We Make It Here: Colorado Yurt Company
The Colorado Yurt Company in Montrose was started by Dan and Emma Kigar, who shared an interest in the Back-to-the-Land movement of the mid-1970s.
The movement encouraged people to migrate from urban to rural areas in order to grow food naturally and live a simpler lifestyle on small acreage.
The Kigars made their first teepee in order to live in the backcountry of Summit County where they were “ski bums.” There was no water or electricity, and they had to ski in and ski out of the remote location.
“We knew other people who wanted to try that pioneering spirit for themselves,” Dan said.
In particular, there was interest in the teepee the Kigars lived in.
“And we could make it for them,” Dan said.
So, they made them, demand grew for more teepees, and their first business was born.
For years, their niche company, Earthworks, advertised in popular magazines such as Mother Earth News, Mother Jones and the East-West Journal.
“We had very organic roots,” Dan said. “We were a traditional mail-order company. They literally sent us a check in the mail, and we’d make them a tent.”
They built their first yurt in Ann Arbor, Mich., using cotton canvas while working for EarthWorks High School, one of the first alternative public high schools in the country.
That rustic yurt was given to the school, where the Kigars believe it still is used today.
Their first factory was located near the Blue River in Breckenridge. They invested in several industrial sewing machines and hired two employees.
Three-and-a-half decades later, the $5 million dollar company at 28 West South Fourth St. in Montrose has 15,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 30 employees.
The yurts, tents and teepees are made from state-of-the-art industrial fabrics and high-tech structural designs.
The walls of the yurts are made from vinyl laminate, and the roofs are made from Duro-Last roofing membrane, similar to the trademark tenting that covers the Denver International Airport.
The Internet opened up a new customer base for the company, and the Kigars found they no longer needed to advertise in grass-roots magazines.
“One of the keys to our company right now is we do shipping all over the world,” Dan said.
The Kigars’ yurts have been shipped to Japan, Belize, Alaska, New Zealand and France, to name just a few countries.
Currently, in terms of dollars, the factory makes an equal amount of tents, yurts, and teepees every year. Two-hundred-fifty yurts are produced annually — one per working day — plus 500 tents and 500 teepees.
The yurts, although they are based on the basic, traditional Mongolian structure, are “modern American,” Dan said. They have been specially designed to include a modular deck system, structurally insulated panels, and they meet or exceed most American building-code requirements.
The Colorado Yurt Company is the only company to engineer a yurt that can withstand high or unbalanced snowpack, Dan said. This makes their product popular accommodations at many Colorado state parks, upscale resorts in ski areas, and high-country fishing and hunting camps in Alaska.
There are three parts to the manufacturing process.
The first involves cutting large batts of material and welding that fabric into the outer skin of the structure.
Other employees cut and build the rafters and lattice that support the structures.
And the final touch is the addition of custom-built doors and windows, which are not made on-site at the Montrose factory.
“All of these streams have to come together at once to reach the fourth part, which is crating and shipping,” Dan said.
Despite the modern processes, the Kigars have not lost sight of those “organic roots” that led them to yurt building in the first place.
Dan said the eco-friendly company always is mindful of the environment, buying only domestically sold materials, including second-growth Douglas Fir from tree farms in the Northwest.
It’s one of the many things that helped the Colorado Yurt Company earn the distinction as one of “50 Colorado Companies to Watch” by Companiestowatch.org.
Dan said he plans to expand the export part of his business in the coming years, and he has no plans of moving the company anywhere else.
“Another reason to keep it working is we have good, good people here,” he said. “We plan on continued growth, expansion and development in this location and to hire more people.”