Getting into BASE jumping isn't easy or cheap. Before prospective jumpers can take their first leap, they typically have to make hundreds of skydives, find a mentor, and accumulate thousands of dollars worth of gear.
That could all change this spring with the launch of Moab BASE Adventures, the first company to offer non-jumpers the chance to make a tandem jump from a cliff. Owners Mario Richard and Steph Davis, veteran jumpers and climbers based in Moab, Utah, take passengers to one of two exit points on Moab's sandstone mesas, where they strap in with tandem master Richard and huck themselves off for a 900- to 1,400-foot ride back to the valley floor. No skydiving or climbing experience is necessary—you just need to weigh fewer than 185 pounds and be fit enough to hike and scramble to the top. "This is like a shortcut," says Richard. "Until now, you couldn't do a BASE jump without spending all this time and money."
Tandem BASE jumping has been around since 1984, when parachute designer Ted Strong stepped off the New River Gorge Bridge with passenger Robin Heid in tow. In 1998, Thor Alex Kappfjell took the concept to the cliffs, making several tandem jumps from Karlsgratind in Norway. But the idea of tandem BASE as a commercial activity only really gained steam last spring, when Atair released the first tandem-specific BASE canopy. At last October's Bridge Day in West Virginia, Richard and another tandem instructor took paying passengers on jumps—the first time that the general public had been able to jump in the history of the annual festival.
While BASE remains a dangerous sport—at least 180 jumpers have died since 1981—its tandem variety has an unblemished safety record so far. The other main tandem operator in the U.S., Twin Falls, Idaho-based Tandem BASE, has never had a passenger die or sustain a serious enough injury during its jumps to merit medical attention. (Unlike Moab BASE Adventures, Tandem BASE takes customers off a bridge rather than from cliffs.) For their tandems in Moab, Richard and Davis use a static line, a setup that automatically pulls the chute as the jumpers begin to fall, so Richard can focus on managing the exit. Passengers spend about two seconds in pseudo-freefall before the canopy fully opens.
Richard says the response to Moab BASE Adventures has so far been strong, and he and Davis plan to start taking out paying customers as soon as the company's BLM permit comes through, which they hope will happen by the end of April. In the meantime, they've made several practice runs with friends. Beyond letting non-jumpers experience free-fall, the pair hopes that their new venture will give customers a taste of what it's like to live a BASE jumper's life.
"I BASE jump every day. I walk the dog, and I jump, and she comes down by herself," says Richard. "We're taking you in our little world, but there's so much more to it than just the jump."
Outings will cost $399 for a jump from Mineral Canyon, and $599 for a trip to slightly taller Pariott Mesa. Check out the above video to see Richard taking Moab BASE Adventures' first non-jumping passenger for a ride from the former.