up risk.
Like I better figure out what it means. And, and I started to learn, uh, about risk. And I’m working on risk management programs at this time. And the more I learned about risk and they formally learned about risk and reading, uh, papers and reading research and reading books, um, talking to experts, I realized that everything I had been doing for the past 15 to 20 years fit perfectly into risk management frameworks.
And yet I had never been taught any of that stuff. And we were not teaching that in guides training. We weren’t teaching that in avalanche forecasting. Why aren’t we doing this? Because this is the structure and, and I, I found, I was actually, it was so exciting to be honest with you because I found a way to explain, um, the decision making behind all these different scenarios I’d encountered in my life.
And uh, so that’s really how my journey down the risk Rabbit Hole started. And, um, I have found since that time, Many, many, many people have gone down the same rabbit hole because when you’ve spent a lot of time, uh, managing risk and taking risk, and suddenly you find a framework that explains it, it is, uh, kind of addictive to be honest with you.
It’s exciting to be able to explain things that seemed almost impossible to explain without that.
[00:08:46] Jordy Shepherd: And so how did this, uh, develop your own, your own, uh, approach to managing and, and understanding risk?
[00:08:54] Grant Statham: Um, well, like I said, it, it didn’t necessarily change how I actually act. My actions didn’t change. Much.
Cause like I say, I, I think, uh, we, we, I say I, but we as a, as a, as a group of professionals had been doing it really well. Like we were managing exposure, we were estimating probabilities, we were doing all that. We just never spoke of it that way. Uh, but now I had a language to explain it and I could explain it to people outside of my small mountain world because now I was talking to parents, uh, of, of.
Of school, school kids in Calgary who don’t know much about, you know, mountains like we do. I would be speaking to, um, politicians. I was speaking to engineers and other professionals. I was encountering, um, you know, uh, academics and, and now I had a language to explain what we did in the mountains and it was unbelievably powerful.
Um, one of the things that we did is we developed something called the Avalanche Terrain Exposure. Which is, um, it’s well established now, but it’s a, it’s a system that ranks different kinds of mountain trips according to their exposure to avalanche terrain. So basically, from class zero means there’s no exposure to avalanche terrain, and class four is extreme terrain.
That’s the big stuff and everything in between. But that, that was something that we’d been doing for years as a, let’s just say as a heliski guide, for example, I’ve been working on run lists and every day with my team, we’ve been making things green, yellow, and red, and we’d been assessing the terrain and so I was able to take that, frame it up in a risk framework because that’s essentially, that’s exposure, that’s the management of exposure and it fits into the risk F.
And, uh, now we have this system that’s called the Terrain Exposure Scale, and it’s used internationally, but again, it fits cleanly inside a risk framework. Well, that’s one example, um, of how, you know, the concept of risk has informed the design of risk management systems.
[00:10:52] Jordy Shepherd: And then for yourself, you’re going out to, to do a, a personal day, uh, a guiding day or a, a response as a, as a rescue professional.
Uh, interweave that a bit for us into how, how that, how those frameworks, uh, are actually applied by you on the ground when you’re, when you got your boots
[00:11:15] Grant Statham: on. Well, probably the biggest one was, um, it was through that process when I really became aware of, uh, the importance of managing someone else’s risk to.
And you know, prior to that I would hear conversations, uh, amongst myself and my friends and other guides where we’d say things like, oh, well you can’t do that when you’re guiding, but you can do that on your day off. That’s a commonly said thing, but what that actually means is when you’re managing someone else’s risk, their tolerance is lower.
So, you got to bring it down a little bit while you’re working. But on your day off, you’re managing your own risk so you can lift. Um, I became, uh, I spent a lot of time studying risk and kids and the legal implications of risk in kids because that was part of the work, um, to do with what we called custodial groups.
That was a new term at the time, but minors in the back country and through that study, I, I realized, Wow. Okay. It’s, uh, it’s different when you’re guiding kids. I mean, they even call children the vulnerable sector. If you go to the RCMP, you want to be a coach of a soccer team, you got to go to the RCMP in Canada here, and they’ll do a, uh, check with the vulnerable sector to make sure you can work with children.
Um, so I guess practically speaking, day to day, uh, I really learned to adjust my risk. For different people. And even though I maybe was doing that before, I, I think I became very aware of it through that process and knowing how important it is to understand someone else’s risk tolerance and manage for them, not necessarily for me.
[00:12:43] Jordy Shepherd: And so, what’s going through your head when you’re, let’s say your out ice climbing and you’re. You’re not there yet. You’re not at the ice climb yet, but you are, you’re planning it. You and a partner, we’ll assume you’re not soloing here, uh, are, are heading out. Good assumption. That’s probably a good assumption.
Uh, which, which does happen to you, like that’s a different approach to risk as well, but, so you’re, you and a partner, a different podcast, you and your partner are planning on going out to do ice climax, uh, kind of what, what’s your process there that, that. Go through in terms of, of risk and understanding risk and, and, uh, you know, everything from say, let’s say checking conditions to, uh, equipment, to emergency preparedness, um, to discussions that you have
[00:13:31] Grant Statham: Uh, well, the first thing would be the partner and who it is. Uh, you know, who am I going with? Uh, so let’s just say I’m going with a friend of equal skill and experience with me. I want to know that. And I don’t like, uh, I don’t really like going, climbing with people who, um, who I don’t like climbing with.
