Choosing a skydive center in Chicago
The USPA (United States Parachute Association) has over 220 affiliated skydiving schools in the United States, and 6 of those are in the Chicago area. These affiliated skydiving centers are called "Group Member" dropzones, and have pledged to follow USPA Basic Safety Requirements (BSRs), follow applicable FAA regulations, provide training by USPA-rated instructors, and use USPA required equipment. Some skydiving centers in the U.S. operate outside of USPA group membership, and therefore do not pledge to the above conditions.
Typical methods of instruction for learning to skydive:
- Tandem Freefall: Most people jumping for the first time choose this method. In this method, the student is paired with an instructor, and are attached to the same parachute. The student and instructor freefall together for 30-50 seconds, and descend together under a single parachute with dual controls. The tandem method requires the least training, with only a short class (usually 15-30 minutes), and some personal instruction from the instructor during gear up.
- Solo Freefall: Sometimes called AFF, AFP, or STP, this method involves a long training period (usually 6-8 hours) covering all aspects of the skydive. The student will be fitted with their own parachute, and will exit the aircraft as a team with one or two other instructors (hanging on to the student for the freefall portion of the jump), freefall for 30-50 seconds, and pilot the parachute to the landing area by themselves, sometimes with radio assistance from an instructor on the ground.
- Static line / IAD: Ground instruction for this method is similar to that of Solo Freefall, consuming nearly the same amount of time (6-8 hours). The student will jump from the aircraft by themselves, but the parachute opening will be automatic or initiated by an instructor supervising in the plane, with little to no freefall time. The student pilots the parachute to the landing area by themselves, sometimes with radio assistance from an instructor on the ground.
If you are considering skydiving, it is best to deal directly with the skydiving center. Before you purchase or give a deposit for a skydive, know the physical address for the skydiving center. There are many websites that claim to be a skydiving center, when in reality, they are bogus, virtual only sites or referral services that upcharge drastically, with no physical location near you. Ask about the refund policy. Ask about the final cost (the "out-the-door" price). Ask about the types of training offered, staff qualifications, and type of equipment used. Ask if there are age / weight / fitness limitations. Ask if they are a USPA Group Member. Reputable skydiving centers will provide you with all of this information without hesitation.
Most skydiving centers prefer that guests make a reservation by phone or through their website. Prepayment or deposits are customary. Skydive Windy City Chicago charges a $50 deposit per jumper, which is then applied to your jump when you arrive. Because skydiving is dependent on wind and cloud / weather conditions, call ahead to make sure conditions are right for jumping, especially if you have a long trip to your chosen skydiving center. While skydiving centers have no information on weather that is not publicly available, they deal with weather on a daily basis and should give you their honest opinion (which may be "We're not sure"). Skydive Windy City also posts weather information on their facebook page if it looks questionable for that day. Check it out at http://facebook.com/skydivewindycitychicago
Many skydiving centers can capture the intense and dramatic moments of a skydive on video and/or pictures. With the recent development of very small video/picture recording devices, it may be difficult to compare "apples to apples" when looking at skydiving centers' video options. You should ask a prospective skydiving center what method(s) they offer if you wish to document your skydive with video and/or pictures, and when you get the video and/or pictures (i.e. can you take them home with you or do they need to be mailed or emailed). For safety reasons, Chicago skydiving centers will not allow you to carry a camera on the plane, in freefall, or under parachute, but most will allow you to use your own camera freely on the ground (if staying within safe areas). Generally there are two options available for video / photo documentation of your skydive:
- Outside Videography: With Outside Videography, the student will have a personal videographer. The videographer will generally be with the student from gear-up, boarding, climb to altitude, aircraft exit, freefall, and parachute opening, and then again at the students landing. All video footage is usually professionally edited and compiled on DVD or USB drive. Photos are provided on CD or USB drive. The videographer's primary job is to capture your experience.
- Handcam Videography and Pictures: With the newer, ultra small recording devices (such as GoPro), your tandem instructor can wear a camera on his/her hand to record the jump. This method has gained in popularity for a number of reasons, including the ability for more than one jumper to go at a time for small dropzones, and the amazing parachute flight footage you can't get with outside videography. The video may be provided edited or unedited to the student after the jump. Skydive Windy City Chicago offers fantastic HandCam videography packages with video and pictures, fully edited and provided on a USB drive before you leave the dropzone.
Video and/or Pictures are strongly recommended by most skydiving centers. Due to the intense nature of the experience, most people cannot recall most of the skydive. The video and/or pictures options help you to "fill in the blanks." Whether or not you choose to document your experience with Video and/or Pictures, you are sure to have a great time if you follow the advice in this article when choosing your skydiving center. Now lets go jump!