Sammasseur takes a flying leap for his Las Vegas birthday celebration…
Most of us have experienced the thrill of viewing Las Vegas from the air. But how many of you have seen that memorable skyline from a free-fall at 12,000 feet? I did just that on my 54th birthday at Sin City Skydiving a few weeks ago, and it truly was the ultimate Vegas thrill.
Before you say “No way in Hell!” –believe me– that this writer was once of that attitude. Friends have teased my lack of risk-taking and for always playing it safe. But when 2017 rolled around, I decided to make this my “Year of Adventure.”
Step number one was to take my first trip to Mexico…and a solo one at that. It was quite a saga, filled with mishaps, excitement…and lots of scratches to the bucket list. So January was a terrific start.
February is my birthday month, and I always celebrate it with festivities in and around Las Vegas. This time, my New Year’s resolution required a little more oomph than the ordinary nightclub-and-hangover debauchery. Not long after returning from Cancun, the idea to sky-dive hit me while sleeping. So I woke up, ran to my computer and did some research on skydiving services around the Las Vegas valley…at 3:30 in the morning.
Narrowing it down to three finalists, I decided to go with Sin City Skydiving in Jean, Nevada. There were various reasons to select this company, including very positive reviews, a nicely-kept Facebook page, the convenient location of their office and the lowest overall price (the regular rate for a tandem jump is $249, but mine qualified for a seasonal special of $199).
The short drive (20 minutes) from Vegas to Jean is pleasant and scenic. Sin City Skydiving is very easy to find off of Interstate 15 at exit 12, near the grand old Gold Strike Casino.
As you might expect from such a risky undertaking, there are certain health requirements to meet…and LOTS of paperwork to fill out in advance. While it isn’t stated in the official literature, you should not be afraid of heights or prone to panic attacks, IMO.
All jumpers must be at least 18 years old with a photo ID, weigh 220 pounds or less and height/weight proportionate, be in good physical and mental health. You must be 100% Alcohol & Drug-Free — absolutely no alcohol or illegal drugs may be in your system when you arrive for your jump. Every jumper needs to bring a government-issued photo ID with them — NO EXCEPTIONS.
A free shuttle can be arranged to pick you up at your hotel if you wish. Jumpers must arrive at the office no less than 30 minutes prior to their jump time…this is to sign waivers, receive instruction and suit up. Jumpsuit and goggles are provided – it’s recommended that you dress for the temperature and are required to wear lace-up shoes (I wish I’d brought gloves, too). You’ll be put through a variety of physical maneuvers, shown an instructional video and given a one-on-one lecture on do’s/don’ts and an opportunity to ask questions.
From there, it’s just a short walk out to the runway and into the plane that will lift you high over the desert. The plane itself is very small, and you will be tethered to your instructor the whole way. He will be recording the entire experience via a high-def GoPro camera. You can purchase pictures and/or video to take home with you on a data DVD (I sprang for both for $99….after all, it IS a once-in-a-lifetime event…maybe).
My instructor Jake was very charismatic and made me feel at ease the entire time. A seasoned police officer, he now works full time at Sin City Skydiving, doing what he REALLY loves. His confidence and professionalism were quite reassuring…I never felt uncomfortable or in danger.
The ride to 12,000 feet was wonderfully scenic. As we climbed to the jump altitude, Jake pointed out the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Charleston, the shimmer of Lake Mead, an astonishing array of solar collectors…and of course, the beautiful Las Vegas skyline. Below us, I spotted the landing area we’d be heading for, along with Jean Airport itself, which now seemed so tiny.
Although the day was clear and sunny (February 23rd), it was surprisingly chilly…especially once the jump door was opened and I swung my legs outside. The cold air hit my face like a blast of ice (and stayed numb for several hours afterward).
Before I realized, we were already in freefall. It’s nearly impossible to explain the number of thoughts and emotions that crossed through my mind as we plunged towards the Earth. But one thing stood out: This was REALLY happening! From the whim of an idea to actuality in just a few short weeks, I was doing something I’d never have imagined trying before.
I’d kind of expected to have a shocking jolt to my body once the chute was pulled, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, I had to look up to confirm that we were now gliding. Jake gave me the straps to hold onto for awhile; then he steered us into spirals and swoops as we headed towards the landing spot.
The adrenaline rush was somewhat overwhelming….I may have shed an emotional tear or two, although the expression on my face looks more like terror in the photographs. It was actually a combination of the wind, cold and pressure…I was never once afraid.
As the ground drew closer, I spotted my friend, taking photos of us and the other tandem pair from our flight. Two crew members were near her, waiting to safely guide us into place and detach us from our chute when we arrived. The landing was amazingly smooth and peaceful…a sharp contrast to the jubilant pumping of my own heart.
The drive back to Sin City Skydiving was brief but exhilarating. My friend, who’d flown in from Pittsburgh to witness the jump and celebrate my birthday, was almost as giddy as me. Despite having little sleep in the hours leading up to that morning, I found myself unable to nap that afternoon or easily fall asleep in the evening. The imagery and adrenaline came back every time I closed my eyes…and I didn’t mind it one darn bit.
As a regular visitor, I’ve experienced many thrills, memorable moments and once-in-a-lifetime adventures during my stays. But nothing can surpass the thrill of leaping from a plane over the Mojave desert. Sin City Skydiving truly is the ultimate Las Vegas high.
Sin City Skydiving operates 365 days per year (weather permitting). Gratuities are accepted (this writer tipped 20%). Located at 23600 S. Las Vegas Blvd in Jean, Nevada. Call 702.300.8508 or toll-free 877.727.5867 for reservations or more information.
[Photos: Sammasseur, Jake at Sin City Skydiving]