Ken Thuerbach, owner of Alpine Log Homes, skied an enviable 87 days last season. As the 58-year-old entrepreneur will tell you, living in the mountains was part of a grand scheme he envisioned in the early 1970s when, Harvard MBA in hand, he drafted a list of life necessities. "I was looking for a labor-intensive business that had low capital requirements and no accounts receivables, and I wanted to live in the Rocky Mountains," he says. He also wanted his business to be exciting to consumers.
Oddly enough, the resulting company, which builds 100 homes a year-most of them costing more than $1 million-was born in Kenya when Thuerbach, working as a consultant, read a story on how the skills necessary to build authentic log structures were disappearing. "Six years later I was back in this country looking for old-timers who were still building with hand-hewn timbers and could teach their methods to new craftspeople," he says. Shortly thereafter, he paid $3,000 for a one-third interest in a foundering business called Alpine Log Homes.
Thuerbach soon revolutionized the log-home industry by determining that the logs should come to him rather than require his craftsmen to go to the logs. So he started trucking timber from the Northwest and Canada to his headquarters in Victor, Mont. "Bringing the wood to a central locale meant we weren't stuck with local logs, we didn't need a nomadic workforce and we had great quality control," says Thuerbach, who also developed new construction techniques, redesigned tools and even invented a synthetic chinking compound that has replaced concrete as the industry standard for sealing space between the logs.
Alpine homes are constructed from standing dead spruce and lodgepole pine trees. There's a multimonth design phase, followed by nearly three months of handcrafting. Next, each residence is erected at the company's headquarters, then numbered, disassembled and loaded onto flatbed trucks. "One craftsman goes with the house to oversee assembly, which takes about a week," explains Thuerbach, whose business has been used as a Harvard Business School case study.
Since Thuerbach started his business, ski homes have evolved into multigenerational meeting places. "People still want big homes, but now they want wings for kids and grandkids," he says.