Staying Warm and Safe on the Winter Jumps
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Staying Warm and Safe on the Winter Jumps

Staying Warm and Safe on the Winter Jumps

By Magaly Sandoval | Photos by David Gerstein

Features
Saturday, December 1, 2018

Skydiving in winter can be a beautiful experience. Flying your canopy through the crisp air over snow-covered fields is an activity you definitely should try and may find you enjoy. It can be challenging—and even potentially dangerous—but it’s a very rewarding and safe experience if you prepare for it properly.

Skydivers speaking of winter jumping often say, “You don’t really get that cold. It’s just your hands.” This may feel true, but it’s a common misunderstanding. The fact is, when you are exposed to extreme cold, your body goes into survival mode. When your temperature starts dropping, your body tries to warm your core (where all your vital organs are). This causes the blood vessels in your extremities to constrict and limit circulation, resulting in cold hands, feet, nose and ears. If you warm your core, your body can spare the heat for other body parts and you’ll be more comfortable overall.

If you’re planning on doing winter jumping, here are some tips to consider.

Warm Your Body

Warm Up with Warm-Ups

Skydiving is a sport that requires you to use your entire body. Warming up and stretching is a good idea on any day, but in the winter, it’s essential. Doing squats, jumping jacks, high-knee exercises and butt kicks will get your heart pumping.

Hot Drinks

Have a hot drink both before and after your jump. Besides, who doesn’t love hot tea or hot chocolate on a cold winter day?

Wear Proper Clothing

You’ll need to invest in proper clothing for the conditions in which you’ll be jumping. Look to other cold-weather activities for ideas. The sports of ice climbing, skiing, snowmobiling and winter sailing have similar clothing requirements to ours.

Gloves

Doug Hendrix, a Safety and Training Advisor and frequent winter jumper at Connecticut Parachutists Inc. in Ellington, said, “Having good gloves will really save you. If I forgot gloves and it was really cold, there's no way I would exit the plane.”

Good gloves are definitely something you want to invest in, and there are lots of options from which to choose. Canopy formation skydiver Chad Neidigh, who’s done dozens of winter high pulls when it’s 20 degrees Fahrenheit on the ground, recommends finding gloves that are warm, thin enough to allow sufficient finger dexterity and have enough grip to not slip on risers, handles and visors. Hendrix said, “Far too often, I see people trying to jump with spandex gloves or the opposite: big ski gloves.”

If you can’t find a pair of standard winter gloves that fit the bill completely, you can wear gloves over latex gloves (to protect from the wind), gloves over glove liners or heated gloves. Some jumpers like to use hand or feet warmers, as well. If you choose this option, be cautious: These products react to air and can cause severe burns during skydiving. If you are going to use them, open them several hours before jumping.

Layers, Layers and More Layers!

Layer up using thin, thermal layers, which retain heat. Non-winter-proof clothing is not the same and will not protect you as well! Modern synthetics typically provide better heat retention while being less bulky than natural fibers. Usually, two long-sleeve thermal shirts and two pairs of thermal pants will be good enough. Avoid bulky sweaters that may affect the position of your harness, make your gear checks confusing and get in the way of your handles. Layer up on socks and finish with wool ones.

Remember, you want to move comfortably. If you layer up to the point that you are stiff, then you’re not wearing the correct configuration of clothing. You should be able to comfortably fit into your rig and reach your handles. Hendrix said, “It's better to be possibly a little cold than not be able to move. After all, it's only 60 seconds of freefall.”

Face Protection

Full-face helmets offer the best protection for your skin; however, you need to be mindful of fogging. With gloves on, practice opening your visor. If you do not own a full-face helmet and plan on borrowing one, make sure you know how to operate the visor. If you plan on jumping with an open-face helmet, make sure to protect your ears and face from the elements. A balaclava or similar covering is imperative. After fully gearing up and while you’re still on the ground, make sure nothing inhibits your visibility or mobility. Once you’re in the air, you’ll need to be able to see your altimeter and handles and be able to check your surrounding airspace.

Neck Protection

Avoid having exposed skin during the jump. Winter neck gaiters work well.

Shoes

It may be slippery and wet on landing, so you’ll want to wear winter boots or shoes. However, just like any skydive, make sure those shoes don’t have hooks or other snag points. Avoid shoes or boots made with mesh materials.

Practice your EPs (… and Once More!)

During a winter jump, you are adding a lot of unfamiliar elements to your skydive. The landscape, temperature, clothing and landing hazards may be different than what you are used to. Practice your emergency procedures multiple times with all of your gear on before you board the plane. Do this to the point that you know you have sufficient dexterity to perform all emergency procedures flawlessly.

Environment

Winds

During the winter, drop zones often offer an enclosed space in which to pack and a heated area to hang out in before the jump. This is great for staying warm, but it might blind you to the actual conditions outside. If it’s gusty, bumpy, cloudy or the upper winds are high, it is difficult to see this from inside a building. Just as on any other skydiving day, assess your experience, decide what winds you’re comfortable jumping in and make an informed decision before you board the plane.

The Spot

Winter jumps are especially beautiful when the ground is covered in snow, but even if you are a regular at the drop zone, landmarks may not look the same. Check out what the area looks like from altitude and ask experienced jumpers about good reference points. Landing out during winter can be dangerous. Roofs of buildings can be hard to see, and landing on ice is hazardous. So before you exit, think about where the jump run will place you, what the winds are doing and what outs are available.

Depth Perception

When you land in snow, just as when you land in water or tall grass, your depth perception will be compromised. Be prepared for a PLF. Remember that the ground will also be slippery.

Currency

Many jump in the winter simply to maintain currency. However, if you’re not comfortable with the additional challenges of winter jumping or just don’t like the cold, consider traveling to a warmer location or staying fresh by going over training materials, rehearsing your emergency procedures and practicing skills in a wind tunnel. You can always get current at the beginning of the season after attending your drop zone’s Safety Day. The sky is not going anywhere!

The important thing to remember about cold-weather jumps—especially snow jumps—is to treat them as specialty jumps. If you prepare properly, winter jumps can be not only beautiful but enjoyable, too!


About the Author

Magaly Sandoval, C-46364, is a USPA Coach who also coaches canopy formation skydivers and loves teaching. Originally from Costa Rica, she’s learned to embrace the New England cold and loves snow jumps.

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