This weekend, scores of adrenaline junkies will descend upon the Bitterroot Valley, literally, for the annual Bitterroot Boogey skydiving rendezvous. From Friday afternoon until Monday afternoon at the Ravalli County Airport in Hamilton, there will be a large Cessna Caravan taking loads of up to 14 people into the sky above the valley and dropping them off at 12,500 feet for the thrill of a lifetime.
Event organizer Kirk Baker, of the Silver Tip Skydivers club in Missoula, said the event is a boon for the local economy.
"It pumps a lot of money into the local economy," he said. "We have 60-70 experienced skydivers coming in from all over the Northwest. They will be eating at restaurants, staying at local hotels and shopping. It's good for the valley. It brings a lot of money into the town."
The event is scheduled to coincide with the Ravalli County Fair, Baker said.
Tandem jumps, where a beginner is paired with an expert skydiver, will cost $229 with additional charges for optional photos and video. There will be four tandem instructors working simultaneously. Baker said anyone can pay $25 for an observational flight next to the pilot if they want a first-hand experience of skydiving without the actual "falling to earth" part.
Baker said that although the Bitterroot Boogey didn't happen last year, it is somewhat of a tradition in the valley.
"I've been skydiving since 1979 and I've only missed one or two Labor Day weekends over the number of years," he said. "It's a gathering of friends, really. The Silver Tip club is probably one of the oldest skydiving clubs in the country, if not the oldest. This is one of our favorite events of the year."
Along with regular skydiving, there will be a demonstration of a wing suit.
"We have a guy coming in doing demonstrations and offering wing suit - or flying squirrel suit, as they are sometimes called - flights to more experienced skydivers," Baker said. "Those things are pretty amazing. You fall about half the speed of a normal free fall, but you can cover a mile of ground, horizontally, in just a minute."
There will be several formation dives, where a full group of 14 skydivers will create elaborate designs with their bodies in midair.
Kevin Purdy, an independent skydiving contractor from Boise, will be running the logistics of the multiple skydives.
"Basically, for people who have never done it before, we will keep the instruction down to real simple things," he explained. "Sometimes with skydiving, the more you try to learn the more you forget. So with a lot of people we will just have them hold on to the harness."
Purdy said after the parachute opens at 5,000 feet, people will get a 15-20 minute view of the valley as the parachute slowly descends.
Baker said the weather forecast is great for the weekend.
"It looks like it's going to be a great weekend," he said. "We are just planning on having our Cessna Caravan running fairly regularly. Hopefully everything runs smoothly."
The Bitterroot Boogey starts at 4 p.m. Friday afternoon. On Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the fun starts at 8 or 9 a.m. and runs until late afternoon. For more information or to book a dive, call Kevin Purdy at (208) 965-6787.
David Erickson can be reached at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.