We've all seen action movies where a military squad, law enforcement team, or lone badass will rapidly descend from a chopper hovering over hostile territory. Rather than buckling in to a harness and rappelling down — a safer but more time-consuming process — they grip the rope and apply friction with gloved hands and boot soles to slide down several stories in a matter of seconds. Despite its portrayal in fictional movies and TV shows, this is a real technique known as fast-roping.
Although fast-roping is primarily used by professionals for obvious reasons, we can't deny that it looks like it'd be an exhilarating experience and a fun skill to learn. In the following video, a RECOILtv crew followed Chase Rivera of Blue 8 as he taught fast-roping to a group of civilians:
As seen in the video, fast-roping requires a large-diameter rope to maintain stability, and thick abrasion-resistant gloves to protect the wearer's hands from brutal rope burn. Chase also describes how grip technique is imperative — a “wringing out the towel” grip with the elbows out creates symmetry, and applying slight inward pressure with the edges of the boot soles can provide better descent control. Leaning back to create a “J” shape with the body can also slow the descent.
Due to the high risk of injury from falling, specialized large-diameter rope, and training requirement, this isn't the sort of skill you should try at home. Even in an SHTF emergency situation, you'd probably be better off using a slower and more traditional method of rappelling such as the Swiss seat. That said, fast-roping looks like it'd be a blast to learn — as long as you're not afraid of heights.