I guess to just be blunt, I like climbing with people that I get along with. We have fun. And there’s nothing worse than being out with somebody who has a different risk tolerance than you. I mean, we’ve all probably been there. Everybody in the world has been in some scenario where their partner friend is just doing something that’s just, they don’t like it.
And um, boy, I hate that in the mountains. So, I don’t like being with people who are going to do that. So, the partner is very important. Um, then the actual climb, of course, it’s, I guess if we’re planning it, then I feel it’s something that’s within my ability. So now it’s about the conditions and, um, so if it’s an ice climb, I want to know, first of all, like there really is a four-step process to managing risk, and the first step is identify.
Um, identification of the risk. So, I’m going to be looking at that climb closely to see what the different hazards are. Has it got a big avalanche slope above it? Is it face south? And is it going to be a warm day so the ice is going to melt? You know what, what’s, I want to understand all the things that could go wrong and then I’m going to make a decision on the day.
Is this the right day for it or not? And, um, I think this is where a lot of people make a mistake is on that part, especially people who come to visit. I have the luxury of living here. So, if it’s not the right day, I’ll just go do something else. Come back on the right day. And I think that’s really important concept for people, especially when we get someone who’s traveled a long way, they planned this trip, they’re super invested in it, and it’s not the right day to climb that route.
Um, sometimes it’s hard for people to change their mind, but, um, I make sure I’ve got the right day. And I, I will say that I don’t mess around with like tormenting myself about the danger either. You know, if I’m going to climb a in in avalanche terrain and the avalanche danger is, uh, considerable, which is level three out of five.
I mean, that’s just oftentimes too much for me, depending on where it is. I generally don’t like to really expose myself to avalanche danger unless the conditions are pretty good. Um, so I’ll just do something else. Um, so I do an assessment of the hazard, um, take a try and under. Now remember, hazard doesn’t include me.
So, I’m sitting in my living room and I’m looking at the conditions and trying to decide how much I’m willing to expose myself. So, when the danger is lower like it is right now outside, uh, then I’m more willing. Okay, now’s a good time. Let’s, let’s expose ourselves. So, let’s talk about how we’re going to do this route.
Uh, let’s talk about the approach. Uh, let’s just go through the whole thing and I’ll just go through it with my partner. Make sure we’re on the same page. Um, I do like to identify the crux or crucial decision points ahead of time. Um, because if you know the decision points ahead of time, you can prepare for them while you’re actually moving through the terrain.
So, on the approach I’m looking at different stuff, kind of getting ready because I know I got to make a choice pretty soon. And again, I like to wait till the last minute, but I’m getting ready to make that decision. Um, so that’s really how I approach it. Uh, always ready to turn around and change. And then with regards to being prepped with, uh, you know, rescue gear and emergency equipment, again, that goes to vulnerability again.
It depends where we’re going. And sometimes I take, sometimes I don’t take a shovel most of the time I do. Um, but these are conversations you got to have with your partner ahead of time. Um, I always have some kind of emergency communication device. I always have a first aid kit and I always have some extra warm clothing.
I have a knife in my pocket every time I climb anything. Um, always like, because there’s lots of ropes that get tight, so you want to be able to cut. So, there’s a few basic things like. So that’s kind of my planning process ahead of time. It doesn’t necessarily follow a formula, but, um, you know, it, it involves a lot of research ahead of time and understanding the terrain and making sure I communicate well with my partner and that we’ve got all the right equipment.
[00:17:27] Jordy Shepherd: And then it sounds like you, you set yourself up and you partner up with the ability to change the plan. If at some point, you know, whether it’s in the, in the pre-planning phase, talking about the route, you decide, okay, we’re going to go do something else, or you are on the approach. And you decide, okay, nope, this is not working because we’re waiting through way deep snow that we didn’t expect.
Or the, the winds a loft are really, really, really cooking and we didn’t expect to see that. Or there’s an inversion, um, that it, you know, and which is really hard sometimes to tell, right? That, that things have changed when we’re talking big elevation differences.
[00:18:04] Grant Statham: Another, uh, like I think you can always get out.
That’s the thing that sometimes is missed by public perception. What are you doing out there today? The, uh, you know, it’s crazy. It’s raining. You shouldn’t be out there. Well, the truth is, is you can go out any day you want. You just have to manage your exposure. And, and, and so even if conditions are terrible, um, that doesn’t mean you can’t go to the ski hill and ski on groove runs or, you know, you can always do something.
It may not, you know, be pleasant or comfortable. But in terms of risk, because, uh, we’re in charge of our exposure, um, we can always get out. And I sometimes think that that. That is an important concept. You know, public perception, you know, if there’s a, if there’s, um, if there’s an avalanche and it’s, uh, in the news, uh, you know, people are often very critical.
What are you doing out there today? And um, but the thing is, is you can get out there every day. What we do is manage exposure. So, you just have to be able to turn it up and turn it down, um, to be able to manage the risk properly.
[00:19:04] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, and one way I find I deal with that professionally and personally is I have lists.
