Learning to fly on the Front Range | VailDaily.com

Learning to fly on the Front Range

Melanie Wong
Courtesy of Colorado SkySports

BOULDER ” It wasn’t until my legs were dangling over the edge of a tiny plane, the wind whipping around me, staring at the earth from 12,000 feet when it occurred to me that what I was about to do had consequences.

Too late.

“Ready, set, go!” said my tandem skydiving instructor, somersaulting out of the plane to send us both hurtling toward the ground.

For a moment, I was completely disoriented. I saw the ground, then the sky, then the plane. Ground, sky, plane.

The instructor tapped my shoulder, signaling that it was all right to take my hands off the harness. So I put my arms out, and I flew.

Right, so technically I was falling ” at about 120 mph, actually. That’s “slower than a lead balloon, but a good deal faster than a feather,” according to Exploratorium.com, in an article on terminal velocity.

I don’t remember seeing much of anything, but I remember hearing the incredible rush of wind and feeling the air pressing up against me, creating a sensation not unlike being billowed on a huge cloud ” but slightly noisier.

My little plunge was the result of a month and a half of planning and four failed jump attempts. Take note: If you plan to jump in the winter months, be prepared to be foiled by the weather. Front Range winds are apparently extremely fickle, and high winds are common in the winter, said Randy Fortner, owner of Colorado Sky Sports in Boulder.

When I got the idea to skydive, mountain biking season in the mountains had come to a close thanks to the first snowfall, and it was far too bare to give the skis a second glance. I needed something that would allow me to plummet down at high speeds.

Many are drawn to the sport by the speed and adrenaline associated with jumps, Fortner said, but you really can’t describe it till you’ve tried it.

“Like anything that has that kind of draw, it’s the factor of the unknown,” he said. “Nothing out there really compares to it.”

So I roped a friend into the plan, and we headed down to Boulder for the jump. We waited in an airplane hanger for an hour listening to the howling wind before the jump was canceled. The second time, we got snowed out. The third, we made it to the top of Vail Pass before the call came that the winds had picked up. The fourth time we made it as far as Georgetown.

But was it worth it? Most definitively.

My instructor jerks my chin up, reminding me to look around as we fall.

“You know what the ground looks like,” he had said earlier.

The sky is a streak around me, and I can barely concentrate enough to focus on the snowcapped mountains surrounding us. We’re only supposed to fall for about 40 seconds, I remember.

The thought crosses my mind: Can you break the sound barrier with your body? (It hasn’t been done, it turns out, but someone’s come close.)

At my instructor’s signal, I reach back and grab the parachute cord. I hear the chute open, but don’t feel it for a few seconds. Even then, the sensation is a gentle drag, not an abrupt jolt like I expected.

Then began a peaceful, lazy, floating descent to the ground. It’s a spectacular view if you jump from around Boulder. You get a perfect view of the mountains, the city looks tiny from the air, and dozens of lakes dot the landscape.

My instructor even let me steer with the parachute handles, causing us to swoop and spin as we descended.

If you’re thinking of taking the leap, it’s well worth it. Despite its extreme reputation, the sport has very few fatalities, Fortner said.

The experience is unimaginable until you’ve done it, so you might as well give it a try, he said.

Fortner got hooked after trying it on a whim ” now, more than 3,500 jumps later, the adrenaline rush comes not so much from the jump, but on getting others hooked.

“We get our excitement from the first-time jumpers,” he said. “People always remember you as the person that took them on their first jump. The energy is so contagious.”

Vail Daily Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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