Okanagan Skydive celebrated Canada Day in style with the fifth-annual Great Canadian Freefall Festival. (Okanagan Skydive image)

Skydivers pack the ‘skyvan’ at annual Vernon event

Skydivers flocked to Vernon last weekend to take part in the Great Canadian Freefall Festival.

Skydivers flocked to Vernon last weekend to take part in the fifth-annual Great Canadian Freefall Festival.

The big draw this year was a big plane called a skyvan, which was brought in special for the event. Skyvans carry up to 20 skydivers at a time, bringing jumpers to an altitude of 12,500 feet at 120 mph, 54 metres per second. The van then opens from the back and divers take their leap.

“The skyvan allow us to do larger formations and that factor brings in a lot of people from outside the Okanagan,” said Bret Chalmers, drop zone operations officer of Okanagan Skydive. “A lot come from B.C. and Western Canada but quite a few from further out. We’ve got a couple from Toronto, we’ve got a couple from Seattle — people from all over the place.”

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Though weather conditions affected the number of jumps able to take place, people didn’t seem phased. There was plenty to do.

“People camp out here and it’s a big social event in the evening with dinners, parties and all that good stuff,” added Chalmers.

The event included several professional wing-suiters, various formation skydives, tandem jumps and scenic flights. Divers can be heard joking about the adrenaline rush you get from jumping out of a plane — some liken the feeling of freefalling to a drug, the impulse and rush that keeps them coming back again and again. Some just look at it like any other sport.

Ian Underwood, 27, is a skydiving enthusiast who participated in this year’s festival. He said he did a tandem jump for the first time in 2009 and earned his solo license in 2013.

“I like the challenge of it,” said Underwood. “A lot of people like to say its an adrenaline sport but the adrenaline wears off after a bit and it just becomes a sport like anything else where you challenge yourself and look for something new to do.”

Most of the skydivers are experts with hundreds of jumps behind them, but some were completely new to the sport, jumping out of a plane for the first time. Newcomers typically do a tandem skydive, which means they are tethered to an expert who makes sure they jump, steer the parachute and land properly and safely.

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The skyvan took off every 40 minutes during the festival, at full capacity for every run. With that many divers in the sky at once, they end up trying different formations. Some dive off the deck, others jump in circles and some even do backflips.

“Every year seems to be getting bigger and bigger,” said Chalmers. “We put out close to 1,000 skydivers over the course of the event.”

This annual four-day event takes place Canada Day weekend each year. If you missed it, no problem. Skydiving is offered throughout the summer at Okanagan Skydive.

“If anybody wants to try skydiving they should definitely not hold back,” Chalmers says finally. “It’s amazing and it’s something everyone needs to do at least once if not multiple times.”

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