Above all, our story is about people. And while that may sound odd coming from a company selling outdoor gear, everyone on our team, whether at our Flagstaff headquarters, or around the world, comes together with the goal of helping others. That commitment starts, as the company did more than two decades ago, with innovative gear...and a life changing climbing accident.
The Fall That Started It All
The root of Kahtoola’s commitment to people goes all the way back to 1993 when Owner and Founder, Danny Giovale, found himself descending with his brother off of the Graffer Route on Campanile Basso—a spire that stands over 1000 feet tall in the Italian Dolomites. As the two were making their way down a steep gully on foot, Danny’s climbing shoes slid on the frozen surface, and he suddenly found himself careening 200m down an icy slope.
The next few moments would impact Danny for the rest of his life. As he was falling, time seemed to stand still and Danny thought about how his death might impact his loved ones and friends. He came to a stop shaken but alive, and it was clearer to him than ever that life is a gift worth celebrating.
Man On A Mission
Danny left Italy and returned home to Flagstaff, Arizona. With the fall still fresh in his mind, he looked into statistics around accidents on slippery surfaces. Danny found that, according to the American Alpine Club (AAC), slipping on icy, snowy terrain was the leading cause of death and injury while climbing. And to his surprise, Danny couldn’t find a reliable, secure traction device that could be worn over flexible footwear and easily carried in a pocket or backpack—nothing that could help him avoid another accident like the one he had in Italy.
Convinced that outdoor experiences could be made safer, Danny ultimately took up the challenge to design and build a pair of packable crampons that could be used with flexible footwear. It was a long road, but four years and dozens prototypes later, he accomplished that mission with the world’s first crampon designed for hiking. Now known as our KTS Hiking Crampon, this groundbreaking traction device is still helping make the outdoors safer, more accessible and more rewarding more than two decades later.
In the early days, following a corporate path wasn’t a given for Danny. He was skeptical about a life in business, and decided that if he was going to expand beyond the family shop where he produced that first pair of hiking crampons, his company had to do more than just sell gear.
Danny had grown up in the Gore family—of W.L. Gore & Associates, the inventors of Gore-Tex—and was immersed from a young age in his grandfather Bill Gore’s steadfast commitment to innovation, people and the potential he saw in everyone. As the Gore family built their business, that belief in the positive potential of people was one that resonated deeply with Danny when he would visit his grandparents’ home in Delaware and during their yearly backpacking trips together in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains.
When it was time to take his business to the next level, Danny turned to those formative years for inspiration. He wanted his new company to make a difference, and he believed that would come through making people’s lives richer. And to ensure that never changes, Danny keeps full ownership of Kahtoola, so he can continue to make decisions around people, rather than just profits.
A Business We Can All Be Proud Of
Over the years, our team has grown, and today we all work together to drive the culture at Kahtoola. But one thing has remained constant—we know our ability to focus on people begins with crafting innovative products—like our groundbreaking MICROspikes traction device—aimed at outdoor adventure. That single truth has kept our products on the cutting edge of design and technology since our first hiking crampon prototype was created in 1996. We’re constantly looking to make our line of gaiters and traction products the best they can be, through customer input, rigorous testing, exhaustive prototyping, and of course, a healthy dose of ingenuity.
Fortunately for us, our home city of Flagstaff, AZ is a great place to make this happen. We’re surrounded by a community of world-class athletes and outdoor enthusiasts we can count on to test our products, and our backyard—which includes the Grand Canyon—is a constant source of inspiration. During the winter months, the area’s unique topography and climate allow us to test traction products on ice and snow one day and gaiters in the dry, dusty desert the next.
For everyone at Kahtoola, this is a labor of love. And we show up to work every day committed to the things we make and to celebrating the people they empower.