As a student skydiver you are guided by your instructors, drop zone management and USPA's Basic Safety Requirements (BSR's) as to the maximum winds allowable for you to safely jump. However, after you graduate from student status and become a USPA "A" license holder, there is no requirement or recommendation concerning wind speeds. And after you purchase your own gear, drop zone management will no longer need to worry about the gear that you are renting from them. From that point on, the decision to jump or to stay on the ground will be a decision that you will be making for yourself.
The following article describes some of the things to consider when you find that someone has turned the big fan on "high".
Before the Jump:
You will find that the maximum winds to jump in is a very individual decision and depends on the jumper's experience, attitude, main canopy size and type, and reserve canopy type. Do not base your decision on what you see more experienced jumpers do because their situation is different, and do not allow yourself to be talked into jumping in winds that are not appropriate for your level of experience and your gear.
It does however help to watch more experienced jumpers land when you are deciding whether or not to jump yourself. Watching someone that is your weight and has similar gear will give you a good idea of what to expect on your landing, assuming the wind does not increase any further.
In addition to getting the wind speed in miles per hour from a wind meter or other source, you can go to the landing area and observe the winds for a while, noting in particular the gustiness present in that area. With experience you will be able to judge the wind that you can jump in by how the wind feels.
Sometimes a lull in the wind may fool you into thinking that the winds have subsided enough to safely jump, but you should observe the winds for at least 5 minutes before coming to that conclusion because another period of increased wind and gusts may follow a lull.
If you in fact decide to make a jump when the winds are strong, protect yourself in the event that some unexpected problem arises by wearing adequate head protection and foot protection.
After your canopy opens and you have begun to fly back to the landing area is the time when you may first begin to realize that the wind has picked up or is much stronger than you were prepared for. As soon as you realize that this has happened, get turned into the wind and check your speed across the ground. If you are backing up there is a good chance that the wind is also very high on the ground. If you have a reserve static line system (RSL) on your rig you may want to disconnect now in the event that you have to release your main canopy.
Pulling down on your front risers will increase your forward speed and may help you make it back or at least keep you from backing up as far, but using your front risers also increases your rate of descent, so you will have to use your best judgement as to whether this is really helping you or not.
If you do not think that you will make it back to the normal landing area, this is the time to make sure that wherever you do land will be a large clear area. It is especially important not to land behind anything like a tree line or a building. The stronger the winds are, the more turbulence is generated downwind of large obstacles like these. It may be necessary to turn and fly far downwind to get to a suitable area.
Approach to landing:
As you get closer to the ground there will probably be slightly less wind, but it will be more turbulent, especially if the terrain is anything but completely flat. Your canopy will be more stable if you hold partial brakes. Your arms can act like "shock absorbents" by relaxing some of the tension on the brakes when the gusts come along.
Holding some brakes will cause your canopy to fly slower and may even cause you to back up, but this may be better than risking having your canopy collapse. At this point you will be comforted by knowing that you have planned ahead well enough to have chosen to land in a large field with a lot of room behind you in which to back up.
It is usually recommended that you not front riser or turn sharply near the ground when there is turbulence present. This has been known to cause canopies to collapse.
Smaller canopies are much more sensitive to small steering changes and to gusts so concentrate on keeping the canopy directly into the wind.
You may not need to flare as much as when there is less wind but you must still flare. The main thing to avoid is flaring fully just as a gust occurs. A gust could create enough extra lift to make you go up suddenly and then let you down hard when the gust subsides. Use your judgement and your feel of the canopy to determine just how much to flare and prepare for a parachute landing fall (PLF).
The best advice that can be given here is what we have heard many times as students: Pull down on one toggle, and keep pulling it in until you have canopy in your hand, then run around to the downwind side of you canopy.
Even if you have a good landing it is still possible for your canopy to stay inflated and to pull you over and onto the ground. You can usually prevent this by quickly turning around and running downwind with the canopy while it is deflating. If you begin to fall down after landing do not reach out with your hands to break your fall because of the possibility of injuring your arms. Concentrate instead on getting your canopy deflated and do a PLF if necessary, or let the seat of your jumpsuit take the action.
If it has become extremely windy or gusty when you land and you are certain that you will not be able to land without being dragged you have one last resort, and that is to pull your cutaway handle to release your main canopy. This of course assumes that you have disconnected the reserve static line (RSL) system and that you are not jumping a single operation system (SOS) that pulls the reserve handle at the same time you cutaway.
Do not let your fear of re-connecting your canopy prevent you from releasing it if you really need to. It is not a big deal to release your canopy and it is not very hard to properly re-connect it to your rig. You or your rigger probably do it every reserve repack anyway to test the release system. Quite often a canopy that is released in this manner will land with the risers laying out across the canopy and can be easily straightened out. You may even be able to re-connect it right where you land. Just be sure to have the release system inspected by a rigger and do a good line check before packing.
If you decide to release your main canopy, the best time to do it is when you find yourself off balance and know you are going to fall down. If you do this promptly you will simply fall down and not be dragged. You may not even get very dirty! However, if you wait until you are being dragged across the ground by your canopy you may be dragged into a position where you cannot reach your cutaway handle.
Once you are being dragged, you are in very bad situation and must do whatever is necessary to get the canopy under control. At this point you will be glad to know that you planned ahead well enough to not be upwind of a paved surface or a barbed wire fence.
After everything is finally under control be sure to gather up your canopy tightly to prevent the wind from re-inflating it. Remember, the jump is not over until you are back in the packing area with your gear off.
In Your Spare Time:
Read your canopy owner's manual! It has a wealth of information in it and contains information on your canopy's flight characteristics. Some manufacturers even have advice on flying your canopy under adverse conditions.