The summer season has faded away, and so have high temperatures, at least in the northern states. Fall is fading to winter, frost is appearing in the morning grass, and if you live north of the Mason-Dixon line, you have probably noticed it is getting colder in freefall. Jumpers who just started skydiving this summer will soon face Old Man Winter in a whole new way: Freefalling through sub-zero temperatures at 120 mph or more. However, winter jumping can be just as much fun as it is in the summer months; you just need to make sure you are prepared.
Wind chill and the frigid temperatures at altitude are probably the biggest concern for wintertime jumpers. Fortunately, our exposure to the chilly air is short. Still, it can be painful for your hands and fingers or any exposed skin such as that on your cheeks or neck. Neckwear and full-face helmets can help protect you.
Depending on your budget, there are plenty of options for cold-weather clothing that offer excellent protection but are still thin enough to fit under your jumpsuit. Several thin layers work better than one thick one. Layers also allow you to modify your ensemble if the weather warms up or if you start to overheat while packing.
If this is your first winter season of skydiving, ask some of the seasoned veterans around the drop zone what works best for them. You will probably get as many different answers as the number of people you ask, but at least you will have a variety of options to explore. Ski shops and other outdoor clothing outlets will have a range of cold-weather clothing solutions that work well for skydiving.
While it may seem like a simple matter of throwing on as much warm apparel as possible, there is more to it than you might think. If you are not familiar with full-face helmets, they can restrict vision and hearing more than an open-face model. It is also easy to fog up the face shield in the airplane, which then ices over in a cold freefall. If you do switch to a full-face helmet for the winter, be sure you can easily open the face shield in freefall should it become necessary.
The gloves you choose to keep your fingers warm will also need to allow you to operate your equipment. Reduced tactile sensation can complicate the use of handles and other gear such as the face shield on your helmet. Your outerwear needs to provide unrestricted access to all your equipment handles both in freefall and under canopy. It doesn’t do you much good to be toasty warm during a malfunction if your bulky jacket covers your cutaway handle. Before you make a jump with the new duds, a quick trip in the training harness while fully geared up is a good idea.
In addition to the extra clothing, you’ll also need to think about the landing area. Frozen ground is not forgiving of hard landings, and the slipperiness of snow, frost and ice make standing up difficult.
Winter jumping can be fun and exhilarating, but it takes a little preparation. Find some adventurous jumping buddies, bundle up and explore the scenery that Old Man Winter has made unfamiliar.
Ron Bell | D-26863
USPA Director of Safety and Training