TOOELE, Utah — Tell anyone that you’re about to go skydiving and the general reaction is somewhere along the lines of “are you crazy?” or “you must have a death wish” or “wow, an adrenaline junkie!”
Ask an experience skydiver those questions, and they’ll likely get a bit annoyed with that reductive stereotype.
“Honestly, when someone asks me if I’m an adrenaline junkie, it’s almost kind of offensive,” said Mackenzie Winkelstein, an experienced skydiver in American Fork and a member of a family full of skydivers.
Winkelstein says all of this with a hand on her pregnant belly; her other hand is in her husband’s, Aaron, whom she met through the sport.
“If you really think about it, if it weren’t for me introducing them, and skydiving, they wouldn’t be together,” Jordan Hadfield says, chuckling. “It brings people together.”
Between the three family members, there’s over a quarter-century’s worth of skydiving knowledge.
For Aaron Winkelstein, it all started with his father.
“I started largely because my dad was into it back in the day,” he said. “The sport’s changed a lot since then, but he always inspired me to get into it.”
What Aaron’s father instilled in him would eventually change the course of his life. Winkelstein went on to become a regular skydiver, or what’s known as a “fun jumper” and from there became a coach, and now he jumps with Jordan Hadfield, who runs Event Skydiving, a premier skydiving company that does professional exhibition jumping into high-profile events around the state.
Winkelstein also went on to become a master rigger of parachutes, one of only two in the entire state of Utah. To become a master rigger, one has to go through a series of courses and also have a multitude of experience in packing parachutes as well as having a lot of jumps under your belt. It’s considered to be one of the highest ranks in the skydiving world.
Mackenzie Winkelstein, who has been jumping for years now, got her start after her older brother Jordan had gone and loved it.
“I just had to go,” she said. “I thought I would pee my pants, and freak out. In the way up, I was scared. After jumping though, there was nothing like it. And now I can’t wait to go back.”
Despite the popular opinions about skydiving, it’s actually one of the safest sports you could ever take part in. First off, first-timers never go alone. You always have a professional that in all likelihood has had over a year’s worth of jumping experience. Many times, it’s much more than that. Of course, the parachute is easy to pull, a small hook that takes a firm tug and then it’s out.
If you still think skydiving is a dangerous sport, take this into account. Skydiving packs always have a reserve chute, and as an extra layer of caution, each pack is also fitted with a special trigger device that, if the jumper hasn’t pulled their chute by a certain altitude, the chute is pulled automatically.
While you’re free falling for a few moments at about 13,500 feet above the ground, there’s still a higher chance of you getting hurt on your morning commute to work tomorrow.
In fact, between Aaron, Mackenzie and Jordan, none of them have witnessed a major accident in their years of skydiving.
“This, of course, is because we take serious precautions. There’s lots of fail-safes that ensure that we don’t get hurt,” Hadfield said.
What’s more is that one’s stomach doesn’t drop when skydiving. It’s a little-known fact, one that probably deters a lot of people from even approaching the sport of skydiving. Because the plane is moving at about 100 mph, and the “general” terminal velocity of a person is around 120 mph, this transition is smooth enough to trick the body into thinking it isn’t necessarily in a free fall.
Hadfield explains it in so many words: “It’s a lot closer to flying than it is to falling, or at least it feels that way.”
But science aside, Mackenzie Winkelstein explains the true feeling of being in free fall the best.
“When you jump out of that plane, there’s no other feeling like it on Earth. It’s peaceful . quiet,” she said. “And then when you pull that chute, it’s completely silent. No wind in your ears, and you can see everything below you. It’s magical.”