What's more dangerous—a 50-foot gap jump or a 50-foot cliff?

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Ask Dr. Flake

What's more dangerous—a 50-foot gap jump or a 50-foot cliff?

.Gaps (so-called for the chasm between the takeoff and landing) foster a false sense of security because they don't usually involve jagged, spleen-extracting death rocks like cliffs often do. Before you leap, though, consider the back end of the air. Thanks to gravity, cliff jumpers almost always reach their pillowy landing zones—closing the vertical gap, if you will. But spanning a great horizontal distance—such as the 93 feet between tailing piles at Utah's infamous Chad's Gap—is much less of a sure thing. Slow snow or a slight error on blastoff can lead to a violent collision with a wall of snow, a road, or a moving locomotive, as the case may be. "You have to factor in the steepness of take-offs and landings, their height, and then the speed of the skier, says Chris Patterson, director of photography for Warren Miller Entertainment. "The first person to hit that jump is really letting it all hang out there. Unsanctioned gaps are even more dangerous. Huckster Terry Cook was crippled—breaking one leg in more than 40 places—when he failed to clear the icy snowbank lining a Tahoe two-lane highway in 1995. In 2000, freeskiing prodigy Brett Carlson was halfway across a Whistler-area gap—65 feet above the road—when observers heard him say, simply, "No. He died, at age 24, even though he landed upright on the pavement.