And that’s a, a really nice thing to go to when your kind of like uncertain about. What you, you know what, well, what do we want to do instead of that route or instead of that trip? Um, either with clients or without clients. Uh, just, just personally. And so, if you have lists and guidebooks are lists to.
Then you can go look at that. Right? And it really, you often surprise yourself. You think, okay, well I know every, every route in that guidebook, but when you actually pull the guidebook out, you’re like, wow, I, I hadn’t thought of that. That actually would be a, a good option right now. And so, I, I keep lists on my phone where, on a given day, whether I’m guiding or doing personal stuff, I can choose something that’s appropriate in terms of exposure and the level of difficulty and, and the conditions that we have.
But you don’t have to rack your brain. Um, because we all know our brains are very powerful and we don’t use them anywhere near to their capacity. So therefore, I use the crutch of lists.
[00:20:13] Grant Statham: Yeah, that goes back to, um, you mentioned options earlier, so you, you know, always having a few different options. And what you’re describing there reminds me again back to our development of that avalanche terrain exposure scale.
That’s what that did for a lot of people is it basically made a list and it, and it categorized them. So, if maybe you wanted to ski something that was a complex piece of terrain, but today’s not the day, much like you just described, you can pull out the list and go, oh, I need to go to some class one terrain today.
What are my options. So, I think that’s a really important point you bring up is options and actually having available lists. Cuz, they don’t funny, they don’t readily come to mind when you need ’em, if you don’t have ’em written down somewhere. No.
[00:20:51] Jordy Shepherd: And then airing on this, airing on the side of, of caution too is usually a good idea where it’s like, if there’s something on your list, it’s like, well, you’ll maybe.
That’s, that’s okay. To me, that’s not, that’s not good enough. It has to be with, with some pretty clear certainty in terms of say, avalanche danger or the condition of the ice or, or, uh, you know, crevasses being covered or Serac, fall hazard or rock, fall hazard, all that kind of stuff. It’s, it has to be like, okay, I’m, I’m, you know, sort of thinking that’s probably okay and maybe I’ll go have a.
To see, but if I want to have better clarity on it, I’m probably going to choose the options that have a higher level of successful outcome.
[00:21:35] Grant Statham: You know, when I look at that kind of stuff, I, you know, cause so many decisions that we make, especially when we’re in the middle of an adventure, they’re, they’re in, they’re um, they’re subjective, they’re intuitive.
And, um, you know, you hear people say all the time, oh, I got this feeling. They make decisions based on feelings and, um, I believe in that I do it myself, but I do have a little bit of a principle around that is that, um, decisions that I make that are based on feelings, are decisions to retreat or to reduce my risk.
So that’s happened to me. I bet it’s happened to you guys. All of us professionals have so many stories where we had some weird feeling. We just had a feeling something wasn’t right. Couldn’t really put your finger on it. You just, that’s a good time to, to reduce your risk and get out.
[00:22:18] Jordy Shepherd: But you’re not using that to move forward and carry on.
[00:22:22] Grant Statham: Exactly.
With the trip. Yeah. Yes. I don’t say ever. I don’t say, oh, I’ve got a feel-good feeling. I’m going to really, um, you know, Jack, my risk here, that one needs evidence. So, this is my two ways I can reduce my risk based on feelings and feel good about that, but I will not, um, take more risk unless I have real evidence to support that.
So that’s sort of factual stuff, and I can. When I’m, when I’m out with people examining people, I ask them specifically, why are you doing that? And I really want to hear clear answers. I really, I mean, if you can’t gimme a clear answer why you’re going to take a risk and explain it really well, you’re out
[00:23:01] Chris Kaipio: That, that intuition piece, it is interesting how our brains are always working and collecting information. How many times have you had it? You can’t remember somebody’s name and you’re like, oh God, I can’t believe I can’t remember that person’s name. And hours later, you’re doing something completely different and boom, there it comes to you because your brain has been working on solving that problem the whole time.
And I think that that’s often what happens when we’re out in these situations. We might be focused on doing our activity, but our brain is. Collecting that information around us the whole time. And it might not be obvious to us why we’re making that decision to not do something or get that, like, as you said, that feeling of, well, I don’t know, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.
Maybe this should be the last run of the day. You know, and, and your, your brain is actually picked up on the point that your, your performance is starting to drop because you’re starting to get tired. Um, but I think if you don’t have that experience and that awareness, that can often be missed. Grant in your profession, uh, throughout your career, what are some other common, uh, mistakes that people can make when it comes to managing risk, when they’re out there doing these adventures?
[00:24:18] Grant Statham: Here’s one, here’s a common mistake people make, and I, you know, Jordy will know this one, being a search and rescue guy also, people split up, it seems like, I don’t know how many people I’ve rescued where there was a, there was a party of two or three, and then they split. Then that’s, you know, one thing’s led to another.
Next thing, you know, they’re getting rescued and they tell this story about how they, they split up seems to be a really common thing. And, um, from a risk point of view, just think about what that does. It increases your vulnerability. Suddenly you’re with, uh, you know, you’re with a group of people, so you kind of got some group support.
Now you’re suddenly, you’re alone while you’re vulnerability changes. So, I, I think that’s a common mistake. When things are going sideways, don’t split up. You know or have some pretty good rationale.
