The Big Sky Over Lost Prairie

Annual Skydiving Boogie Returns for 48th Year

By Clare Menzel
The Lost Prairie Boogie runs Aug. 1-9. Courtesy Photo

Few people know how to use Montana’s Big Sky better than Wayne Cross, and it’s not hard to tell. He has the kind of goofy, giddy smile that gets stuck on your face after seeing it up close during more than 1,200 skydives.

And for the first two weeks in August, Cross will share the skies with 800 people from around the world.

About 500 professional, veteran, and otherwise seasoned skydivers will convene in Marion’s Lost Prairie Valley from August 1-9 for the 48th Annual Boogie. Organized by Cross and his company, Meadow Peak Skydiving, the Boogie is the world’s largest continuous annual event of its kind.

Cross expects to see an additional 300-plus novices come to Lost Prairie over the course of the event for daily tandem jumping, as well as 500 valley residents to witness the spectacle.

The 500 registered Boogie skydivers, who bring their own equipment, will jump from planes all day and camp on Meadow Peak’s 100 acres at night. Cross has organized 13 highly qualified skydivers, including professionals Thomas Hughes and Chris Farina of the skydiving team Arizona Airspeed, to coordinate formation jumps, lead training camps, and work one-on-one with younger or less experienced skydivers.

Though Hughes, Farina, and many of the others regularly participate in competitive events, the Boogie is more about providing training, having fun, and appreciating the weird and wonderful community you create when you gather hundreds of adrenaline junkies for nine days in the middle of nowhere.

“This community of skydivers,” Cross said, “well, you have multimillionaires setting up [camp] right next to 20-year-olds who all they own is a tent and a parachute. I’ve seen words exchanged, but never a fight. You don’t see that [in other extreme sports.] Lost Prairie has a magic to it.”

Each night, the public will be kindly asked to depart Meadow Peak grounds at 8 p.m., and, “after the sun goes down and we can’t skydive anymore,” Cross said, grinning, “we find some things to occupy our time and imagination.”

But by 8 a.m. each morning, the skydivers will be bright-eyed and ready to get back into the air. The Boogie is, after all, a skydiving event, and its long tradition dates back to 1967, when a group of Kalispell locals first began gathering at the Kalispell airport to celebrate their passion for the sport.

By the late 1970s, the group outgrew the small airfield and took the party to the 40-acre patch of pastureland 34 miles west of Kalispell where the Carson Field airstrip now sits.

Under the name Lost Prairie Airstrip Inc., the skydivers designed and built facilities perfectly tailored to their needs. Named in honor of Joan Carson, one of the Lost Prairie original members who died in a 1981 skydiving accident, the airstrip represents the freedom she felt in flight. Soon after, one of the skydivers, Fred Sand, began leasing the airstrip to run Skydive Lost Prairie, a full skydiving facility.

Then, eight years ago, an investment group from Phoenix came in and purchased 100 acres of land adjacent to the airstrip from a Montana landowner who had long allowed the skydivers to land on his property.

The investment group wasn’t so kind. Skydive Lost Prairie continued to use the airstrip, but Sand and the other divers had to find alternate grounds for landing. Their new location was an inconvenient van-ride away, so eventually, Cross, who was on the Lost Prairie Airstrip Board of Directors, approached the Phoenix group and asked about leasing the land. They said he could buy the land from them or get lost.

“I was feeling un-American because I didn’t have any debt,” Cross said, “So…”

He bought the 100 acres, and, five years ago, Meadow Peak Skydiving was born.

Cross began building up Meadow Peak’s infrastructure, which now boasts a hanger for an Accelerated Free Fall School as well as facilities for the 20-25 or so experienced local jumpers who travel from as far as Bozeman and Missoula to jump regularly.

Sand organized 2010’s Boogie, but over the following years Sand has slowly transferred the responsibilities over to Cross, and is now retired.

He still packs parachutes, though, and continues to jump. Just like the Big Sky doesn’t really ever leave a skydiver’s smile, it doesn’t ever really leave a person, either.

Everyone is welcome to attend and watch the Boogie during daytime hours, and anyone interested in making a tandem jump should call (406) 858-2330. The price of a tandem jump is $239, with an additional, optional charge of $135 for video and stills.

“The only rule is,” said Cross, “Well you can do pretty much anything if it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s space or safety. And leave your pets at home. Poop does not mix with nylon.”


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