Somewhere around 12,000 feet, I started to question my life choices. I knew that skydiving would at some point require, you know, jumping out of a plane, but nothing prepares you for that moment when the door opens. Below me, the entire Chelan Valley spread out like a beautiful landing pad. A beautiful landing pad that I hoped would somehow softly catch me.
It all started back on the ground, at Tsillan Cellars, right off the alternate route of U.S. 97. The gorgeous grounds have an Italian villa feeling, with landscaped gardens, an indoor/outdoor pavilion, and views that any vineyard would die to have. Skydive Chelan co-owner Sonya Kadrevis met me there, and I tasted a few wines before deciding on the Dry Riesling. It pairs well with street tacos and pork loin, but I’d be pairing it with something very different: a drop out of the sky.
Sonya and I hopped in a van and headed toward the Skydive Chelan headquarters, located near Lake Chelan Airport. She explained how their Tandem Winery Skydive package, which they started last year, is the only of its kind in the country. After watching a safety video and signing my life away (de rigueur with this kind of activity), Sonya showed me all the equipment and we practiced the positions I’d need in the air. Fortunately for beginners, there’s not a whole lot you need to do besides arc your back immediately upon jumping and lift your legs into the air when landing on your backside (so as not to twist an ankle). As the temperature crept toward 100 degrees, I wondered if I was sweating because of heat or nerves.
Outfitted in my bright blue flight pants, with my hair tied back in a braid, I climbed into the Cessna 182 with Sonya, the pilot, and Skydive Chelan co-owner Todd Higley. The ride took about 15 minutes, and from my spot flat on the floor, I peeked out the windows and saw brilliant blue sky all around me. The conditions were perfect, they told me — a comfort since I wasn’t entirely sure I ever planned to do this again.
Truthfully, though, I am an adrenaline junkie, and it really wasn’t until the plane door swung open that I felt actual fear permeate my bones. Attached to Sonya, I pulled one leg out of the plane, then the other. The cool air was nice, but the wind resistance was so high that settling both my feet on the tiny platform felt impossible. I tucked forward into a ball as Sonya inched closer and closer to the door. And then, just like that, we were airborne. I’d planned to scream, but I forgot all about that as I focused on throwing my arms and legs up, creating a bow shape with my body. Sonya says we flipped both forward and backward — all I know is that we were doing some serious spinning — and I clutched the front of my harness until I got the tap on the shoulder letting me know I was clear to let go and put my arms out in front of me. In fact, I waited for the second tap, just to be extra sure.
“You did so good!” Sonya yelled, and I freefell through the sky with a mix of feelings — pride, thirst from the air rushing into my throat, exhilaration, a twinge of fear, a touch of pain in my ears (like when landing on a flight), and wide-eyed wonder at how jaw-dropping the setting was. Sonya had warned me not to miss looking around, and she was right. Below were the inviting Lake Chelan and the mighty Columbia River. On the horizon, I spotted Mount Rainier and Mount Baker. Out of corner of my eye, I saw Todd blazing through the sky. He flew by us and waved before speeding to the ground, thanks to his smaller parachute.
When the 50-second freefall was over, Sonya pulled the parachute, and the ride instantly mellowed. We were left casually floating down like a feather caught in the wind, gliding toward the earth below. I practiced the landing position a couple of times, and soon, Tsillan Cellars was below us, and we were sitting down in a field beside it. Immediately, my Dry Riesling was presented to me, and it just may have been the tastiest sip of wine I’ve had — or at least the one for which I worked the hardest.
Wine Tasting With Skydiver Sonya
When Skydive Chelan's Sonya Kadrevis isn't hanging out among the coulds (she's jumped approximately 6,500 times!), she enjoys sipping around the valley. Here are a few of her faves:
•• Cairdeas Winery
3395 Highway 150
The name comes from an ancient Gaelic word, and the inspiration is all Southern France’s Rhône valley at this family-owned winery.
•• Fielding Hills Winery
565 South Lakeshore Road
Red wine fans will dig Fielding Hills, known for its big, bold, fruit-forward blends.
•• Karma Vineyards
1681 South Lakeshore Road
Lovely sparkling wines and chef Brant Davis Jones, who serves up great salads and other bites, give this spot good karma.
•• One Wines Inc.
526 East Woodin Avenue
Located on the main drag of downtown Chelan, One Wines is all about focus: Each year, they offer one white, one red, and one rosé. They’re currently working on one beer.