[00:25:00] Jordy Shepherd: and if you are splitting up, have communications. So, splitting up without communications. Really, now you go from known, you’re all together and you’re all, you know.
Having a bad time, or you’re all, you’re all okay, or you know, whatever, whatever’s going on. Now you split up and now nobody knows what the other person is doing and somebody gets out to a trailhead, but the people that are still in the back country don’t know that somebody got out to the trailhead. And sometimes you do have to do that, but if you can have communications, well, then you actually can all stay together and hopefully just call out and let someone in the outside world.
What your issue is and then get some advice and some other perspective on it. Mm-hmm, um, that you may not have. But if you don’t have communications, really be careful about splitting up like that. Cause now as soon as you are, one minute down the trail, away from your, your friends. But if you trip and fall and hit your head, they don’t, you know, and, and human nature is just to go to that worse and worse.
Like, well, maybe, maybe a bear gotha, maybe, uh, you know, they haven’t been back in hours, you know, I’m getting colder. What’s, it’s just a, it’s just a really, really difficult thing. But if you had even, you know, maybe the range and FRS radios, just the, the basic. Radios, you could at least say, yeah, I’m, uh, you know, I’m, I’m okay still.
And, uh, you know, I, I’ve talked to somebody else on the trail or, you know, that sort of thing. Mm-hmm.
[00:26:25] Chris Kaipio: Communications is a huge piece in there. That’s key. I’m going to add, add kind of one thing to this. From my experience, I’ve had it a number of times where people have disappeared on me for different reasons.
Sometimes they wanted to disappear and get your attention, and, um, other times they. Forgot what you said, or maybe didn’t pay attention. Um, but in all cases, I, I find it’s really helpful if you are splitting up to make sure everybody knows what the plan is. So where are we going to meet next? If this doesn’t work or something happens, where is that relocation, um, position going to be?
Like, where are we, where are we going to meet? What happens if this doesn’t work out this way? So, if we go down this run, we don’t meet here, where is the next place that you’re going to meet? Or if you’re going to split up on this trail, where is that spot? And thinking ahead in those terms as opposed to sometimes I think a mistake that people can make is just thinking that it’s, of course, it’s going to, it’s going to work out.
Like why wouldn’t it?
[00:27:26] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah. We just did, uh, evac in the, uh, in the back country, um, with, with my SAR team. And so, as we flew outta the back country with, uh, an injured subject, The other person was already hiking out their partner and down to the trailhead. So, we actually stopped, landed the helicopter, got out and put a note on the, the windscreen of, uh, on the windshield of that partner’s car because nobody’s in cell range in the back country.
So that they would know that, okay, we have this person has actually been flown up by helicopter and we’re going to meet. And of course, it was Tim Horton’s. Uh, you will meet them at Tim Horton’s.
[00:28:08] Grant Statham: Um, common Canadian meetup.
[00:28:10] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah, exactly. For our international clients. international visitors. Um, yeah, that’s, that’s commonly where things happen and, uh, and so, but at least everybody knew, right?
Because then we’re picturing, we, we fly out with this person. The other person’s already hiking out, doesn’t know that their partner’s flown out. They get to the trailhead and then they’re waiting for them maybe to come down, or they don’t know if they should go out into cell range or not. And yeah, and so I was picturing if we don’t do this, we’re going to be back there that night.
Looking for the partner, who doesn’t know what to do, and maybe something happened to them.
[00:28:47] Chris Kaipio: When, when people go missing, it’s very difficult to be able to anticipate what is actually going through their mind and what their situation is like, and that, and that goes both ways, for sure. Grant, do you have any other examples of, of common mistakes that people.
[00:29:05] Grant Statham: Um, yeah. Um, well, I think overconfidence is a really big one. You know, people, people often overestimate how much they think they know about the situation, when in a lot of times we don’t actually know very much, you know? Um, I, I always like the quote about expert opinion. Um, often wrong, but rarely in doubt.
And, um, I think it’s true for a lot of people, it’s, um, we think we know more than we do, and sometimes we need to just recognize the uncertainty in what we’re actually doing. That we actually don’t know that much. We’re doing the best we can. There’s no, I mean, so much of what we do is a process of eliminating uncertainty.
Like I can reduce my risk with knowledge, but there’s just some kind of knowledge that we can’t know. And um, so I think our job is to do the best we can. Gather as much knowledge as we can, but at the same time, we have to really recognize when we don’t know things. And um, I’m always amazed at what actually doesn’t happen to people.
I mean, how many times you look at somebody doing something and you think, oh, look at that, that’s crazy. Or, oh boy, I wouldn’t climb up that slope today. And you know, nine times outta 10, nothing. And, and so that a, that always strikes me like people get away with more than they probably should. Um, and also that that’s non-event feedback.
So, people are overconfident. They just because it, you got away with it doesn’t mean it was a good decision at all, you know? So, I, I think overconfidence is, uh, a big one that people make. And so having some humility and, uh, recognition of how much you don’t know is a really important part of managing risk in an uncertain.
[00:30:44] Chris Kaipio: I think it’s really important for all of us to remember that a good outcome and a good decision are not always the same thing.
