Expert complacency

Don’t take your strengths for granted

David Gregory is an experienced outdoor edcuation and ski intructor, based in Australia. On a recent trip to Canada however, he  faced a new challenge on Whistler Mountain and realised he had become complacent, and this was undermining his skills as a teacher.

Start of the season

Snow skiing is something I’ve done since I was 5 years old and an industry I’ve worked in for around 7 years. In terms of outdoor skills, I can safely say, snow skiing is my strongest. However, it’s not until your skills are actually put to the test, that you realise just how important it is to continually up-skill, even in areas that you might be considered to be an expert.

Getting back on skis for the first time in a year is always an interesting experience. I love the sound of the boot clicking into the binding, fixing my helmet and lowering my goggles ready to jump on the lift. However, despite having skied many double black diamond runs over the years, I’m not going to head for the highest peak and fang it down the most hectic run as fast as I can, launching off everything I can find. That would be idiotic. Instead, I like to find a nice green or blue trail to run up and down to warm up and get a feel for everything again. I’ll probably spend an entire day doing this.

When I’ve had a chance to get my balance back and regain the feel for my skis, I’m ready to start rebuilding my deteriorated skill set that time has eroded. With any outdoor skill, you’ll reach a point where you’re highly competent and things will come back to you quickly. However, without practice, similar to physical fitness, all these hard skills, deteriorate over time. For an instructor, this deterioration is not good and can come from both lack of practice, or only operating well within your comfort zone and at a much lower level of intensity.

To be a good instructor or teacher you have to keep learning about something you’re already good at, otherwise you dull your senses to the wider challenges and risks of the activity that you’re leading. You never know when you’ll need to quickly switch up from being a teacher to a rapid situational risk assessor and responder.

Poor decision

I thought I knew all this, but during a recent overseas trip, I realised I had become subect to the over-confidence of expertise and had become a danger to myslef – and perhaps to others.

I was on Whistler Mountain in British Columbia and I made a casual decision about taking a “short cut”.  I wanted to get to the furthest section of the mountain and I could see the lift to where I wanted to reach. I’d been skiing along the top of a ridge line, on a bluehome trail.

However, I saw what appeared to be a nice descent into the next valley and onto the lift. It was soft and powdery to begin with, but suddenly, on my right appeared a cliff and in front of me was a massively steep chute littered with rocks. I suddently realised I was neither in control, nor on my home mountain (Thredbo), which I knew like the back of my hand. I had in fact taken a poor, uniformed decision and was just about to face the consequences.

Instinct

Instinct took over. As I stared down the incredibly steep descent, I was able to dig in and attack the chute, switching back and forth one sharp turn after another to control my descent and avoid the jagged rocks protruding from the snow. With a few crunching sounds from under my skis, I cleared the worst of it and glided out the bottom into a wide open section of deep soft snow. Glancing back up, I could now see the insanity of the ‘short cut’ in all its glory . . . .

Timely reminder

While this wasn’t an ideal situation in which to find myself, it was a timely reminder against complacency and of the need to keep learning: good teachers are also good learners, even in areas in which they have real expertise. If we don’t practise and test our hard skills outside of work, the chances are, your comfortable daily operations will become increasingly exposed to potential complacency. In short, you won’t be the teacher you should be.

Continuing Professional Development

It is easy to become “expertly complacent”, but in truth, we all need access to good CPD, and my escapade had brought this home to me. To help resolve my over confidence and need to rebuild my alpine skill set, it was time for me to go back to ski school and take some lessons again . . .

 

David Gregory

David is an experienced outdoor education teacher from Australia who’s worked on various domestic and international programs for over 16 years. David has planned and led outdoor education programs for students from primary age, through senior school. David’s a keen snow skier and outside of the outdoors he enjoys museums and art galleries, his favourite being the V&A in London.

For more about his work, click the picture or see http://www.davidgregory.com.au/

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