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Yoga-teaching ski bum heeds a higher calling

After breaking his leg in half, snowboarder Zach Shortway comes home to start a hot yoga studio

| 09 Apr 2021 | 01:25

Navigating his fledgling studio, Ah-ha Yoga, through a pandemic, Shortway has plenty of reason to be stressed. But for once, he’s not. At 30, he’s still hitting all the jumps and may actually be snowboarding better than ever. The pain in his leg has subsided, and his hair, which he lost in high school as a result of alopecia, is even starting to grow back. He sees the hybrid class model, with some people practicing in the studio and others joining from home, as the way of the future.

Talk about your athletic career before you found yoga.

I grew up in Vernon and I played high school sports, lacrosse and I played youth football. Really snowboarding was my big passion, and hiking. After graduating from Vernon, I moved out to Colorado to go to college and really snowboard often.

Were you a pro snowboarder?

No, I considered myself a professional ski bum. I tuned skis and managed ski shops for years, just stayed on the slopes as often as possible.

What got you into yoga?

After years of sustaining injuries with snowboarding, I began to experience chronic pain, and then I was diagnosed with arthritis in 2006.

Was the arthritis from snowboarding injuries?

From my understanding it was from the injuries and surgeries and some hardware I had in my wrist. So I was often in pain and I was reaching physical limitations in snowboarding because of the injuries, and I didn’t want to stop. So someone suggested yoga to me. I started doing pre-recorded videos and I started to feel results immediately.

I was hesitant for awhile to go into a studio because I really didn’t know what that entailed. And then when I finally got confidence to go out into studios I started doing more and more yoga. Then I stumbled into Out Here Yoga in Steamboat, which was unlike any other yoga I’ve done, it was Baptiste Power Vinyasa yoga which I teach now, and that really changed my life forever. Then my passion for yoga was ignited.

It started to heal my body and strengthen my muscles and give me more flexibility, like, immediately. That kind of overtook other things I’d been doing. I’d started replacing running and lifting, a lot of activities, with yoga. It really started to do wonders for my body, and my wellbeing, and mindfulness. I had less anxiety and it really started to alleviate that pain I was talking about.

What kind of pain you were in at that point?

In 2013, I took a crash at Mt. Hood, Oregon on my snowboard, and I broke my tibia and fibula, spiral fractures, broken in half. I got compartment syndrome and I was in the hospital for about a week until they could sew me up, put a rod and other hardware in there. From there, I was in bed for about a month or two, I was on crutches for about three and a half months. That was my biggest injury. I’m still dealing with pain from that rod being in there and there’s a lot of scar tissue around it, and the yoga continues to make it better and better.

What’s compartment syndrome, dare I ask?

From my understanding it’s excessive swelling. Basically, I had to lay in a hospital bed for a week while my leg was stuffed with this material. They literally cut my leg from my knee to my ankle and stuffed it with material that would wick away all the internal bleeding and excess swelling. And so once the compartment syndrome was alleviated, then they took all that material out and sewed my leg shut.

How does it feel when you’re on your board now? I imagine you’re more low key?

It feels great, now. I actually feel like I’m a better snowboarder now than before I had that injury and others.


I think it really is the yoga. As well as being stronger and more flexible now, it’s given me awareness with my body that I didn’t have prior. Where I was younger, maybe I was more apt to do things on my snowboard; now I have a deeper awareness. Whether it’s snowboarding or running or lifting weights or playing lacrosse, the yoga has expanded into all those activities, basically balancing my body and balancing my mind to be with my body in those activities.

Are you still hitting jumps?

I’m still hitting jumps. The jumps here aren’t as big as they were in Colorado. I’m definitely hitting everything Creek has.

Come again?

Everything Mountain Creek has to offer, I’m on it.

What made you decide to start your own studio?

So in 2018, I was in Colorado, and really I was falling into the comfortability and contentment in life of being this yoga-teaching ski bum, and at the same time I was hearing a calling for more. So I wanted to see what else might be out there for me. So that summer I packed up and me and my dog took a road trip across the country, staying with friends and family and camping out. And then eventually I landed in Vernon and then I decided to stick around for awhile. I began teaching private classes to my mom and her friends, and their feedback was great and more people started coming, so then I started seeking opportunities at other studios, teaching in Pine Island and Goshen and Warwick. My class sizes grew every week and positive feedback kept coming in.

And so one morning I was in shavasana, that’s what we call at the end of yoga practice when we lie down, and I had what I call an aha moment. I realized that Vernon could really use a yoga studio and in that I heard a calling that I could be the one to create it.

I was so in it. I flew back to Colorado for about a week, packed everything up, tied loose ends and made the move final, came back to Vernon to live with my parents while this new business started. It took us about nine months after that final decision to find a location, and then we opened June 2019.

Obviously, this is a weird time to be a business. How is Ah-ha Yoga doing?

It’s definitely a weird time. As the impact of the pandemic worsened my faith that the world needs more yoga strengthened.

In September I had another aha moment that this adaptation, this synchronicity of people being in the studio while streaming online, where at first it was a solution, I really started to see it as an opportunity, an opportunity to expand and grow and share yoga with people who can’t access our studio, whether we’re in pandemic times or not. I realized that the hybrid class structure was not going anywhere, and in fact it is the way of the future for yoga studios.

It seems like anxiety is on the increase, and not just because of Covid. Is anxiety something people come in looking to deal with a lot?

Absolutely. A lot of people come in looking for change, looking to lessen that anxiety. And that is something I’ve been dealing with since a young age. I have alopecia, which is an autoimmune disease, and I don’t grow hair on any parts of my body – maybe here or there a little bit. But from a young age I was told that was, like all autoimmune diseases, that it could be created by stress.

So I first lost all my hair freshman year of high school. The doctors were just like, the best thing you can do is not stress over it. And that just didn’t work. I snowboarded because I was dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety, really didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. And then eventually I learned that snowboarding wasn’t doing it for me, and I wouldn’t always be able to snowboard.

Yoga has really showed me this new side of my life where I feel so much more comfortable in my skin, where my alopecia does not bother me at all anymore.

Has your alopecia subsided?

It actually has subsided a little. Now I’m growing hair on my head, on my face and my arms. I still look very bald, because it’s new hair, it’s like baby hair, it’s very light and blonde, but I’m growing so much more hair than I ever did before I’m doing yoga. Right now I’m touching my face and I’m like wow, I actually have to shave.

How’s the pain from those old injuries?

My leg still hurts and I think that’s something I may be dealing the rest of my life. It is tenfold better that it was before I’m doing yoga. Along with my wrist too where I have hardware and arthritis. The same year I first got into yoga, I was tuning skis and I actually had to quit because I couldn’t stand on my feet or use my wrist, so that kind of kicked this off, where I was going to be facing big changes in my life. I could no longer work the job I was working, I could no longer snowboard like I wanted to snowboard, that was my main reason for living out there. So the yoga absolutely has totally changed how I feel in my body with that pain. Where I may have some of that pain in my body forever, it is a tenth of what it used to be.

Anything you know now, at the wise old age of 30, that you wish you’d known before starting a business?

It’s probably the yogi in me – and there’s not. I think every time I’m faced with a challenge it’s meant to be and I learn from it. One of my favorite quotes, and I tell it to my students all the time, is: Embrace uncertainty because the best chapters of our lives won’t have a title ‘til much later.