Extreme sports: shredding double blacks

September 19, 2019 — by Anjali Nuggehalli

Sophomore Arjun Bhardawaj took a deep breath as he peered down Gunbarrel run at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe. Deemed a double black slope, the most difficult level of slopes, the run was especially icy and ungroomed — a deadly combination that only elite skiers would dare to attempt. 

Bhardawaj wasn’t fazed. He had been shredding such slopes for years.

“When I’m high up on that mountain, I’m all alone,” Bhardawaj said. “But in a weird way, that isolation really calms me down.”

A skier since age 3, Bhardawaj has learned many of his skills from his father, Gannesh Bhardawaj, a veteran skier. Through years of dedicated practice, Bhardawaj has become an elite skier who has conquered some of the most difficult slopes in California. 

“My dad introduced me to skiing when I was really young, and I just fell in love with the sport,” said Bhardawaj. “The adrenaline rush of skiing down a slope with snow-covered mountains surrounding you — it’s a feeling like no other.” 

Bhardawaj is aware that the thrill of these slopes comes with significant risk. He witnessed this firsthand last winter at Kirkwood Resort in South Lake Tahoe during a snowstorm. 

As Bhardawaj and his father raced down a run at the end of the day, his father fell several feet into a ditch in ungroomed snow, collided into a wall of ice and sustained multiple fractures to his arm. He required emergency surgery at a local hospital and then went through an extensive recovery. Even so, Bhardwaj’s father was back to tackling double blacks as soon as he was able to.

“My dad got injured and didn’t stop,” said Bhardawaj. “He showed me that if you really love something, you have to persevere and stick with it. The risk is worth it.”

In order to reduce the risk of injuries, Bhardwaj goes through the same rituals prior to difficult runs to stay calm and collected. 

“I take three deep breaths and tell myself that everything happens for a reason, and I’m strong enough to get through anything,” he said.

Although Bhardwaj has no plans to become a professional skier, he intends to continue doing the sport for as long as he can. He has already conquered formidable slopes such as the “The Wall” in Kirkwood, which is ranked No. 1 on the list of the steepest ski runs in Tahoe. 

He has also participated in high-level skiing competitions, including the Gunbarrel 25, a one-mile run in which skiers have six hours to complete a formidable 25 laps around a double-black mogul run. 

“I just had to keep going with no breaks,” said Bhardwaaj. “To this day, the Gunbarrel competition was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.” 

This intense competition is just the start for Bhardwaj. In the next few years, he plans on conquering Corbet’s Couloir in Wyoming, the hardest ski slope in the U.S. The run is so intense that a documentary was made about the first skier who dared to attempt it. 

Bhardwaj knows that he’s pushing the limits with such extreme skiing, but accepts the risks. 

 “I’ve never felt such a love and passion for anything else. The sport has also taught me so many life lessons, like how to be patient and survey my surroundings,” Bhardwaj said. “The lessons I’ve learned while skiing have really made me the determined person I am today.” 

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