Zahan Billimoria, an athlete first and foremost

18 Aug 2022

Founder of Samsara Training in Jackson Hole uses the the study of human evolution in training

Summer 2022

Written By: Monica Fedrigo | Images: Keegan Rice

Zahan Billimoria is characterized by movement. The founder of Samsara Training is always on the move, whether it’s exploring in the mountains, beginning new athletic endeavors, or analyzing insights to create effective and functional training programs.

Zahan, who is also a longtime guide with Exum Mountain Guides and the subject of a short film from Patagonia, leads a life of constant evolution. And evolution is exactly where Zahan looks for inspiration. “At Samsara, our methodology is rooted in the study of human evolution, how humans evolved to move over millions of years,” Zahan explains. He’s fascinated with human athleticism, has a joyful approach to movement, and is genuinely enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge. As a child in Switzerland, the Alps were the site of Zahan’s first mountain experiences. A photo of Doug Coombs jumping into Corbet’s Couloir captured Zahan’s imagination, and eventually led him and his wife, Kim, to the Tetons in 2003. Their two children are now teenagers and seasoned mountain athletes, but early in parenthood, Zahan was looking for an athletic outlet with less risk. “The mountains were my passion. Everything I did was really exciting, but also dangerous,” he says. Zahan was intrigued by ski mountaineering (skimo), a race that involves climbing or skinning up mountains and then skiing down. He hired Dan Streubel in Driggs to train him. Zahan was blown away with the result. “I felt like I had been born with a Ferrari, but no one gave me the keys until then,” he says, describing training’s dramatic effect on his performance. “I fell in love with the journey.” His passion for skimo reached its peak in 2008, when Zahan qualified for the U.S. National Team and competed in the world championship event in Champéry, Switzerland. He recalls the excitement of making the team and attending the week-long competition near where he skied growing up. As luck would have it, he was tasked with going head-to-head against Kilian Jornet, a record-setting endurance athlete, in the relay event. It wasn’t a race he was going to win, but Zahan knew he would give the best athletic performance he was capable of. Reaching their personal peak is a goal he loves helping his clients achieve. “I love being an athlete, and I love giving everybody else the keys to unlock their own potential,” he says. At Samsara, Zahan has trained elite athletes from many different sports. “We have a 2-hour, 11-minute marathoner, a Boston Red Sox player, skiers and snowboarders, climbers, a woman who is an open-water distance swimmer,” he says, noting that his programs are not just for elite athletes, but for anyone who wants to reach their peak athletic performance. “We also have a 50-year-old mom of four who is feeling amazing,” he notes. “Every human being, all of us, we are all athletes. That’s the most fundamental thing I believe,” Zahan says. “We were born athletes. We inherited athleticism because humans evolved to move. Our bodies are designed for performance.” Recently, Zahan has been dividing his time between guiding and working with people through Samsara. It’s a combination that gives him just the right amount of risk, something he’s always trying to keep in check. “Guiding is a career that becomes part of your identity,” he says, “And that can be dangerous because it is so risky.” It is certainly a unique career, where success is defined by alpine accomplishments, and with even greater significance, survival. This topic is the focus of the Patagonia short film on Zahan. Titled Solving for Z, the documentary takes an honest look at the highs, lows, and heartbreak that come with a career where risk can be mitigated, but never eliminated. The film crew had to pivot quickly when, during filming, Zahan was caught in an avalanche and required extensive reconstructive surgery on his shoulder. The injury occurred in March 2020. “The world shut down when my world shut down,” he says. Zahan was forced to slow down and process what had happened. During recovery, Zahan found himself watching mixed martial arts competitions with his son, which gave him a new athletic focus. In addition to practicing martial arts, he has recently taken up swimming and surfing — both on the snow with his friend Bryan Iguchi and on the North Shore of Oahu during the annual Samsara athlete trip. Zahan is a beginner in all four sports, but the joy he finds in expanding his athletic repertoire is apparent. “Learning is so much fun. Your brain is internalizing and processing how to pattern the movement better. The rate of improvement is so much faster as a beginner than at the sports you’ve done for years.” Even on a busy day running his business, Zahan believes taking time for activities is invaluable. “It’s fuel for the whole thing, it’s where my passion comes from,” he says. On any given day you can find him exploring the Tetons, at the martial arts gym, riding his bike to the pool, or heading up Snow King — always in motion.
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