( Editors Note: Watch Kim fly at SkyVenture by visiting our YouTube channel. )
Remember “School Picture Day?” I sure do, and if you’re anything like me, you generally walked away with a “smile cramp” and an awkward picture. Now picture yourself in a jumpsuit, flying. Having trouble with the visual? You won’t if you soar on over to Nashua, N.H. Right in the shadow of the Pheasant Lane Mall lies SkyVenture — a state-of-the-art, vertical wind tunnel, where you can sky-dive without a parachute and walk away without a free-fall feeling (or a fit of paranoia … wait, maybe that’s just me), all while capturing the experience in a photo.
SkyVenture New Hampshire is one of just 21 such facilities in the world (you’d have to head north to Montreal to find the next closest). Trevor Thomson is vice president of operations for SkyVenture, whose corporate headquarters are located in Austin, Texas. “The SkyVenture way is the better way,” Thomson said. “Anyone can do it, ages 3 and up. It’s safe, but still very exhilarating.”
That’s why Rob and Laurie Greer bought the Nashua franchise rights and started up “SkyVenture New Hampshire.” “The beauty of SkyVenture is that the full family can enjoy it. It’s a bonding experience,” Rob says. The Greers are so dedicated to the “bonding experience” that they got married while flying in the tunnel. I just had to “take flight” for myself, and I must admit I was blown away (pun intended!) by the experience. I’m going to share that experience with you, but first a warning: If you see the word “TIP,” make sure you make a mental note, so your photos will come out better than mine.
As I drove to Nashua the morning of my “flight,” I already had butterflies in my stomach. Two thoughts kept repeating: one, I’m going to look like a moron, and two, if it’s supposed to be a sky-diving simulator, I better get a parachute with about five safety cords. Upon arrival, I was greeted by a very friendly woman who told me how she flies weekly. I mean, she’s still breathing, right? How bad can it be? That thought eased my worries a bit, until she had me sign a waiver form (can you tell I’m not the world’s biggest daredevil?). I then mounted the stairs and stared up at the beast, a 45-foot-tall wind tunnel that would be my sky for the four-minute flight.
With a deep breath (and a wish for a paper bag to ease an unsettled stomach), I headed in for the mandatory, 15-minute training class, where I joined the Ceratos, a family of four from New Hampshire. I twiddled my thumbs as I glanced at their faces and thought, “How can they be so calm?” I quickly learned that 10-year-old Katie was practically a pro! We had a repeat SkyVenture flyer in our group, so I knew the competition to fly best would be stiff.
Not long after introductions, our instructor, Brandon, walked in. I sat across from him, my eyes wide, as he went over the flight “signals.” He showed us hand gestures that he would use with us in the tunnel because the wind would be too loud to hear his voice. After about the fifth signal I said: “We’re supposed to remember all this?” Katie just nods.
Soon it was time to suit up. (TIP: Make sure you wear sneakers and loose clothing. You won’t want to be flying in your jeans!). This suit goes on right over your clothes and looks like a real sky-dive getup. The outfit includes elbow and knee pads, a helmet, goggles and earplugs. As the SkyVenture crew explained, this whole process is exactly like sky diving, only without the parachute. According to sky-dive trainer Joe Winters, “SkyVenture takes an extreme sport and makes it not so extreme” by using this wind tunnel.
Joe explained that when you sky dive from a plane, the plane is already travelling at a high speed, so you don’t feel the free fall when you jump. You just feel a floating sensation, and that’s what SkyVenture recreates, which is why 50 percent of its customers
are sky divers who come there to train. Wind speeds in the tunnel range from 70 mph to 125 mph (the latter can be found in a Category 3 hurricane), and it’s all generated by huge fans that push air up the tunnel, allowing you to fly. A special feature at the New Hampshire venue is that the tunnel is temperature-controlled, so if it’s cold outside, it won’t be cold in the tunnel, as it would be at some other SkyVenture facilities.
After watching another group of flyers, it was my turn to take on the tunnel. The Cerato family and I filed into the little waiting nook. With my heart rate quickening and the excitement coming to a boil, I repeated Joe the trainer’s final words to me: “Man’s dream is to fly.” I was about to do it.
When it was my turn, I stepped up to the small tunnel entrance. As instructed, I kept my legs together with my arms to my chest and just fell into the tunnel, letting both the wind and instructor Brandon guide me. It sort of reminded me of that “trust” game you played in school, where you’d fall backward into a pile of people (and hoped the kids catching you were paying attention or liked you enough not to let you fall), only this time it was a guaranteed catch.
The feeling in the tunnel can only be described as a floating sensation, as if the gravity that once held you down no longer existed, but my epiphany came to a quick end when I realized I was the worst flyer of the group! Not only did I go totally blank on the hand signals, but on my second go-round, Brandon actually had to carry me out of the tunnel. TIP: If you remember only one signal while flying, remember “relax.” You’ll take to the wind better if you do.
Another TIP: There’s one thing I recommend you not do in the tunnel, and that’s showing your teeth. When I was flying, not only was I all over the place, but I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling for the photographer. My goal was to end up with a cool shot, but what I got was drool all over my face! Yes, I’m an avid drooler. I admit it. But this was ridiculous — like I just woke up from a 20-hour nap. So, flyers, refrain from smiling, or this could be a wet ride for you!
Just like “School Picture Day,” I walked away with a SkyVenture “smile cramp” and a memory to tuck away in a photo album. As Joe the trainer said, “A great sky dive is sticking to the plan.” So here’s my final TIP: Plan to have a blast and at least strike a picture-worthy pose (remember, no teeth) for that flashing camera.
Want to try faux sky diving yourself?
Sky Venture New Hampshire 3 Poisson Avenue Nashua, NH