Best of the High Country 2022 Part 2

Loriann Bentzler with Peak View BBQ was voted the best bartender of the high country. Photo By Trevor Phipps

Best Area-wide Event

Gold – Salute to American Veteran Rally

Silver – Old Time 4th of July

Bronze – Woodland Park Christmas Parade

Last year’s champ – Rocky Mountain Oktoberfest

Talk about a changing of the guard. With COVID, and the city of Cripple Creek’s decision to no longer sponsor special events, coupled with COVID complications, big changes have occurred with area special events. For the first time ever, the city of Woodland Park hosted the annual Salute to American Veterans Rally, which in the past occurred in Cripple Creek. The change was well-received, so much that  the festival will return this August to the City Above the Clouds. Woodland’s 4th of July, the old-fashion style was also big hit, as was its annual Christmas celebration.

Best Business Events

Gold – Fund-raisers for community groups

Silver – Woodland Park Chamber After Hours

In a new category heavily mentioned by readers, the various community fund-raisers, hosted by several local establishments, including Rhapsody, the 110 Reserve, McGinty’s, Russ’ Place,  Peak View BBQ, Blue Moose and more, benefitting a slew of nonprofits, have turned into great gatherings and a way to avoid all the menace of social media.   Plus, they really benefit groups and causes that need a little push, such as the mayoral campaigns for the Teller County Regional Animal Shelter. Meanwhile, it’s hard to argue with the rebounding comeback of the Woodland Park Chamber’s After Hours, which have returned to the pre-COVID numbers. The last several of these get-togethers have been pretty amazing.

Best COVID Community Relief Effort

Gold – Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce

Silver – Area Banks

Bronze – Small Business Administration

In another new competition, the Chamber won hands-down for their COVID-relief efforts and the way they worked with local businesses and the county in combating the COVID menace, which hopefully, may be reaching a close locally. Let’s just hope. The Chamber was lauded for the information they provided and one-on-one counseling. Let’ just hope. The area banks, especially Park State and Vectra, also played a helping hand in assisting businesses in obtaining loans.

Best New Lodging Project

Gold – Bronco Billy’s Expansion

Silver – Wildwood Hotel

Bronze – Microtel Inn & Suites

Last year’s champ – Wildwood Hotel

Yes, the new nine-story (from the base of Bennett Avenue) Bronco Billy’s expansion, including construction for a 300-plus-room hotel, parking garage and special four-star amenities, has hit full-stride.  Technically, it is called the Chamonix. If not convinced, then take a drive downtown Cripple Creek these days and view the massive cranes. We have nicknamed it Cripple Creek’s new Twin Towers. The project is slated for completion in the summer of 2023, and it is probably the most ambitious lodging venture ever done in the Creek in modern history. Shortly after COVID, the project appeared dead, but then experienced a massive re-birth and a more accelerated construction pace than  critics ever imagined. The Wildwood Hotel, which opened last summer, gained much praise as did the Microtel Inn & Suites, next to Country Lodge.

Best Local Entertainment

Gold – Live music at the Blue Moose

Silver – Shows at The Creek

Bronze – Rhapsody

Honorable Mention – Woodland Park RE-2 School Board Meetings

Last year’s champ – The War Over the Salute to American Veterans Rally

The Blue Moose in Green Mountain Falls clearly snagged the gold in this heavily contested competition, offering an intimate and lively setting for bands and various musicians, for local and regional acts, with everyone welcome of any age group from 20-somers to old geezers from TMJ (no names will be provided to protect the guilty), and even a few local ambassador canines. It is quite a scene. The shows at The Creek have taken on a new level of ammo for live music buffs, as have some of the shows at the Rhapsody. As far as the political theater, it seemed the Woodland Park City Council was untouchable. Wrong. The RE-2 School Board meetings, which need an amphitheater to house everyone, beat them out this year.

The Teller County High Country area is a mecca for chiropractic services, especially with the infusion of more retirees and senior citizens, who just need those frequent adjustments.  Powell Chiropractic and Wellness Center, which has been tending to patients and serving the Woodland Park and the surrounding region for more than 30 years, snagged the gold. With Dr. Dave in charge, along with a great staff, and their cozy office off Rampart Range Road, equipped with a gym, this is a tough act to follow. Over the years, and even now, they have helped out with the ongoing ailments of the folks from TMJ, who just seem to pursue bad habits. Dr. Scott Little and Ute Pass Chiropractic also garnered  many votes.

