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Yukio's Journey

Written by: Simon Harris

June 23rd , 2022

Snow Peak Yukio's Journey

Yukio Yamai's story began in Tokyo. Born in the Yotsuya area of the city in 1931, Yukio was about to enter high school when an air raid destroyed their family home in March of 1945. Yukio then moved to his father's hometown, Sanjo, in Niigata. Unable to afford school, he started working for a wholesaler of metalware to help make ends meet. 

In 1956, a group of Japanese climbers became the first to reach the peak of the Himalayas' Mt. Manaslu (26,759 feet), the eighth highest peak in the world. Their success inspired postwar Japan and set off an unprecedented mountain climbing boom.  Still living in Tsubambe-Sanjo, Yukio also fell in love with the mountains. After the tragedy of war, he found solace in the beauty of the alpine peaks. His favorite peak was Mt. Tanigawa, on the border between Niigata and Gunma prefectures. Though it rises less than 6,500 feet, its steep rock faces and drastic weather changes have claimed more victims than any other mountain in the world. Climbers have referred to it as "the devil's mountain" or "the mountain that eats people." But young Yukio eagerly climbed the peak's dangerous Ichinokurasawa face.  

Climbing in those days was different from today. Clothing and gear didn't offer the same level of functionality we enjoy. Meals were plain, and the loads were heavy. Death was always close by, and climbers knew it. Despite the challenges, Yukio set out for the mountains as much as he could. Yukio's mountain journal recorded the weather on his ascents, conversations with friends, difficult route conditions, and the splendor of nature. The following excerpt is a powerful foreshadowing of Snow Peak's mission to restore humanity by reconnecting with nature.  

"We link our lives together by a single climbing rope, and it gives us such a beautiful sense of trust in each other. It is such a pure thing. If we could capture that feeling and harness it for the good of society, certainly everything we call bad or evil would fall away." 

As his passion for climbing deepened, Yukio used his connections with the metalworkers of Tsubame-Sanjo to create his own equipment. He had a vision and brought it to life. Yukio began testing his new designs with his climbing companions and compared them with the European gear he purchased. He was convinced he could make something better, and the technical skill of the Tsubame-Sanjo craftsmen made his dream a reality. Thus, Snow Peak's spirit of craftsmanship was born. In 1958, Yukio founded Yamai Shoten, a climbing equipment company that would become Snow Peak. Soon he was selling specialty crampons and other climbing equipment all over Japan. Crampons are critical for walking on icy trails, where one misstep can be disastrous.  

Retrospectively, it is symbolic that crampons became the first big hit in Snow Peak's history. More than 60 years later, Snow Peak has established itself as an innovative outdoor brand by taking one bold step after another, but Yukio could hardly have imagined what lay ahead for his business. 

Yukio's connection with the metalworking craftsman of Tsubambe-Sanjo and his belief in the healing power of time outside are a foundational part of Snow Peak’s DNA, inspiring both new products and innovative outdoor experiences.