by Stephen Garner

In 20 years, Snow Peak USA has gone from a modest distributorship in a residential garage in Portland, Oregon in 1999 to a 30 member team, with retail locations on both coasts and ambitious growth plans for the next two decades. What remains constant is the Yamai family legacy and its commitment to restore humanity through nature.

Yukio Yamai founded Snow Peak in 1958 in Sanjo City, Japan as a modern mountaineering brand. He began by designing and selling his own pitons and crampons made from titanium, stainless steel, and aluminum. In the 1980s, his son Tohru Yamai shifted the brand’s focus to community-focused camping gear, almost single-handedly inventing Japanese car camping culture. In 2019, Tohru Yamai moved to Portland to lead the expansion of Snow Peak in the USA.

“Camping culture in the U.S. is well-established, but Snow Peak will go beyond simply selling gear and actually provide unique experiences in the outdoors. At its core, Snow Peak believes in nature’s ability to heal and restore humanity,” said Yamai. “Our plans for growth in the U.S. have always been, and continue to be centered around bringing people together around a campfire sharing stories, surrounded by good food and friends. The new USA flagship brings those fundamental principles to life and signifies the start of an exciting new era for Snow Peak USA.”

Construction on the new Snow Peak USA flagship and headquarters located at 404 NW 23rd Avenue began in October and will continue through early 2020.

Partnering with Skylab Architecture, the new retail space will showcase the brand’s entire line of Japanese-designed, lifetime-guaranteed products for outdoor living. The interior will feature retail on two levels, with the U.S. headquarters on the upper floor. Designed to be a playground of outdoor equipment, the space will invite customers to touch, feel and test products, with demos and space for interactive camp exhibits. 

The design inspiration is based on the concept of “Dwelling Outside.” Nature will be translated indoors, from the dark wood floors, reminiscent of stepping onto the forest floor, to lush live plants throughout the retail space, and the open, natural light-filled upper levels bringing the customer’s attention skyward. Honor will be paid to Snow Peak’s heritage in both Japan and Portland through architectural features. Traditional Japanese timber framing will adorn the walls, milled from century-old Douglas Fir beams reclaimed from a Portland-area warehouse. The space will come alive with artwork and installations from Pacific Northwest designers and artists, Tireman Studio and Portland Garment Factory.

Snow Peak has always been a brand that brings people together around the fire, and the ground floor will also feature a restaurant and bar, serving Japanese-inspired dishes melded with a Pacific Northwest flavor. Built around the idea of fire bringing the community together, the restaurant will highlight an open hearth and open kitchen concept. The food and beverage menu will reflect the importance of fresh, locally sourced ingredients. The restaurant will have dining space indoors and seating in its fully covered outdoor patio space. The 1800 square foot patio will include an open multi-purpose space, perfect for fire pits and camp chairs.

“Snow Peak’s new space on NW 23rd is more than a retail store,” said Matt Liddle, chief operating officer at Snow Peak USA. “It’s truly a community space for people to gather, enjoy a drink and share a meal, play with our products or simply relax by a fire. We’re creating a hands-on, indoor/outdoor space that truly encapsulates the Snow Peak experience. Snow Peak’s success over the last two decades has made this flagship a reality, and we’re incredibly grateful to our loyal customers who have supported Snow Peak USA since its humble beginnings.”