Last year’s champ – Reason Chiropractic

Best Area Dentist

Gold – Dr. Stephenie Kaufmann DDS PC

Silver – Forest Edge Dental Care

Bronze – Woodland Park Dental Group

Last year’s champ – Dr. Stephenie Kaufmann

In a repeat victory, Dr. Stephenie Kaufmann, whose office is located in downtown Woodland Park at 400 w. Midland Avenue, grabbed the gold in a heavily contested competition. Dr. Kaufmann has been a fixture in the community, offering premiere dental service for more than 15 years. Dr. Kaufmann is heavily praised for the personal attention, she and her staff give to their patients, and how they weathered through the  COVID crisis. Dental services are one area that got hit bad by the COVID epidemic, along with the associated staff shortages. Forest Edge Dental Care, located off Rampart Range Road, snagged the runner-up spot, while the Woodland Park Dental Group fared quite well.

Best Veterinarian

Gold – Woodland Veterinary Clinic

Silver – Animal Clinic

Bronze – Compassion Animal Hospital

With a huge expansion from their previous digs, the Woodland Veterinary Clinic,  operated by Dr. Kevin Conrad, has become the top favored place for helping out furry friends, and a wide assortment of pets. They also sport an overnight hospital and can tend to canines and others with special needs.  But both the Animal Clinic and Compassion Animal Hospital gained much praise. Overall, Teller County is rated as hub for veterinarian services, with a dog and pet-loving population. It seems folks can’t go anywhere without taking their favorite best friend.

Best Pet Groomer

Gold – Clearwater Grooming

Silver – Woodland Pet Salon

Bronze – SnoDogs Pet Spa

Clearwater Grooming, which now has the space formerly occupied by Dr. Conrad, in Woodland Park, grabbed the gold, as folks just love to have their dogs groomed. Clearwater was followed by the Woodland Pet Salon and SnoDogs Pet Spa.

Most Unique Business

Gold – Maudie’s Incredible Emporium

Silver – Creations Everlasting

Bronze – Brazenhead Market

In a region bustling with the unique, the new digs of Maudie’s snagged the gold. Their Colorado artisans and antiques treasure is that, a genuine treasure. You can spend hours checking out their multi-varied collections and chatting with the various artists. Very unique business for Cripple Creek. And of course, Creations Everlasting, voted as the best retail hub,  has been a unique treasure for years in Cripple Creek, holding up the banner that yes, non-gaming shops are alive and well and very accommodating. The Brazenhead in Woodland Park, though, has captured many followers in the last year.

Best Gift Shop

Gold – Colorado Trade and Transfer

Silver – Creations Everlasting

Bronze – Mountain Top Games/Painted Bear

History is alive and well in Cripple Creek. Doubt this fact, then just browse through the Colorado Trade and Transfer shop, next to the museum.  Meanwhile, Creations Everlasting, Mountain Top Games and the Painted Bear in Green Mountain Falls, have apparently gained a growing following among gift shop buffs.

Best Marijuana Outlet

Gold – Maggie’s Farms

Silver – Rocky Mountain Blaze

Bronze – Emerald Fields

This year it is no surprise that local stoners picked Maggie’s for the best place to find some good happy grass. The dispensary’s large selection and vast supply of coupons is probably what made Maggie’s number one.This year though, went a bit differently from last year as Rocky Mountain Blaze all the way down in Pueblo West took the second spot on the podium. RM Blaze always seeks out the best products and their store is also filled with gifts. The other Manitou dispensary, Emerald Fields is another popular spot for residents of the high country.


Best Car Dealer

Gold – Phil Long Ford

Silver – Mike Maroone

Bronze – Carvana Online

Most people in the area know that big Ford trucks are one of the most common vehicles to see on the roadway. Therefore, it really isn’t a big surprise when the local Ford dealer takes the gold in this category. Mike Maroone deals in other brands like Chevrolet, Honda, and Volkswagen and when locals do not want to but a Ford that seems to be where they go. With Carvana being on the list, it proves that online car buying has been a trend that has recently increased.


Best Electrician

Gold – Ace Electric

Silver –  Hardcastle Heating, Air, and Electric

Bronze – Mountain Lightning

Over the last couple of years, home maintenance and remodeling projects have definitely ramped up. Luckily, there are now several electricians in the high country so those needing work done do not need to call someone up from Colorado Springs. Ace Electric has an office right in town and their trucks can often be seen at just about any construction project in the area. Hardcastle recently added electricians to their lineup of HVAC technicians and plumbers and the voters seem to approve.


Best Jewelry Store

Gold – Lane Jewelers

Silver – The Shane Co.

Bronze – Luisa Graff Jewelry

When it comes to buying jewelry, the local staple Lane Jewelers in Manitou Springs made the top of the list once again. The popular store offers a large variety of various types of jewelry and they offer repair services. The Shane Company’s annoying ads that have been on the radio for over 20 years probably stuck the name in the heads of the voters enough to take home the silver. Luisa Graff is also a well-known name for getting fancy jewels.


