UNDER THE SUN
Where is the 'high country'?
Steamboat Springs — Colorado’s television and radio news outlets have a fascination with the term “high country” when talking about the weather.
“Expect snow in the high country.”
“We’re looking at the same cold temperatures in the high country.”
“Another beautiful day in the high country.”
Since being sensitive to the term, I’ve identified that the high country can refer to Steamboat Springs, Vail, Aspen, Durango or Leadville. Never mind some of these places are a couple hundred miles away from each other and don’t have the same weather all the time.
But whenever it snows west of the Front Range, the high country is what receives the lip service. According to that logic, almost two-thirds of the state, or 55,752 square miles, has similar weather.
Obviously, that doesn’t make sense when you compare elevations elsewhere in the state. Grand Junction, for example, is 4,597 feet, while Denver is 5,280 feet. Colorado Springs is at 6,008 feet, only about 700 feet lower than Durango and more than 200 feet higher than Glenwood Springs. And don’t forget that Monument Pass (7,000 feet), which is just south of Denver, is higher than Steamboat Springs and most of northwest Colorado.
Still, with such a wide use in weather reports, a definition of “high country” should exist.
After confirming that the National Weather Service doesn’t use high country in its reports, I called Jim Beers, the news director at KUNC, a National Public Radio station in Greeley, who attempted to define it.
“I see Steamboat and other mountain locations as the high country,” Beers said.
However, Grand Junction is on the “other side of the hill,” and is considered to be on the western slope. Therefore, “everything in between is the high country,” Beers said.
But he admitted to using the term generally and that his definition probably doesn’t define the term accurately.
People I know living in higher elevations say the high country is above 8,000, excluding much of Colorado.
Still hoping for a pure definition, I called High Country News, where “Writers on the Range” Editor Betsy Marston said elevation doesn’t even matter.
“The high country is anywhere close to public lands,” she said.
To her, even low deserts are considered the high country.
Insightful, but I was still wondering why the fascination with the term. So I’m chalking this one up as a New York phenomenon.
Many New Yorkers I’ve met are often surprised at how big “out west” is. They see America as the east coast, then Chicago and then California, with some stuff in between.
With 80 percent of Coloradans living on the Front Range, when “high country” comes out of the mouths and minds of journalists there, it’s a reflection of how many people view the rural spaces west of them as just some mountains connected by a few ski resorts. It seems that people forget that most of Colorado is west of Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins, and is rural.
So, the next time you hear a Denver television news report talk about “great skiing in the high country,” just smile and remember that’s just how people on the “Front Range” are.
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