[00:30:51] Grant Statham: Completely. I mean, I work with a guy, uh, Steve, who, who is just, um, really big on process and, um, decision quality is sort of the area of interest that he taught speaks about quite a bit, and really.
His, his emphasis is to focus less on outcome and more on the process. The decision. So, you, you might have an accident, you know, that happens to us. We talked about that on the last episode. You know, we, we go out and do things and there’s always risks. So, we can’t necessarily eliminate the risk. Um, but we can do our best to have a solid process for making decisions.
And even if we have a bad outcome, we can take some comfort in knowing that we did everything we could to follow a solid, um, methodological, methodological process to actually get there. And so, decision. Process is important.
[00:31:43] Chris Kaipio: What kind of mistakes do you think people tend to make around managing groups?
[00:31:48] Grant Statham: Well, probably first is the, the idea of we’re going to take people out and increase their risk. Um, just that concept. I mean, we, we do that. Um, but as a concept, I think it’s important to understand, I mean, we’ve talked about this already, what those people want and. You know, just, just because you think it’s great to go to some, you don’t necessarily have to go to these kinds of places with people to give them a fantastic day.
A lot of times, uh, as an adventure leader, you can go somewhere that you might have been over and over. Uh, you might know it really well. Uh, it might be maybe a little mellow. Your people are going to love it. You might find it a little bit. Maybe, but they might love it. And so, I think it’s important right up front in terms of exposure to make sure that you’re pretty clear on what’s going to make your clients really pleased for that day, what your group’s going to like.
Um, because it doesn’t mean you necessarily have to jack the risk just to give somebody a great day. Sometimes that’s part of a consequence of it. But I think that’s an important part.
[00:32:47] Jordy Shepherd: Yeah. When I’m guiding, I want to actually have low stress guiding. I don’t want to; I don’t want to be amped up and worried the entire day.
That’s just not a good place to operate. So, yeah, being a little bit more on the, the boring side for, for you as a guide is not a bad place to be. And you know, the people that you’re with are often having an exceptional time.
[00:33:09] Grant Statham: I’ve always found there’s, um, there’s two when I’m guiding, I, I look at it as trying to understand how to do things in two different ways.
First of all, there’s, uh, you need to get good at going back to the same place over and over and over again. And that has its benefits. You might find it boring, but boy you get like Mount Athabasca for example. I haven’t been there for a long time, but I used to climb it a lot and that meant I knew every corner, every CVAs, everything.
It was great. And boy, you learn a lot about terrain and managing people when you go to the same place over and over because you learn the patterns of that mountain. You see uh, the different slopes that face in different directions under all the different conditions. And that’s an essential skill in being an outdoor guide.
Uh, but I would contrast that with another essential skill, which is being able to go somewhere brand new for the first time, um, and, and, and be able to make assessments and to be able to, uh, take the terrain for the first time and essentially onsite things. It’s a totally different skill set. But they both play off each other in terms of how you guide groups.
And I think a really well-rounded outdoor leader is going to be good at both of those. And, um, over time the experience you get from doing both those things, you know, getting micro on the, on the trip so you know everything about it. And then being macro and understanding how to actually handle terrain that you’ve never been in before.
You blend those two things together, you’re really going to make yourself well rounded and experienced if you sort of pursue it, looking at it in two different.
[00:34:36] Chris Kaipio: So, in your TED talk, which I recommend, uh, everybody watch your TED talk on, on managing risk and understanding it, one of the terms that you examine is the margin of error.
And can you explain to our listeners what that is and why that is so important to be able to, to understand that and to implement that
[00:35:00] Grant Statham: Well, um, uh, there’s always a, a failure point in a risk decision, you know, where, where, uh, where loss can happen. So, there’s the, i I would just call it the line when you’ve crossed the line and then you have an accident, or maybe you lost a whole bunch of money, or maybe you lost your relationship.
Something happened where you crossed the line. Um, so a, a margin is, um, your distance from that line and. Uh, we, we want to keep some distance from that line. I, I don’t think our objective is to be right up against the edge of the risk line where we’re right on the edge now we want to keep some distance from that.
Um, but knowing where that line is and how much distance we need is the challenge. Um, to give you an example of when it’s less of a challenge, I’ll use engineering risk as an example. Um, let’s talk about a carab. I think probably a lot of people watching the show know about carabiners. They all come with a breaking strength.
They’ve been tested. So, the way that works is their, um, materials testing, uh, determines where the carabiner will fail, and then they might add a zero to that and design it to that. So, they’ll add a, you know, 10 times margin of. If you’re following me here, but in order to be able to do that, and engineering does that all the time, they’ll figure out where something fails, then they’ll add a couple zeros to the math to give it a big margin so they’re not even close to the breaking point.
But in order to do that, um, you need to know where the breaking point is. And in a lot of the risks that we deal with in the outdoors, we don’t actually know where it is. Um, we only know it when we’ve crossed it. I think of it as an invisible. So therefore, um, I think just having that concept of margin is important.
And um, you know, how I really came to really understand margin was when I crossed it once, uh, kept snow casting and almost got my son caught in a large avalanche. He was fine, he wasn’t involved. But, um, you know, I had a client that broke their leg and I had somebody I had to search for, and in the end, other than the broken leg, we all got away from it.
