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How a Near-Death Mountain Climb Launched One of the Adventure World's Best-Known Brands The brothers Giovale are avid mountain climbers, and they learned the hard way that the industry needed better tools for safety. They made the product themselves, launching a now-global business.

By Dina Mishev

This story appears in the March 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

In 2003, Lhapka Gelu Sherpa wore an earlier version of Kahtoolas while setting the Mount Everest speed record.

Brothers Danny and Mike Giovale are both experienced mountain climbers and had no problems on the way up an intense climb in the rigorous Italian Dolomites. But on the way down, Danny slipped in a steep, snow-filled gully. "I couldn't stop," he says. "As my velocity increased, I thought, I seriously could die." He didn't, luckily: He flew off a snow bumper into water that had warmed on the rocks.

He told other adventurers about his fall, and he learned he wasn't alone. "Almost everyone, without exception, either had a similar experience or knew someone who had," Danny says. There was a tool out there to help them: crampons, the metal spikes that attach to the bottom of boots. But at the time, the only ones available were heavy and rigid, and wouldn't attach to hikers' flexible shoes. His takeaway: "We need a better solution."

So Danny set to work in his garage in Salt Lake City, designing prototypes for lightweight, flexible crampons. He named his company Kahtoola, or "directly" in Tibetan, and called his product the Kahtoola Traction System Hiking Crampons. He didn't have a lot of money for market research, so he booked a postage-stamp-size booth at the winter 2001 Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City, the industry's biggest trade show. "I figured it'd be a great place to get feedback on whether I was right about there being a need for this type of crampon," Danny says.

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