As the BASE season is about to begin here are some reminders that should help you get to the end of the season unhurt…
BASE Advice from Brento Locals
As locals at Monte Brento we get to meet hundreds of BASE jumpers and observe thousands of jumps each year. In this article you will find some advice and recommendations which might help you to avoid difficult and dangerous situations based on those observations. To put it in a different way: we get to learn from lots of other people’s mistakes as well as our own.
We are sure many of you already know these factors but a reminder every now and then doesn’t hurt. There is a bias towards slider-up jumping here but many aspects also apply to people scared of sliders too.
Regular skydive practice is where we build the foundation of skills and knowledge necessary to become competent BASE jumpers. Don’t be a BASE snob and sell your skydive rig. After the winter lay off get current from the plane, practice stability and canopy drills. During advanced jumps you will find yourself in situations which will require immediate corrective action to survive. The piloting aspects of jumping should be second nature.
‘New’ is the most dangerous word in the English language and best confronted with the extra altitude and airspace of a skydive. Training is not cheating. Try out that new one piece, practice your flares, deployment drills, that new corkscrew technique, etc.
Sky gods are not immortal, achievements in one discipline and even ‘instructor’ status do not make you a professional in another. Wingsuit and monotrack piloting in particular demand dedicated preparation. Leave all your doubts at the DZ and do not take them to the mountains with you.
Beware the annual trip trap
Annual BASE trips are a very common way for people to make the majority of their jumps but they have 3 main drawbacks:
- You start the trip uncurrent
- You rush to get as much jumping done as possible in a limited time
- You try and squeeze in that technical jump you’ve been dreaming about at the end of the trip
Help to avoid becoming an August statistic by:
- Starting out easy and warm up
- Don’t let jump numbers and new exits be your only metric for a successful trip
- Taper off at the end of your trip, maybe skip that last load and have a beer instead.
Choose your crew wisely
Our peer group is one of the biggest influences on our opinions and behaviour. The best crews have jumpers with a good age range, experience and – importantly – an obsession with fancy dress costumes.
Don’t listen to that guy with 75 jumps you met in the Horner last night who says “I saw your track yesterday and you should totally do High Ultimate with me”.
Find Your exit
Find ‘your exit’ – a place where you feel confident and comfortable, where you feel secure enough to do something new in a safe way. Consider the possibility to start your season and to train new techniques at that particular place.
There are a lot of variables to consider when BASE jumping: exit, altitude, terrain profile, flight path, alternate landing areas, influence of weather conditions, stress etc. Take your time to warm up and increase the jump difficulty gradually. No matter how experienced you are – you can still get uncurrent.
Make good decisions
When to push? Doing something new or technically difficult means you take extra risk. This requires reflection and preparation. Remember that we always tend to overestimate our skills (check out the Dunning–Kruger effect) especially at the end of the trip or the season. Ask yourself, ‘Am I really as good as I think I am?’
Better to be down wishing you were up, than up wishing that you were down. A jump is like a form of teleportation, getting you back to a more comfortable environment within minutes. But sometimes you have to take the hike down, when the conditions are bad you are stacking the odds against yourself if you jump. (Read Understanding the Sky by Dennis Pagen and check the forecast better).
Jump for yourself
It is hard to define the right reasons to BASE jump but there are some obvious bad ones to avoid:
- Because your friends / partner are BASE jumping and you don’t want to be left out
- To impress others
- To make content for social media
Be aware of Fear
No fear? The day you have no fear is the day you should probably stop jumping, as fear gives us the respect and focus to jump safely. BASE is not about overcoming fear but part of jumping is learning how to manage it and perform at our best even under stress.
Admitting fear is often a difficult thing to do, complicated by factors like ego, culture, age and peer pressure. Don’t be ashamed to confess to yourself and others that you are afraid, we are never forced to BASE jump (unless you are being chased by armed gunmen like in Cliffhanger). If you are red-lining then you are most likely about to do something you are not prepared for. Better training and preparation will help you to manage your fear.
Look out for your buddies
Watch your co-jumpers. If you see another jumper behaving more nervously than usual, ask if they are ok before they get on to the exit point. Find out what disturbs them and if you can help. If there is doubt, then there is no doubt. Try again another day.
Have a Plan A and a Plan B
In freefall we need to act not think. Similar to scuba divers at depth, our cognitive ability is seriously impaired in freefall. Before exit you should have a clear plan and a plan B. If something goes wrong you immediately abort to plan B. Disconnect from the line, flare and pull. Take the turn into clear air space, fly to the alternate landing area etc.
Be present on the exit and do not distract others. Distraction can lead us to forget to check our gear, this can also easily happen at familiar exit points where we feel at home. Once you have checked yourself have a look at the other jumpers. Pin checks are a good thing. Do not go near the edge until you are dressed, close your arm zippers halfway in case you slip. Watch the jumpers before you and make sure everyone is accounted for afterwards.
Always have a mobile phone
Make sure you have numbers for the local emergency services and the other jumpers in your crew. In remote areas it is also worth checking the signal strength before jumping to see if radios are needed. In remote mountainous areas it is common to have signals at the exit but not down in the valley.
Plan your pull zone
Identify where you need to disconnect to have sufficient airspace/ altitude to flare and deploy safely, use a clear reference point. After finishing the line continue to fly a sufficient distance away from the terrain before deploying. Just because you don’t see the mountain anymore doesn’t mean a 180 with twists can’t bite you. Looking down vertically is also important to see the current vertical altitude, not just the altitude you are flying towards.
Keep some altitude in reserve
Pulling low used to be a thing, luckily it went out of fashion. Every now and then you will need some extra time to find your pilot chute, clear line-twists, a jammed zip, tension knot etc.
Use lasers, GPS and track analysis
Laser range finders give us accurate exit terrain profiles that we can use to evaluate new sites. GPS loggers (such as Flysight) together with track analysis tools (such as Skyderby and BASEBeta) allow us to measure and track our flight performance. You can also overlay your flight data from one jump on to another, helping to make impartial rational decisions about site suitability.
Respect the environment
People will judge BASE as a sport on the behaviour of its participants not just its safety record. Try and give back to the local communities rather than just noise pollution, trash and number 1s and 2s.
Location, location, location
The most fundamental part of sustainable terrain flying is choosing a suitable site, it should offer margin on the exit and allow you to fly steep, fast and always with the option to bail out.
Be a smart moth
Getting ever closer to the flame ends one way. Terrain flyers are like moths drawn ever closer to the mesmerizing beauty and euphoria of the dancing flame. Until of course you hit the ground at full speed and tumble down the mountainside dead a dozen different ways. Be a smart moth, find your safe distance and stay there.
The perfect BASE jumper doesn’t exist but learning paragliding, climbing, weather, first aid, rigging, geology and decision making will help make you a better jumper. Read the list and try not to repeat the mistakes of others.
Words and photos by
Alexey Shatilov (BASE jumping since 2007, 1000+ jumps) and
James Boole (BASE jumping since 2003, 2000+ jumps)