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Time Magazine
Sport: April 15, 1991

Bungee Jumping Comes of Age

Determined daredevils once made their madcap leaps in the dead of night to avoid authorities. Now in parts of the U.S. they leap with impunity from hot-air balloons and 140-foot-high towers.


In the still, blue morning air 150 ft. above the town of Fort Lupton, Colo., two men float in a hot-air balloon. One lashes a strong rubber cord to the midsection of the other, Fred Kaemerer, 23, a Denver engineer, who grimaces like a condemned man. When the countdown rings out-"Three! Two! One!"-Kaemerer swan-dives headfirst over the edge of the gondola. Although it lasts only seconds, the 60 m.p.h. plunge seems to take forever. But the real kick is yet to come. Just as Kaemerer hurtles to within a few feet of the earth and a terrifying impact, the cord stretches taut, recoiling him skyward like a rocket.

Alley-Oop Call it a thrill, or call it crazy. Just don't call bungee jumping illegal-that is, if the right kind of platform is involved. For years determined aerialists risked arrest by hurling themselves off bridges. Then a few discovered cranes, which are perfectly legal but hard to find. Now in Colorado bungee jumping is readily accessible. Leapers of faith can visit Clear Creek County, where officials have approved a 140-ft.-high bungee-jumping tower on public land 30 miles West of Denver. A county over, in Fort Lupton, the Federal Aviation Administration is expected this week to certify Adrenaline Adventures to operate hot-air balloons modified for jumping-the first such official seal of approval. Applications from other firms are certain to follow. Bungee lovers in Colorado and California have been operating uncertified balloons for more than a year.

Surprisingly, no critics turned up at the Clear Creek hearing last February at which county commissioners unanimously approved a two-year special-use permit to allow construction of the 140-ft. tower on land zoned for mining. "I expected hordes of people to come out against this, but the only concerns were about transportation and parking," says Carl Finocchiaro, pre-absolutely dumbfounded. The whole concept of bungee jumping was supported."

[caption reads]
"LOOK OUT BELOW: Bungee jumper Christine Warren of Adrenaline Adventures leaps out into the waiting cameralens of photographers Kevin Vesel during a photo shoot near Boulder, Colo. Vesel tried many different Camera positions to overcome the overcast conditions and finally found one that worked: directly underneath the balloon - lens pointing straight up."

This is welcome news for those who stand to profit. Start-up firms charge $50 to $90 per jump and expect to attract as many as 100 jumpers per week. "The best mountain climbers anywhere live here," says Doug, 23, president of Adrenaline Adventures. "Bungee jumping just fits in with the Colorado aura." One-fifth of his jumpers come back for more. Says Doug: "It's a huge sense of accomplishment after completing a jump."

The first jumpers in the U.S. practiced in the California Sierras, diving from bridges spanning river gorges. Since bridge jumping is illegal throughout the country, these aerial pioneers usually staged jumps early in the morning or late at night to evade local sheriffs, hustling their gear beneath wraps whenever headlights approached. In 1988, after a pair of California engineers opened a commercial-but unlicensed -jumping outfit near San Francisco, bungee madness began to catch on in America, following the lead of New Zealand, Australia and France. "The first time I jumped, I was terrified," admits Emily Trask, 25, a Denver financial consultant and veteran of 15 jumps. "It's a great time, a natural high."

It's also a high-risk exploit. Unlike most sports, bungee jumping allows zero margin for error. In a free fall, a mistake or an equipment failure would almost certainly mean a jumper's doom. But talk to any bungee enthusiast, and he'll tell you about the chills and thrills-not the spills.

-By David E. Thigpen, Reported by Joni H. Blackman / Denver
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