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Highway To The Dangerzone

Skydiving Article Image1
Image by Lukasz Szymanski

Headin' into twilight
Spreadin' out her wings tonight
She got you jumpin' off the deck
And shovin' into overdrive...

When I was learning to wingsuit, I sang it in my helmet. Every time.

True story.


We can all agree that -- in addition to fun, of course -- skydiving is about pushing personal limits and building personal skillsets. We might also agree that skydiving is not necessarily about putting yourself directly in the path of actual mortal danger. There are inherent risks (and, if weíre being honest, we kinda love them), but we donít love the idea of spending a couple of seasons healing up from a broken pelvis. Right? Right.

There are multiple danger zones in skydiving, and itís actually something of an autobahn -- in that there are no posted speed limits to reach them. To put it another way: most of them exist as much for brand-new skydivers as well as battle-worn multiple national champions. As a skydiver, itís important to take these just as seriously, no matter how much of a n00b or dropzone hero you might be.

Danger Zone 1: Meat-Based Collisions

If youíre not flying on proper level with a group, youíre officially in Danger Zone 1. Flying on level keeps you out of the broken-bone zone if a member of the group suddenly corks or prematurely deploys. It keeps you out of pesky burbles, and it helps you keep meaningful awareness of where everybody else is flying around you. Invest in the coaching that will help you get (and stay) on level in formations of any kind.

Also important: donít just fly on level. Fly on-heading. Off-heading collisions hurt more than same-heading collisions. And never risk a 180-degree collision, even if youíre totally sure thereís nobody on your six -- itís just not worth it.

Danger Zone 2: Nylon-Based Collisions

Once youíre dangling from your fabric, you have another danger zone to contend with: potentially crowded skies. According to the USPA, the most likely moments youíll veer into oopsie territory here are:

a) right after deployment and
b) after entering the pattern.

Instead of putting yourself in a place where youíre nimbly avoiding (or tragically not-avoiding) other jumpers at close quarters, be smart about it. Break off from other jumpers with room to spare. Create horizontal and vertical distance from everybody else in the sky (including the guy whoís almost certainly lurking behind you). Finally, keep your head on a swivel -- especially during that troublesome base-to-final bit, where everybody will be trying their best to kill you.

Danger Zone 3: The Basement

The basement is the biggest, baddest danger zone there is. It is, after all, where the ground lives. The ground is a monster thatís just waiting for you to stop paying attention because it wants to eat you.

Youíre going to enter this danger zone every time -- thereís no avoiding it. When you do enter it, youíre going to want to be under a canopy youíre controlling, over a landable bit of dirt, with a plan that accommodates as few obstacles as possible. This means that you must get that first canopy out at an altitude at which a second canopy is an option. It means that you must make sure that your equipment is maintained to prevent preemie brake releases. It means that you must either avoid or manage the hell out of low turns. And it means youíre going to need to know how to land that thing in water.

The ground is waiting for you to make a mistake -- and itís hungry.

So, if you happen to be on the highway to the danger zone, try taking the next exit. Most people will indeed say hello to you, even if you never get it on the red line overload.

I promise.

About Annette O'Neil:

Annette O'Neil is a copywriter, travel journalist and commercial producer who sometimes pretends to live in Salt Lake City. When she's not messing around with her prodigious nylon collection, she's hurtling through the canyons on her Ninja, flopping around on a yoga mat or baking vegan cupcakes.

By Annette O'Neil on 2015-10-13 | Last Modified on 2017-07-19

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