Skydiving: Two Blocks Down, Two Miles Up

Skydiving: Two Blocks Down, Two Miles Up

Jeff Fein and Jill Ferris

Just when you thought life around here couldn’t get any more exciting, skydiving has landed in Hamilton. Earlier this year, Tony Sowers and Jack Walter, old skydiving buddies, established Blue Sky Adventures at the Hamilton Municipal Airport. Yes, we have an airport here. Yes, it has planes. And yes, you can now jump out of them.

Suddenly, thrill-seeking Colgate students can do more than go to the Jug sober.

On Sunday, we tumbled out of a plane from 10,000 feet in the air, did two somersaults, fell freely for 30 seconds and, after our parachutes opened, coasted comfortably back to Earth with a full view of Chenango Valley. Don’t tell our mothers.

The story begins with Bob Pils, Colgate’s Associate Director of Facilities and Manager of Environmental Services and Blue Sky’s unofficial publicity director. Pils is a patron of the drop zone as he works towards his skydiving certification. When he approached us about writing an article for the new business in town, we decided to give Blue Sky Adventures a try.

Our initial ride to the airport was a bit tense. We sat in silence, lost in our thoughts: What kind of lunatics jump out of an airplane…for fun? What does Hamilton look like from two miles up? Would we live to write this article?

With the effects of Hurricane Ernesto rolling into Central New York, Sowers and Walter suggested we postpone our jump for a nicer day, when we could get a better look at the world as we floated down towards it. But our trip to the airport wasn’t a total loss. Walter put us through ground school, while Sowers went up on a solo jump, allowing us to watch skydiving in person before participating. His parachute opened. He landed safely. We felt better.

Walter’s short training session laid out what we needed to know about a tandem jump, the term used for falling through clouds while attached to a professional jumper. The equipment seemed sturdy enough – two parachutes (a main chute and a backup), clips designed to hold thousands of pounds that would connect us to our partner and our parachute. The instructions were basic enough – cross your arms upon departure, kick your legs up behind you, don’t be scared of being uncomfortably close to your tandem partner. Sowers then told us he would video the whole ordeal and give us DVD’s complete with a soundtrack of our choosing to show off to friends and family. We were sold.

We came back five days later, more excited than scared, more pumped up than peeing our pants. Even signing multiple waivers stating that Blue Sky was not responsible for any horrific accidents couldn’t break our spirits. Turns out, there are more than 8 million skydives in the U.S. each year and only 20 or so deaths. “And most of those are experienced skydivers who do stupid things,” Somers said.

This time, the weather held. We slipped into svelte Technicolor jump suits with puffy pink attachments on the sleeves, which are used to hold onto other jumpers and keep formation during group jumps. With the attachment rigs on our backs, we looked like Ghostbusters.

The ascent to 10,000 feet in a plane the size of a sedan was exciting. The descent was completely exhilarating.

We fell parallel to the planet while attached to Walter for 1,000 feet or so, screaming and trying to breathe amid the whipping winds as Somers urged us to smile for the camera. As promised, there was no roller coaster-like feeling of falling since, in Somers’ words, “there’s nothing relative going by you.” Walter pulled our respective ripcords, our chutes opened majestically and, just like that, all was peaceful.

Post-parachute opening, we fell back to earth at 35 miles per hour. But that felt like Sunday stroll after the 120 mile per hour free fall. The view from above was truly beautiful – green hills and farms and the tiny clusters of buildings that make up the downtowns of Central New York. Walter pointed out a lake in Oneida 30 miles away and multiple wind farms in the distance.

We got to pull levers to maneuver our parachutes through the sky and help steer ourselves back to our takeoff spot, where we landed softy, hugged our friends and kissed the ground.

For the rest of the day, we were floating on air.

Blue Sky Adventures is a small outfit, but don’t let the size fool you. Both Somers and Walter have thousands of jumps worth of experience. Walter, a CNY native, spent more than a decade running an airport and drop zone (also called Blue Sky Adventures) in St. George, SC. He decided to come back home to be with his family and called Somers, who he knew from jumping in Verona, NY, about forging a partnership in Hamilton.

Walter owns the plane and both have essentially everything you need for tandem jumps and free fall. They are fully qualified instructors for those like Bob Pils who are looking to become licensed aerial daredevils.

Somers wife told us that she enjoys watching as skydiving becomes increasingly mainstream. “It’s more and more recognized as the years go on,” she said. “It’s no longer something that only nutcases do.”

Having done it ourselves, we would tend to agree.

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