Okay. But. You know, I got too close. I knew it. Again, it’s back to the human thing. I knew I sh sh probably shouldn’t be in here, but I figured I could manage the situation. I took my group too close to the edge, and we had an accident. And, um, you know, my reflection on that was deep because my son was nearby.
He was 11 at the time. Uh, so I had a lot of reflection about that, and I just realized I, I can’t get that close. I gotta find a way to recognize when I’m too close to the edge and then back it off and keep that important margin there. I think it’s a real fundamental risk management concept.
[00:37:41] Jordy Shepherd: Uh, just to jump back, um, part, partly to do with that grant, but to jump back to the whole, uh, group management idea.
What do you feel are the differences between having one person involved in a, an incident and more than one person in terms of, of group management and exposure, and then the bad thing happens. Let’s call it an avalanche, let’s call it a rock fall event, whatever, and you, you have more than one person. Is it like a, is it a, is it an exponential change for how much worse it is?
Is it, uh, yeah. What, what are the complexities that you feel that are added onto by having more than one person?
[00:38:19] Grant Statham: Well, it’s definitely more complex. It probably is exponential. Just like people who have kids, they, I only ever had one kid and everybody told me when you had two. It’s like, uh, having way more so.
It’s probably the same with groups in an accident, I suspect. Um, you know, if you have one person who’s had a wreck, it’s, you know, it’s somewhat manageable, but when you’ve got two people and they’re spread out, uh, you know, it’s way more complicated. Certainly, when we’re responding to a rescue, it’s more complicated.
There’s a party over here and another one over here. Well, now we have two rescues. Instead of one. Um, so, you know, I, I think that when people are considering their risk with respect to groups, people always want to know, um, let’s use the example of walking along a trail underneath a large avalanche path.
Should we space out? Should we go one at a time or should we all race across it as one group? And so that’s a classic exposure question. It’s sort of almost a textbook avalanche risk exposure question. How do you do it? I don’t have an answer because every situations different. But the things to consider there are that if you, if you, if you go one at a time, then of course you’ve reduced your risk by, uh, exposure in space because there’s only one person at a time in the slope.
But you’ve just increased it in time. Cuz now it’s going to take. An hour to get across this thing where you can maybe walk across it in 15 minutes grouped up. So, I think those are the things people have to ask themselves. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to go one at a time. Always. Sometimes it makes sense to just group up and get through the situation and you’re fast and it’s over, and, um, avoiding having multiple people caught in anything.
I mean, we want to avoid anything, but certainly, um, if you do get multiple people caught and stuff, That’s a bigger deal. So, let’s just say you’re skiing through starting zones. You know, I, it’s often pretty easy to just go one at a time through a short little spot if you need to.
[00:40:07] Jordy Shepherd: Well, and, and so it’s this addition factor, right?
So, you have more than one person involved. That’s obviously not a good thing. There’s the complications around all that communications and, and, uh, being maybe spread out and, and, uh, and just having more to deal with. But there’s also a deletion, a subtraction factor there where you have taken one of your able-bodied people by having two people involved instead of one in an incident.
You now, you now have one last person to help respond to the. On site too. And that’s a, that’s a huge factor. Having less people responding to more people that are having the issue. Um, it’s a really, really big change. It’s probably even, possibly more than exponential, the difference.
[00:40:53] Chris Kaipio: So, everything we talked about today really sort of demonstrates how hard it can be to make the right risk calculations because there’s a lot of information that we might not know.
It’s hard for us to calculate the likelihood of things happening. Um, our own judgment can be clouded. Um, I was tasked with trying to. Come up with a training program to reduce injuries with, you know, ski and snowboard instructors, as I mentioned in the last, um, episode. And I ended up designing seven videos, uh, to.
Act as a training guide for the instructors and, and it, and it basically got down to seven hours with a video because it is so complicated. There are so many little things, intricacies, biases, that we can, uh, suffer from. You know, things that we can use and that is just one activity, uh, skiing and snowboarding.
But what I did find is that it does come back to one simple thing that we can do that can make a really big difference. And this comes out of what you were just saying with the margin of error, and that is asking ourselves. Do you need to do this? So, whatever it is you think you want to do, ask yourself, do you need to do it?
And, and if the answer is, well, actually I don’t really need to do it, then you just don’t do it. But if you determine that you do need to do it, then ask yourself, okay, well what can I do to give myself the best chance of success? What can I do to give myself that biggest margin of error possible? Because if something goes wrong, I’m going to be the one to hold myself the most accountable.
So, if I get injured and I’m sitting on the couch, I’m going to be replaying that just like the situation that you were shared earlier, um, with the snow cat, where, you know, you’re, you’re thinking, wow, I shouldn’t have done that. Or if I did it, I should have done it. This way and you have that regret. And so, I think if we can each go, if we can all go into situations like that by thinking, okay, listen, if this goes sideways, at least I did this and this and this and this and this.
And I did everything I could in my power to give myself the best chance of success. And that could be going slower, it could be taking more time to prepare, or it could be making sure you’re more focused, you know, all of those sorts of things.
