By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN For skydivers ready to jump from 10,000 feet above the Winsted Airport, Joe Johnson, owner of Westside Skydivers, promises a spectacular view of the Minneapolis skyline and Lake Minnetonka.
Johnson has made more than 7,000 jumps and said the experience never gets old.
”I have been jumping nine years. This is my 10th season. You have to try it (skydiving) to understand it. It is a lot of fun,” Johnson said.
The opportunity for parachuting in Winsted became a reality at Tuesday’s Winsted City Council meeting, when the council authorized an agreement with Johnson to open a skydiving operation out of the Winsted Airport.
Johnson said he will be ready for business beginning Saturday, May 1. For anyone interested in parachuting, call 888-758-JUMP to schedule a time, but walk-ins are welcome, too.
Westside Skydivers will be open seven days a week from May until November.
During the week, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to sunset, tandem skydiving will be available for $189. On Saturday and Sunday, skydiving will be available from 8 a.m. until sunset for $210. A video to remember the event will cost $75.
All skydivers have to be 18 years of age or older and must sign a waiver stating Westside Skydivers is not responsible for any injuries.
Johnson previously worked as a safety and training advisor for Skydive Twin Cities in Baldwin, WI. He is a member of the US Parachute Association (USPA), holds a Class D license, and has all skydiving instructional ratings.
It has been a year since Johnson first started the process to open a skydiving operation in Winsted. His original plans were to be open April 1.
The most recent delay was in regard to the drop zone, which was originally located south of the airport hangars and north of County Road 5.
The FAA and Flight Service Division of FAA had submitted comments that raised safety concerns with it being too close to County Road 5.
A different location, north and west of the hangars, was recently proposed by Johnson and unanimously approved by the airport commission.
The new drop zone is preferred by Johnson, who will be working out of hangar 30, which is right next to the airport parking lot and the new drop zone.
The only other change to the skydiving agreement approved by the council in February was to remove any language that referred to the drop zone property being leased exclusively to Johnson. The FAA wanted the agreement adjusted so that Johnson did not have exclusive use of the drop zone area.
There are a few things Johnson is already planning for now that the council has given its approval to his skydiving business.
Winstock weekend, June 11 and 12, he will be open for business, anticipating that some of the crowd attending the country music festival might be interested in skydiving.
Another date he has set aside is Monday, Aug. 23, which is the first anniversary of his father’s death from cancer.
He plans to donate all the proceeds of the day to the Angel Foundation, which has provided financial assistance to meet the critical needs of adult cancer patients since 2001.
Johnson said his father was a recipient of the program and he wants to give something back to the foundation for others.
And looking ahead to next year, Aug. 23, 2011, Johnson is planning to break the record for the most tandems done in 24 hours.
The record is currently at 103.
Johnson was aware there was some opposition to his opening the skydiving business in Winsted, but he is hoping that has turned the corner, and people will be pleased when they see his operation in action.
He is currently making plans to move to Winsted in a home close to the airport.
By living close to the airport, his plans are to keep track of the number of activities which take place there, including his own operation, which will provide an accurate record for funding.
“That is how the airport qualifies for grant money, by how busy it is,” Johnson said. “With my operation being here, it will increase the number of operations a day, which will qualify the airport for more grant money,” Johnson said.