“There is lots going on in the United States, but the access is much more difficult. In North America, the wilderness area is huge with lots of mountains and cliffs, but the access to them can sometimes take days. In Europe, access is good – there are roads and mechanical lifts everywhere, so it makes going to places so much easier. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a cliff or a peak that doesn’t have a hut or a café where you can get a coffee!” In addition, and with geology in mind, the fact the Alps are younger means many of their sharp, jagged points remain, offering routes and passageways down. In Nevada, the rocks are older and have been rounded from so much wear, presenting big, vertical cliffs that, while safer, are also less challenging.
So, what makes a wingsuit base jumper? Having experienced around 3,000 skydiving jumps from a plane, Frat believes he is well qualified to answer. “With wingsuit base jumping, you don’t rise to the occasion,” he says. “It’s more like you dip to the level of your training. There’s not so much of a thought process going on, it’s more a flow state.
“When you jump out of an aeroplane the feeling is to try different manoeuvres and different flight configurations in a giant airspace, while a base jump is like the intensity of skydiving times a thousand, with a lot less margin. You are flying the wingsuit, but it’s a very considered descent.”
In addition, the technicalities of the jump cannot be underestimated, factoring in body configurations to manipulate the shape of the wingsuit, wind effect, the angle of the tact, drag and a few other elements.
“It all culminates in people flying through caves and hitting targets the size of a lunchbag. We are able to be incredibly precise when we need to be.”
And to return to the safety aspect of the sport, Frat believes we’ve never been in a better place. “The gear continues to improve well beyond what we were dealing with in the past. There are some fantastic manufacturers producing top-of-the-line equipment, and rather than guesswork, they’re using all the data available.
“People can attend camps and schools, or simply head online to participate in organised sessions with experienced jumpers. It’s all about getting access to the sort of information that makes the sport not just safer, but more accessible as well, because the problem with the majority of the people who get into the sport is they don’t know what they don’t know – and the worst time to find out is when you’re in mid-air.”