[00:43:18] Grant Statham: So that would be, that would be being less focused on the outcome and more focused on the process of getting.
[00:43:26] Chris Kaipio: Yeah, it, it exactly, you know, I, I, um, ended up going out with, uh, a kids group, so their teens around 14. It was a high end, uh, ski group, and they went, the goal for the morning was to ski a very narrow shoot, uh, which is beyond my risk, uh, tolerance, quite frankly. So, I’ve never done it. Um, uh, it doesn’t matter the run, I just described it as, as very difficult, like triple black terrain.
Uh, but I watched the process that the instructor used to, to prep the group, and he’d be, he’d actually been working with the group for the entire season. It was March. Uh, and even that day, he was exposing the kids to similar situation where he could, to prepare the kids, uh, for that moment. And even right up until the moment, uh, where he decided to, to send the kids down, he was making that evaluation of, okay, what am I looking for here while I’m looking for these kids to be able to go down this straight, uh, shoot.
Any hesitation, they can’t even want to, to, to check their speed because there is no escape route. They have to straight line, you know, through this section to make it out to the bottom. And he, he wasn’t committed to that decision right up until the moment that he sent, uh, that each, each kid through. And they all made it, uh, with flying, uh, colors actually, because he’d built up such a, such a big margin of error.
But I think a lot of people, like you said, uh, Grant pushed themselves right up to that.
[00:45:04] Grant Statham: Well, that’s a, as you described that, that sounds to me like an example of really good decision making and like a process to get there. Recognizing that, uh, by, by, by keeping our minds open and being ready to change our minds, but still stepping forward and continuing towards our objective, it puts more pressure on ourselves because, you know, now that person could find themselves right at the top of that shoot.
I mean, they’re there and they may change their, which is, that’s a hard place to change your mind. So, I think the right way to approach it is exactly as you’ve described it there, being flexible, being open, uh, preparing people, um, you know, continuing to move forward, but always, uh, with the mind that there could be a plan B or there could be an out.
But to do that, you just have to recognize that, uh, as you bring yourself closer and closer to your object. Those bias and human factors are going to really start pushing on you because there’s just more and more pressure for you to deliver. Cause if you get to the top of the chute and you have to tell those people, well sorry, we’ve been working up for it all day, but we’re not doing it now.
Totally reasonable to be able to do that but recognize that’s a harder decision to make than if you make that an hour and a half earlier.
[00:46:15] Jordy Shepherd: Uh, yeah. I’ll just add one piece. Uh, there’s a, a fellow on, he’s got a, we’ll get the link on YouTube here. His name’s Gordon. And he, he’s got a short video on risk, and it’s about high, high risk, low frequency events and, you know, so things that don’t happen very often, but when they do, they’re kind of like a, a big, a big deal and, and quite risky and not a lot of known information.
And one thing, uh, is definitely worth a listen. We’ll put a link in the show. There to it. Uh, and he’s quite funny too, which is great. And he has this, this piece about, uh, whether you’re making a decision in a, in a risk situation, whether you have discretionary time or you don’t have discretionary time.
And so sometimes we have to make quick split section decisions in, in the emergency world or when things are going poorly. But if you have some time in an emergency kind of situation or in, in your decision making at. Then take the time. And that’s what I find a lot of people don’t do enough of is when things are starting to ramp up and they’re feeling the pressure and you know, the group is like, oh, what are we going to do?
Where are we going to go? And you’re, you’re feeling pressured like that actually go the opposite direction and take a little bit of time and, and that will, you know, we’re talking about process and planning it, it sort of, Levels of playing field there and, and takes that, that time pressure out. Of course, you don’t want to be doing that when you’re right under the rack and it’s starting to crack and you’re like, well, maybe it’s time to move quickly at that point.
But if you have discretionary time, use it to your advantage in your decision making and, and in your understanding of risk and your approach to risk.
[00:47:59] Chris Kaipio: Well, to, to, to follow up. Jordy, you know, I was training a group of supervisors and managers in the snow school last week on how to work with their staff teaching risk management and, and a little bit of decision making.
And I put a, a picture of a, of a tree run. So, it’s a tree run. It’s, it’s difficult terrain. For most people. And I, and I said, well, what kinds of things here would make you more vulnerable? Increase your vulnerability and make it more difficult for you to be able to plot your next term? Like, what, what is going to influence you when you’re thinking, wow, where should I go next?
And you know, people are saying, well, you know your ability, which is true. And you know, the, the type of snow, the visibility, you know, whether you were fatigued. And I said, well, how about the. The faster you go down this run that I’m showing you right here, the harder it’s going to be for you to decide whether you should or shouldn’t go.
Here or there. And if we can just slow things down often, it just gives us a, a chance to process those human factors that you just touched on, grant and buys us time to find that best option. Cuz that’s really what decision-making is, isn’t it? It’s, it’s deciding on. Option C is the best option here. But if you haven’t seen option C, because you can only see A and B cuz you don’t have any time to, to look for option C, then you’ve really limited yourself.
[00:49:33] Grant Statham: I, I really like this topic. It’s interesting we’re finishing on this one because I have a note here says, slow down and I’ve thought that’s the one thing I want to talk about. And then j brought it up again and here we are. Uh, but I, you know, I, I totally believe what you guys are saying. You know, I think in the last episode I talked a little bit about decision making in terms of how the human mind works with, I call it system one and system two.
