It’s a split second when you see the ground nearly two miles below, take a deep breath and “Ready, Set, JUMP!” The thrill of skydiving is a combination of nervous anticipation and excitement. Taking a leap of faith (literally) with a stranger strapped to your back and nothing but open sky above and below.
This summer, I took the plunge (out of a tiny plane) and crossed one of those bizarre items off my bucket list, right here in Fargo, ND. And I’m not the only one dreaming of putting my life in someone’s hands, or should I say parachute? A 2014 poll by Statista ranks “bungee jumping or sky diving while on vacation” one of the top ten most popular bucket list activities for United States travelers. So, while planning your visit to the Fargo-Moorhead area this summer, be sure to add this to your Must Do list.
Putting It Into Words
As a thrill seeker myself, it wasn’t a surprise that I was ready to get the show on the road as soon as my harness was tightened. I arrived at the West Fargo Airport with my husband, who also did a tandem jump, and met a few members of the Club and other first-time jumpers in the hangar. Our first order of business was signing waivers and watching a short instructional video. April Knutson was celebrating her 26th birthday that day by experiencing her first tandem dive. Circling the television, we watched the video footage of her free fall and landing. “Amazing! One more time!” were her first words once back on the ground. Having someone go first and survive gave me a feeling that I was in good hands.
Think your fear of falling to your death will stop you from skydiving? According to the US Parachute Association, “In 2013, there were 3.2 million jumps out of airplanes in the United States, and only 24 people were killed in the process. That’s a death likelihood of about 8 in a million jumps, which is one of the lowest death rates in the sport’s history.” Odds are higher to be in a plane crash. You’re safer jumping out than actually staying in the plane!
Outside the hangar, Greg Arens, one of the experienced divers and instructors, then gave us a tutorial of getting out of the Cessna 182 and how to land with ease. After getting our harnesses on properly, it was a matter of moments until the plane circled back to pick us up. Squeezing four of us plus the pilot inside was the easy part; moving around to get securely attached at the four connection points, two at the hips and two on the shoulders, was trickier. If you have an issue with personal space, just FYI, it’s a “love thy neighbor (or stranger)”, sort of thing. And for good reason: your safety! Once at 10,000 feet, the door of the plane swung open and the excitement was real! That’s 1,000 stories off the ground or 10 of the Empire State Buildings stacked on top of each other! Although it was a balmy 78° on the ground, it was much cooler up that high. The wind made it hard to hear, but our instructions were easy to remember: lean my head back against Greg, arch my back and tumble into the open sky.
The 120 mph free fall was definitely my favorite part! It happened so quickly, only about 30 seconds, but I did my best to look around and take in the scenery of Fargo and West Fargo from a very different angle. After the scary-looking yet inevitable cheek jiggle (see embarrassing photo), we slowed down, from Superman pose to something similar to sitting. This was what I was most apprehensive about: the jolt of the parachute, but it wasn’t too noticeable at all. From here, I had a chance to control our direction a bit. Even with the cloud cover, I could see the flat patches of farmland for miles and the buildings in town appeared like tiny pieces of Monopoly. The Red River Valley Fair and the North Dakota Horse Park were just below us. Yanking down on one side of the chute spun us into a spiral, which was just as fun as one of those fair rides!
As we floated our way back down toward the airport, it was as smooth a landing as lifting my feet and sitting gently on the ground. None of the sliding across the lawn, grass stains, that I’d imagined.
I did it! With braids all a mess, I threw my arms in the air and let the adrenaline rush take over. Presented with a certificate, I was welcomed into the club! A tight-knit crew of friends with a common interest of throwing themselves out of planes. This may have been my first, but it certainly won’t be my last time skydiving in Fargo!
Watch the full video of my jump and interview here.
About Skydive Fargo!
The not-for-profit club has been in operation since the inception of Valley Skydivers in 1967. Skydive Fargo, Inc. is the ONLY drop zone in the state of North Dakota and serves licensed jumpers as well as first-time tandem jumps, demonstration jumps and additional training for skydiving license. Each instructor volunteers their time to the club, getting free jump time as compensation. Growing the SFI Club is their main objective to build awareness of the sport and advance the opportunities in our area. In addition, they’re in need of more licensed pilots to fly the jumpers, especially during busy seasons.
Most first timers opt to tandem skydive, where you’re attached to an experienced instructor who does all the navigating. Skydive Fargo also offers USPA approved First Jump Courses. Six hours of training, after which you jump solo and your parachute deploys automatically after jumping at only 3,500 feet. In addition, AFF (Accelerated Freefall) training is accessible to those more advanced, free falling from 12,000 feet.
FAQs About Skydiving in Fargo
Think you might want to go skydiving? Skydivers must be over 18 years of age, under 235 lbs. and in good general health. There are no set hours of operation at Skydive Fargo as many of the club members are volunteers. It is best to make reservations by visiting www.skydivefargo.com Depending on weather conditions, jumps can be delayed or postponed. Feeling spontaneous? Walk ins are welcomed but understand those with reservations will jump first and weather can affect the schedule. Be prepared to spend some time with the crew. Luckily, they’re pretty cool! Saturdays are the busiest, so plan accordingly.
A typical jumping season is May through October although experienced skydivers have been known to take the plunge in the winter months. As you’re falling, it’s usually 20° colder than ground temperature. Hans Nielsen, the SFI Club Treasurer says optimal conditions would be 70° and limited to no clouds.
Weekend and Normal Weekday Rate $235
Weekday Discounted Rate (Before 5pm) $200
Additional Jumps within the season $185
Annual Club Fee $50, $25 each year following
See website for video and photo pricing.