Tipis, tents, “glamping”, and yurts

You think you’ve had some unusual jobs? Well, you’d have to go a long way to beat Ivy Fife, of Montrose, who began her career as an artist who painted tipis at the Colorado Yurt company.

Fife began there 10 years ago, and has since worked her way up to marketing manager.

Part of her job is to tell audiences about Colorado Yurt’s somewhat unusual history.

“We are a local Montrose company”, Fife told a recent meeting of The Forum. “We’ve been in business for 43 years. But we haven’t been in Montrose the whole time.” The company was founded in 1976, moved to Montrose in 1994, and has been at its current location, at 28 W. South 4th St., since 2001.

From its small beginnings, Colorado Yurt has developed a worldwide clientele.

“We do sell our products worldwide, but everything is made here in Montrose,” she said. “85% of what we do is shipped.”

Colorado Yurt is owned by Dan and Emma Kigar. The Kigars started out by first living in a tipi themselves, then making them for customers. They have sent hundreds of tipis to the Coachella Rock Festival, and shipped products all over the world, including yurts to Mexico and Australia. They have a 35 person staff, including some “very skilled crafts people,” according to Dan Kigar. “They’re dedicated to our company. We’ve got some folks who have been working for us for 20 years.”

So, what exactly is a yurt, anyway? “It is a structure that’s based on the traditional Mongolian herders’ hut,” Fife explained. “In Mongolia, it’s used as a nomadic structure; it can be moved. Our yurts are engineered structures that are intended to be left in place. They meet snowload and wind requirements, and can be left up year round. We have them at Monarch Ski Area, at Telluride, in Alaska, and Hawaii.

“Some of our biggest customers in the yurt world are state and provincial parks,” Fife explained. “We’re in Colorado state parks, Utah, and Minnesota. We’re doing a pilot program right now in Tennessee, and are also providing yurts for Manitoba and Alberta.” Colorado Yurt is even selling its products in Mongolia. “Which is really cool,” Fife said enthusiastically. Pointing to a picture taken in a resort in Mongolia, she said, “You can see that they have traditional Mongolian yurts, and our yurts. And, they also ordered a large yurt from Montrose that can be used as a restaurant for them.”

Those made in Montrose are custom-made. “We make five different sizes, and each yurt is customized. So, our customers order their yurt and then we build it and send it to them.”

And, they still make tipis. “We started as a tipi company in 1976. Those we make are traditional-style Sioux tipis. We make nine different sizes. Volume-wise, we are still doing more tipis than anything else.”

Colorado Yurt also makes tents. “They are cabin-style platform tents. This is the fastest growing part of our business,” Fife explained. That’s largely due to the popularity of so-called “glamping”, a portmanteau of “glamor camping”. “That’s camping where you get to sleep in a bed,” according to Fife. “It has a lot of luxuries.

“So, the tent business is growing the fastest, the tipi business still has the highest volume, and the yurts are still definitely our highest revenue product.”

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About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.