Austria… the name conjured up spectacular images of stunning snowy mountains, lush green valleys, swathes of Christmas tree forests, Sound-of-Music style. I had never been to Austria so I jumped at the chance when Markus Kordesch invited me to the Hohenems Challenge 2018. It couldn’t possibly be as picture-perfect as I was imagining…
It was absolutely like my dreams – every bit and more – the most stunning scenery I have seen since Voss 20 years ago. Skydive Hohenems is a club nestled in a beautiful valley inbetween majestic mountains near blue Lake Constance. Every morning we arrived at the club I felt the same feeling of peace, tranquility and appreciation of being surrounded by such tremendous natural beauty. I would gladly have come to this idyllic place just to go hiking. Oh there is skydiving too?!…
The Hohenems Challenge is a 4-day invitational event, all 30-ish ways from 14,000 feet, out of 2 Grand Caravans, with superb pilots who impressed us daily with their banking approaches and tight formations. In its third year, the event has grown an extra group each year and now has 3 groups, organized by Milko Hodgkinson, Patrick Passe and Dieter Kirsch. Camera was provided by veterans Gary Wainwright, Johann Hansi Schneeberger and Karl-Heinz 'Charlie' Woytech, with the odd fill-in by Marcel Boss, Markus’s 16-year old son, who had 400 jumps and a whole lotta talent! Its central location means Hohenems is easy to get to from all around Europe. 18 different European nations took part, and two guests from Japan.
The skydives were complicated and imaginative. Milko seemed to come up with a new masterpiece every skydive, with completely different puzzles and genius block moves. I was especially charmed by the room dives – organized squillions, never been in a room, always had a secret longing for that slot – and YES!! I was in 3 rooms in 2 days (see video of last dive). All good things come to those that wait (even if it takes 34 years). The standard of Milko’s group was exceptional. This was one of the best weeks skydiving of my life.
Patrick’s group enjoyed some fascinating formations of high difficulty, organized in his inimitable laidback style. They made some great transitions and he too excelled at variety and cunning. Dieter’s group was more mixed ability and took a while to get going but still pulled off some excellent jumps.
Skydive Hohenems is a club, not a commercial center, and you feel welcomed as one of the family from the moment you arrive. The DZ bar/café is run by two ZZ-Top style guys, Flo and Franz, who dance from morning to night to their own mixes, and are constant entertainment as well as efficient, friendly and helpful. Two of the nights featured dinner at the dropzone, which was efficiently served, delicious and very social, getting us all to put down our phones and talk to each other! A DJ one night and band the next kept the dance floor moving, even the rain wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits.
The jewel in the crown of this holiday was the ‘innhopp’ (evening jump in) to a model flying club in Bregenzerwald. It was 1,000 feet higher than Hohenems so the saga of resetting AADs, altis and audibles began. Everyone pooled their knowledge and this was done pretty painlessly, as a team effort, and the correct result for all.
The flight to the club took about 25 minutes, over a spectacular series of mountain ranges. As far as you could see in every direction were snow-topped mountain peaks wrapped in a curtain of fluffy clouds, glowing in the low evening sunlight. Sian and I felt exactly the same – privileged. Only a handful of people have ever seen this view, and even fewer have skydived over these mountains.
The jump itself was amazing! Sian had planned a pretty simple dive ending in a star, so we could all appreciate the incredible view – and what a vista it was, looking around at mountains that seemed to be on level with us (they were!) with a wide, verdant valley right below. Tracking off at 5,000 feet AGL we were below the mountain tops, the visuals when tracking towards the face of Kanisfluh mountain were incredible! I’ve never seen anything like that before. After the Innhopp there was a barbecue dinner as we watched model aircraft displays and relived the jump in our minds, before a bus ride home with the usual antics of drunken skydivers.
Safety at the event was 100% with no injuries and no malfunctions. One jumper had a premature main deployment in the door, a reminder to us all to protect our flaps as we climb out. But all ended well.
I miss the World Team events, as they were usually in beautiful places where you could see a new and wondrous country, have adventures and see different cultures. Hohenems Challenge – the Austrian exploit – offers all of that ‘special’ experience, combined with truly fantastic skydives, excellent organisers and a brilliant social side. Book now because it’s sure to fill up fast.
Austria – Picture perfect!