So, we have emotional subjective decisions. Um, that’s how we make a lot, most of the decisions in our lives are made that way, especially in adventure when we’re on the move and they work most of the time, um, you know, we’re just making rapid decisions based on judgment and inputs that are coming at as quickly.
Uh, but there’s always, um, we can be biased and we can be wrong, and there’s often errors in that kind of decision making and that’s where system two has to overcome that, and that’s more logical. Um, you know, it might be math for some or it might just be a really logical set of steps. And that requires time.
And so, to your point here, I think if we find ourselves in situations where we’re feeling a little overwhelmed or we know there’s a big decision to make, that’s where you say, okay, this is not a decision to make quickly on a motion. This is time where I need to sit here and think about this for a minute.
And I have, um, Two examples of that. I, one time was skiing, a helicopter skiing landed on top of a big run. I’d been looking at this thing for ages and I was ready to ski it, and we planned it, everything was right. We got out on top of it, and I just still thought, you know what? I just, I need some time. So, I parked the group and I went and sat by myself for about five, five minutes.
And, um, took out my little yellow book and I just wrote down all the pros and cons of what I was doing, which I already had thought them through. But just by simply writing them in my book for only, for my eyes only allowed me to process it with some time and go, okay, I’m doing the right thing. And I went back and we skied it.
And um, another time I was coming down, uh, at the basket in a white out and I had to turn a corner and there’s a big crevasse on this corner and I have to catch the ramp properly. Visibility was terrible. So, I parked my group. I ran the rope out about 30 or 40 meters and sat by myself, and I just sat there and we ended up sitting there for, you know, I got ’em all dressed up.
I sat there for probably 30 minutes looking for visibility, waiting for the time, just thinking about it on my own. And so those are both examples of when I, I really attempted to let my, uh, rational mind take over and slow down and do calculated thinking because, um, the emotional fast thinking wasn’t going to be the right way to do it at that.
[00:51:58] Chris Kaipio: Yeah. That’s awesome. Well, we’re going to leave you leave it off here. Grant, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been excellent.
[00:52:05] Grant Statham: Thanks guys. Yeah, I really enjoyed it as well. Great conversations. Yeah.
[00:52:09] Jordy Shepherd: It’s, uh, fun to geek out on risk with a, a group of risk geeks.
[00:52:15] Chris Kaipio: Well, we’re going to let Grant go here.
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, Jordy, what were your takeaways from what Grant had to say about how to manage risk while leading a.
[00:52:39] Jordy Shepherd: Well, Chris, this has been a super interesting set of discussions with Grant here. Uh, tons of good information, things that I wish I had when I was first starting out in the adventure industry. One of my top takeaways was have a list of options. A good decision is one where we pick the best option.
Identifying all of the options beforehand so that you hopefully have options is a crucial step toward making good. Consider making lists, so it is easy to see what your options are. The other one, uh, that really stands out for me is understanding intuition and how it plays out in our understanding and managing of risk.
Generally, think of using intuition to try to reduce your risk and exposure, so not to increase it, but to decrease risk and exposure. If you think that you want to increase the risk in order to achieve a particular objective, you need to really be able to justify your decision to do so. And as Grant said, do so with hard facts.
This avoids hopefully, uh, what we know is human error. And thirdly, avoiding overconfidence. Really beware the expert opinion, which is often wrong, but rarely a doubt. I’m guilty of that myself. We often think that we know more than we do, but we rarely want to admit.
[00:54:02] Chris Kaipio: Those are all excellent points. Jordy, especially the one about overconfidence.
I’m going to share three more that were key takeaways for me. First off, we can reduce our risk with knowledge. The more information we have, the easier it is to pick the best option. The challenge is, is that sometimes information can come at us very fast, and so the second takeaway for me is to slow.
Slowing down gives us more time to process the information coming at us so that we can identify the best option. When things come at us too quickly, we can miss important details. We can also default to familiar patterns. Instead of being open to trying new things or doing things a different way. Taking time and creating space can help us to be thorough and objective with our decision.
The third point was to build ourselves a bigger buffer or a margin of error. Building a bigger buffer helps to protect us in case of a mistake, A miscalculation or a surprise. Examples of building a bigger buffer include spending more time preparing, taking a more cautious route or a line, giving ourself more time to complete objectives, taking extra gear, or spending more time developing.
On this last note, skill development helps us to become more efficient. Skill development also is an essential risk management strategy. The better we are at anything, the less prone we’ll be to making mistakes and the more agile we’ll be at handling difficult situations. The, the purpose of this podcast is to bring in experts like Grant Stadium so that our listeners can develop their adventure.
Now let’s turn this over to you, the listener. Ask yourself, what were your takeaways? How do you manage risk when you were delivering adventure? If you have anything to add to this conversation, we would love to hear it. You can find all of our contact information in our show notes. And before we go, Jordy and I need your help.
If you like this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show and please recommend it to your social network. Growing a podcast audience from scratch is no easy task. And while we are watching our listener numbers grow steadily, we need to reach even more people so that we can keep bringing you great content.
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