Damage Control for Unwilling Christmas Ornaments
Image by Corrado Mariani
Christmas ornaments are lovely, aren’t they? Glossy, colorful baubles, swinging gaily from the bushy branches of a fragrant fir, make our little hearts sing along with the season they decorate.
They are not, however, excellent role models for air sports athletes.
If you ever end up gracing some branches with your majesty, the United States Parachute Association would first like you to take your enforced treetop time to think very carefully about how you got there. According to the SIM, “properly preparing for the canopy flight by observing the winds,” “planning an appropriate landing pattern” and “choosing the correct exit and opening points” will generally keep you out of the foliage.
In short: you messed up, kid.
...But let’s move on.
If you discover that you’re on an imminent collision course with a tree, you need to know your 8-step damage control plan. Here’s what to do.
1. Make sure you’re flying into the wind.
Do not downwind a tree landing. You may not have a sock to steer by, but – hey, lucky you! – you have at least one tree for reference. Watch the movement of its branches to determine the wind direction.
2. Fly in half-brakes.
Your aim is to slow down your canopy as much as possible for the impact. Fly your final approach in half brakes, taking care not to stall your canopy in the process.
3. Go for the middle.
Your aim is to impact at the central trunk of the tree. If you miss the middle of the tree, you run the risk of clipping the tree with a line or a cell, collapsing your canopy and dumping you on the ground in a yowling pile.
4. Keep your $#!* together.
As you do in a properly executed parachute landing fall (“PLF”), hug your body towards the midline, as though you were inside a mummy-style sleeping bag. Keep your legs springy at the knee, but hug them snugly towards the midline. Continue to fly your canopy until you contact the tree.
Just before impact, draw your forearms together so that your elbows sit at the stomach and your hands over the face. This position protects your belly, ribs and chest from being lanced by branches.
5. Keep your hands to yourself.
Resist the urge to grab limbs to stop your fall, as this will only leave vast areas of your body unprotected from veritable armies of sharp branches that are about to mobilize for the attack.
6. Assume a hard landing.
More often than not, a parachutist who lands in a tree does not stay in the tree. Usually, the jumper falls right through, snapping branches and leaving shredded bits of canopy all the way down. Keep that PLF position as best you can, in order to make the landing as soft as possible when the tree finally sees fit to deposit you at its feet.
7. Get comfortable.
Have you actually managed to stay in the tree? Oh, great. Stay there.
A great many injuries occur not during a jumper’s actual tree landing, but from the jumper’s failed attempt to detach themselves from their mangled equipment and climb down. In general, if you’re more than a meter or so over the ground and you have any hope of rescue, wait for that rescue to arrive.
If you’re phoneless, radioless, jumping-buddyless, out of public earshot and generally hooped for help, you’d better hope you have a hook knife handy.
You'll use the hook knife to -- gulp -- disentangle yourself from the spiderweb of lines you're likely encased in. This is necessary to prevent you from accidentally throttling yourself, and from sustaining a serious rope-burn injury if a branch cracks and sends those knifelike lines through your tender outer layers.
You'll probably cry a little bit with every line you cut. Ain't no shame in it.
8. Be grateful.
Even if you shred your pricey gear, rejoice if you walk away from a tree landing uninjured. Gear can be replaced -- and you lucked out, you lucky duck. See the bright side.