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Who’s the highest of them all?

Brief by Allen Best

Altitude – March 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

The stakes are rising, so to speak, in the argument about who has the highest town in the United States. So are tempers.

For many years, the dispute was between Alma and Leadville, two old mining towns located on opposite sides of Colorado’s Mosquito Range. Leadville has an elevation of 10,182 feet on its main street, Harrison Avenue, but city employees several years ago began using the municipal water tower, elevation 10,430 feet. Alma responded by establishing an elevation, 10,578 feet, between its post office and water tank.

Still, by common consent, both towns claimed superlatives: Alma was the highest town, and Leadville the highest city. The distinction is grounded in Colorado law. Municipalities of less than 2,000 people are towns, and Alma has an estimated population of 231. Places of greater than 2,000 people can be incorporated as cities, which Leadville did. It has a population of 2,764.

Then along came Winter Park. Last summer, the town -it has a population of 827 -annexed the ski area, which reaches a maximum elevation of 12,060 feet. The purpose was to give the town jurisdiction over all of land-use decisions involving the ski area, bypassing county authorities.

This quite possibly made Winter Park the nation’s highest town, although Alma officials, when contacted by Mountain Town News, said they didn’t really know how high their town went up the slopes of adjacent mountains. In Winter Park, both town and chamber officials said they had no intention of bragging about their thin air.

But that was then. In December, the Fairplay Flume revisited the issue -and found cranky officials in Alma and stealth marketing in Winter Park.

Alma Mayor Mark Dowaliby dismissed Winter Park’s claim as a “desperate ploy for attention.” Alma, he said, refused to recognize Winter Park as the higher town

“We could always annex Mt. Bross,” he said, referring to a nearby 14,000-foot peak. “But I think it’s silly. We’re the highest town, and that’s that.”

Winter Park town officials had decided to exploit their superlative distinction, erecting signs at the town’s entrances to proclaim the title as the highest U.S. municipality.

Following up on those plans, the Colorado Springs Gazette spoke with Vince Turner, a town trustee in Winter Park, who acknowledged marketing ambitions. “People back in New York trying to book a vacation say, ‘Let’s go to the highest place. They’re bound to have the best snow,'” he said.

In Alma, meanwhile, people contacted by the Gazette were having none of it. Dean Misantoni, a saloon customer, said Winter Park’s claim was bogus, because no people lived at 12,000 feet. Most people in Winter Park live at little more than 9,000 feet.

But if Winter Park can claim an elevation of 12,100 feet, could another ski town claim even higher?

Breckenridge has the easiest opportunity. It has a base elevation of 9,600 feet, but the adjoining ski area has a maximum elevation of 12,998 feet. However, neither the town staff nor town council has discussed the idea of annexing the ski area, reports town spokesman Kim DiLallo.