One fine Sunday morning my friend Patrizia calls me up and tells me to be in Turin’s Piazza Vittorio Veneto in half an hour. The purpose of the day: spend an afternoon in the municipality of Cumiana, in the province of Turin. A quick espresso and 30 kilometers later we’re driving on a country road passing country homes, abandoned farmhouses and pastures with grazing cows and horses, all set against the magnificent backdrop of the distant Italian Alps.
Our final destination is an airplane hangar situated in the middle of a field. Around the hangar are a small patio with a tent and picnic tables, a rustic home-style restaurant and bar, children running around and playing and the approaching sound of a small Pilatus Porter PC-6 plane, followed by the sight of a dozen colorful parachutes dotting the surrounding skies.
This quaint, out-of-the-way place is home to the Sky Dream Center, one of over 50 professional Italian skydiving clubs whose existence is unbeknownst to most Italians, let alone foreigners who don’t think to look for it. There is a particular sense of community in the case of Sky Dream Center, as it was founded by a group of skydiving enthusiast friends. They chose to setup the center in Cumiana for its strategic southwest location where the neighboring mountains shelter it from winter fog and spring rain. Since many of the skydivers here have known each other for years, they bring their wives, husbands and children along with them to spend the day in each other’s company, organizing barbecues and friendly soccer matches in the spring and summer months.
When it comes to jumping part itself, there are many different variations from height to jump type. In Cumiana, dives takes place 13,000 feet from the ground. The tandem jump is essential and the safest type for beginners. Tandem skydiving involves the student being strapped to a professional instructor via a harness. Your job is then to follow the basic instructions your expert first briefs you about on the ground and then actively tells you to carry out once out of the plane. The major efforts which include the pulling of the parachute, piloting to ground and landing are up to instructor.
For my first tandem skydive, myself and my instructor were the last to leave the plane. I watched as the first few divers slid the plane door open and felt the cold air whipping in. One by one, or two by two they jumped out, seeming to be slapped to the side like hockey pucks.
With a squeeze of encouragement from my coach it’s our turn. I’m sitting on the edge of the doorway, the different hues of green squares beneath my dangling feet and then we let go into a freezing, windy blur, known of free fall. Free fall is the minute or so in which a diver is falling through the atmosphere and at the pinnacle point, known as terminal velocity, feels as though they are supported by an unseen air cushion. This is the most intense and disconcerting moment for a beginner, in which they must maintain a horizontal position with their elbows and forearms out at 90 degrees and their legs out, knees bent outwards.
Free fall is followed by the calm and majesty brought on by the floating parachute. “Have you seen Titanic?” my instructor asks me and I immediately clue in that I have to play like Leo and stretch my arms out, toes pointed to the ground and enjoy this unguarded state of suspension with the ground far below, the sight of Monte Rosa off in one direction and the Po River in the other. The landing was soft, and came far too soon.