Take in a bird’s eye view of Utah while dangling under a chute

By Jared Blackley

Don’t tell Patrick Wiggins that skydiving is a young person’s game. He’s been jumping from airplanes and helicopters since 1965. He remembers the exact date of his first jump with marked enthusiasm. “May 29th” he says, raising a hand to the air. “A day that will go down in infamy.”

Always looking up: Patrick Wiggins—Tooele-based astronomer, NASA ambassador and skydiving buff—about to jump

Wiggins, whose contributions as a citizen scientist include discovering three supernovae, says a lot has changed since he took his first jump. He was only 16 at the time. Almost all facilities require a person to be at least 18 to skydive today. His first jump was done from a small single-engine plane using a static line, in which a cord is temporarily attached to the aircraft that deploys the parachute once the jumper has fallen a safe distance from the plane. Today, 99.9% of the commercially operated skydive centers require that a person’s first jump be done in tandem, attached by a harness to an experienced skydiver.

These changes, as well as numerous technological advances in equipment, have helped to reduce the risks of the sport. Statistics from the U.S. Parachuting Association show that while the number of estimated jumps has increased every decade since the 1960s, the number of fatalities has decreased. The year 2018 was the safest year on record, with only 13 fatalities recorded for an estimated 3.3 million jumps—one death for every 253,669 jumps.

Skydiving’s popularity has brought an increase in accessibility. Utah alone has five commercial facilities scattered throughout the state, from Moab to Ogden, Hurricane to Tooele and even in Nephi. All of these “drop zones,” however, are closed until spring. But if you’re itching to go right now, Skydive Mesquite, in Nevada, is open year-round.

Making your first jump is pretty simple. You just need to be in relatively good shape, be willing to part with a couple hundred bucks and have the courage to jump. You’ll have to sign your name on a waiver, watch a short video on the proper methods of exiting an aircraft while attached to a skilled skydiver and, within an hour of arriving at the drop zone, you’ll be boarding an airplane.

The sensation of free fall is more akin to floating than falling. Because you’re typically jumping from an airplane already moving faster than terminal velocity, there is little to no “gut rush.” Most people don’t experience the vertigo common to cliff or a high dive jumping. For the skilled skydiver, who can glide freely from here to there, performing acrobatic maneuvers and diving to pick up speed, the sensation can be like flying. It is easy to see why so many people consider the sport to be addictive.

Catch me if you can above Moab

Wiggins has racked up more than 1,100 jumps in his five-plus decades of skydiving, which is an average of about two per month, but he says a lot of people who get into the sport these days reach 1,000 jumps within two or three years of getting certified.

Certification costs anywhere from $2,500 to $4,000, depending on which facility you choose. And a complete rig costs between $8,000 to $15,000.

“It seems expensive,” says Wiggins, “But the gear will last a long time. I used the same rig for 27 years before I decided it was time to buy a new one. And the gear is pretty nice these days. A lot of the ‘chutes allow a landing as soft as jumping off this chair. You can literally land on one foot.”

Other parachutes are so small they allow an experienced skydiver to come screeching across the sky at high speeds before slowing down just prior to landing. It is becoming increasingly common to see experienced skydivers go into a big turn at approximately 300 feet above the ground, bringing the jumper and the parachute horizontal, before quickly swooping back towards the ground and skimming across the grass or some water at an incredible rate of speed.

“I don’t do anything fancy like that,” he adds. “I’m old school. But it’s easy to imagine that in 20 or 30 years, these tricks they’re doing today will seem old school. One of these days, someone is going to figure out how to make a wingsuit that is safe and reliable enough land on the ground without a parachute. I can only imagine where this sport will be three decades from now.”


Skydiving locations

Skydive Utah
4647 N. Airport Road, Erda
435-833-9999
SkydiveUtah.com

Skydive Ogden
3463 Airport Road, Ogden
801-627-5867
SkydiveOgden.com

Skydive the Wasatch
2001 N. Airport Road, Nephi
385-321-0284
SkydiveTheWasatch.com

Skydive Moab
114 W. Aviation Way, N. Highway 191, Moab
435- 259-5867
SkydiveMoab.com

Skydive Zion
1 Airport Road,
Hurricane
435-635-3742
SkydiveZion.com

iFly Utah
(Indoor Skydiving—kid-friendly)
2261 Kiesel Ave., Ogden
801-528-5348
iFlyUtah.com

Open Year-round:
Skydive Mesquite
1200 Kitty Hawk Drive, No. 105,
Mesquite, Nev.
877-246-5867
SkydiveMesquite.com