The after-course trap

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Pablo Edronkin

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Courses teach us some things, but the problem of them is that they cannot teach us all, neither can they give us the experience of experts. Thus, we finish all sorts of courses knowing rather little and believing that we know more. This, in the real of outdoor activities is something rather dangerous.

Several times, when they find out that I am an aviator people asked me if I can fly helicopters; when I say that I can't, they stare at me rather perplexed: "How come you say that and you cannot fly a helicopter?" is a frequent question, and then I have to explain that flying airplanes and helicopters are two very different things. People assume that a pilot certificate allows you to do far more than it really does. Of course, most people simply don't know that there are many types of ratings and certificates in the world of aviation, even educated ones: I friend of mine who had a rather high post in the military once told me that after the border patrol bought a number of helicopters, an investigation started because some politicians were surprised and suspicions of the fact that the allotted budget - several million dollars -, when compared with each unit price, made it ostensibly obvious that they could have bought more machines than the number that was really purchased, and they said that someone had stolen the rest of the money.

It wasn't, because when you buy any sort of complex machine, you have to plan for spares and training courses in advance. The first part was easily understood but the second one wasn't, because the same politicians as well as the judge and lawyers that intervened in the investigation believed and assumed that pilots needed no further training to jump into new helicopters just because they are already pilots. Of course, the doubt was sorted out, because there are specific rules, especially concerning helicopters, establishing the need for special training depending on the type and characteristics of each flying machine. Again, these individuals were misguided by an assumption: if you are a pilot, you can fly anything just like that. Reality proves otherwise and explaining that often requires a lot of time and effort.

Now, if politicians, lawyers and judges fall into that assumption trap, what happens with the rest of humanity? The same. And what happens I other cases, such as survival training courses, mountain climbing, skiing, paragliding, windsurfing and other interesting outdoor activities? Again, the same. But the problem with most of these activities is that they are not as regulated as aviation, so, if not just others but the beneficiary of one course of any sort believes that he or she knows everything just because they passed the final exams, there are higher odds for a disaster.

In the case of aviation, even if you get a license, the system or rules and regulations has been designed so that you will be kept from messing up based on such assumptions. For example, after you get your commercial pilot license you will not be simply allowed into the cockpit of a big airliner. You will first have to gain experience in smaller airplanes, and then, when you finally get there, you will not be the commander but the co-pilot for a while. The same happens with combat pilots: you will fly in formation, often with someone more experienced than you as the leader, and in the event of a fight, normally he will get into it and you will cover his tail, until you gain some experience.

But in the case of outdoor, extreme sports, things often are not so and individuals who go and learn, and finish legitimate, often very good courses on rock climbing, ice climbing, navigation, etc. feel that they are a notch above the rest. Mother nature doesn't like that and such people often pay a high price for their lack of prudence.

Simply nature; dawn in early fall, Patagonia.

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