words :: Corrie DiManno.
While he could be described as mild-mannered, Masaki “Saki” Yokota keeps a wild card or two up his sleeve. Born and raised in Banff, he’s what they call a unicorn, meaning he’s a rare sort to come by in a mountain resort town. And, with almost three feet of hair, he sports an equine-esque flow.
Is it true he doesn’t own a car or a cellphone and bikes year-round in shorts, including in minus 30 degrees Celsius? Short answer: yes.
“You don’t really need a cellphone to get hold of me,” says Masaki. “I’m either working, golfing, or in Vegas playing poker.”
Known for being generous with his time, talent, and treasure, Masaki puts folks at ease with his laid-back and welcoming disposition. As a bartender in the service industry, he’s always meeting people new to town and a rite of passage is guiding them up Cascade or Rundle Mountain—dealer’s choice. To date, he’s made the trek 25 times on each.
Basically, Masaki goes all in for his community. He coaches volleyball at the high school, he stoically shovels snow off the basketball court in winter, and he participates in the annual 24 Hours for Bipolar hikeathon with his friends. And then there’s that one time he cut off all his hair to raise $17,000 to support youth sports in the Bow Valley.
“When I was in high school it was hard to find coaches for certain sports and that void stuck with me. I don’t want that feeling for these kids coming up and I’m hoping they’d return the favour down the road in the community they end up in,” he says. “Plus, most of them call me ‘Dad,’ which is hilarious on road trips.”
When he’s not teaching sports, he can be found reaching for the sky in his classic “high jumping” photos taken at summits. It all started back in 2006, when a friend took an action shot of him on Castle Mountain with a point-and-shoot camera. He entered it into a contest and won a trip to, that’s right, Las Vegas. He’s kept this tradition going ever since and yet can’t quite put his finger on the trick to landing the perfect snap.
If pressed to recount his most epic day in the mountains, Masaki simply describes a windless, bluebird day on top of Mount Temple with his hiking buddies.
“A bluebird without wind is like a dream. You’re just baking in the sun at the top with nothing in mind. It’s pure bliss and serenity.”
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