Jessica Bradshaw had always wanted to go skydiving, so in 2010, using her friend’s birthday as an excuse to finally make her first jump, she headed a few hours south of Seattle to Skydive Kapowsin in Shelton, Washington.
She wasn’t nervous or scared. She had always been comfortable flying, she said, and she didn’t feel any hesitation as the plane climbed higher in the sky.
“It really is a natural high as you go up in the plane and see the ground getting farther and farther away,” Bradshaw said. “The most exciting part is when the door is opened and you’re sitting on the edge, just about to jump.”
Bradshaw now has eight jumps under her chute; while her husband has been a tandem instructor for nine years and has logged about 8,000 jumps. The couple now own Skydive Whitefish, a new skydiving operation that opened on June 1 for its first season in Montana.
“We both have our talents, mine is on the ground, his is not. I think that’s what makes us work,” Bradshaw said.
Though Bradshaw hasn’t completed as many jumps as her husband, she said she has been fortunate to have jumped with him in four different countries — having lived, worked and jumped in New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, and, of course, the United States.
“It’s exciting, it’s exhilarating. Every time you do it is like the first time,” she said.
Bradshaw said the exciting part about skydiving is that you can do it anywhere — and that each location offers something new.
“Dubai, Mexico, Mount Everest, they’re all going to be different,” she said. “So even if you’ve done it before, you might not have done it in Whitefish.”
Bradshaw’s husband took his first tandem jump in Christchurch, New Zealand, when he was 18 and was immediately hooked.
“He told his father ‘sign me up’,” and he’s been doing it ever since,” Bradshaw said. After getting certified, he got his first job in California at Skydive Elsinore.
Bradshaw grew up in Whitefish, but had been living in California for several years when she and her husband began making plans to open their own skydive business in Montana.
Skydive Whitefish officially took off June 1 for its first season, offering freefall tandem jumps from an above ground level of 10,000 feet — or 13,000 feet above sea level, as Whitefish sits at just over 3,000 feet.
The business operates with a team of six, including a pilot, and the instructors have varying degrees of experience. Some of them having completed 1,000 jumps and others have completed about 7,000 jumps. The instructors are also members of the United States Parachute Association, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The drop zone is located at the Whitefish Airport, a mile east of downtown.
Climbing to 10,000 feet in a Cessna 206, jumpers can experience a 20-minute scenic flight with an aerial view of Whitefish and the rest of the Flathead Valley as far as the west side entrance to Glacier National Park. Following the scenic flight, the hatch opens and jumpers fly out for 30 to 35 seconds of freefall before the parachute opens. The jump then continues with five to six minutes of canopy ride before a soft landing back at the airport.
During the long summer days when sunrise and sunset are so far apart, the skydive operation can fit in 10 to 15 jumps a day, with two jumps per ride. Using a double-mounted GoPro, jumpers can take home photos and video of their jump experience.
Over the years Whitefish tourism has grown and more activities have become available, Bradshaw said, adding “I think it’s going toward an adventure-tourism capital.”
The beauty of the Flathead Valley and the active lifestyle of the people who live here, as well as those who visit the valley, are what made it the perfect location for a skydive business, Bradshaw said.
During the off-season, the couple typically travel to work for other drop zones, as Montana’s jump season ends in October.
Bradshaw said they’re currently considering offering snowbird jumps, which would require jumpers to wear warmer suits and use a different drop zone location for the winter. They’ll see how the summer goes before committing to a winter season.
Skydive Whitefish operates seven days a week with jumps available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from June 1 to Oct. 31, with sunrise and sunset jumps available as well. For more information or to schedule a jump, go to http://www.skydivewhitefish.com/ or call 866-680-5867.
Reporter Alyssa Gray may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.