Best Auto Repair

Gold – Big Sky Automotive

Silver – Schumacher’s Alignment and Tire

Bronze – Cripple Creek Auto Repair

When it comes to getting cars fixed, Big Sky Automotive in Divide was the voters’ favorite. The crew at Big Sky has reasonable rates and they are known to be some of the most honest mechanics around. Schumacher’s is one of the area’s oldest auto repair shops and it still please customers today. For Southern Teller County, those residents seem to prefer Cripple Creek Automotive for all of their repair needs.


Best Bed and Breakfast

Gold – The Hospitality House

Silver – Edgewood Inn

Bronze – Pikes Peak Paradise

For local bed and breakfasts, the Cripple Creek staple that is located in an old hospital building took the number one prize. When people don’t want to stay in a casino hotel they opt for the old fashioned hospitality offered at the old hospital. The Edgewood Inn off of Rampart Range Road just outside of Woodland Park is another popular spot for weddings and just a cool place to stay with beautiful Peak views. Pikes Peak Paradise is one of the newest bed and breakfasts in the area and it is located west of Woodland Park off of Trout Creek Road.

Best Attorney

Gold – DePalma Law Firm

Silver – McDivitt Law Firm

Bronze – Frank Azar

This list of winners in the legal arena pretty much speaks for itself, with most enjoying the local connections available with the DePalma Law Firm in Woodland Park, headed by Bart DePalma.

Best Medical Provider

Gold – UCHealth

Silver – Optum

The regional hospital, right outside Woodland Park, has vastly increased its resources with the acquisition by UCHealth, while Optum has made many strides also.  Both have also succeeded in keeping a strong local presence.


Individual Winners

Best Casino Manager

Gold – Eric Rose (Century)

Silver – Matt Andrighetti (Wildwood)

Bronze – David Minter

In an overwhelming verdict again, Eric Rose, the head skipper for Century Casinos, snagged the gold. Eric provides a much-needed breath of fresh air to the often-mundane Cripple Creek council meetings, offering the gaming industry perspective. His past talks on lodging, recreational marijuana and special events are right on the mark. Matt Andrighetti, the general manager of the Wildwood, who has experienced the ups and downs of gaming for years, recorded an impressive runner-up finish. And David Minter, the head skipper for Johnny Nolon’s  and Colorado Grande casinos, is also a frequent attendee at council meetings, and isn’t afraid to tell city leaders his favorite line: “show me the money.” As the city addresses such forthcoming issues as betting device fees and recreational marijuana, look for these guys to speak up even more.

Best Casino Employee

Gold – Belinda Marcelino (Triple Crown Casinos)

Silver – Bronco Billy’s staff

Bronze – Double Eagle

No competition, as Belinda Marcelino, the benefits administrator for Triple Crown’s Human Resources Department, won hands-down in this heavily contested title as the town’s best employee. With the staff shortages bombarding the gaming industry, this position is extremely important. Staff members of both Bronco Billy’s and the Double Eagle received good recognition in this competition.

Best Local Personality

Gold – Edie Smith (Creations Everlasting)

Silver – Cripple Creek donkeys

Bronze – Les Batson/Melissa Trenary

If you visit any non-gaming shop in Cripple Creek, and then are lucky enough to step into the doors of Creations Everlasting at the Double Eagle establishment, you undoubtedly will engage in a friendly conversation with Edie Smith, the proprietor and work-horse behind this great business. Edie won this title by a landslide proportions Edie has been a big community asset for years. The fact that she beat out the donkeys and council contenders, Les Batson and Melissa Trenary, two folks not exactly short on words, is an amazing feat in itself.



Best Area Bartender

Gold – Loriann Bentzler, Peak View BBQ

Loriann Bentzler with Peak View BBQ was voted the best bartender of the high country. Photo By Trevor Phipps

Silver – Julie and James Reynolds, Blue Moose Tavern

Blue Moose Tavern bartenders Julie and James Reynolds took the second place prize for best bartender of the high country. Photo By Trevor Phipps.

Bronze – Biancha Gallo, Crystola Roadhouse

Crystola Roadhouse bartender Biancha Gallo took home the bronze in the best bartender of the high country category. Photo By Trevor Phipps.

Honorable Mention – Alisha Kimler, Blue Moose Tavern

With all of the new eateries popping up in the high country, the battle for best bartender was more competitive than ever this year. However, Loriann Bentzler has been a staple to the community for quite some time as she has worked at a handful of local pubs. She makes it a point to get to know all of the regular drinkers in town and will already have drinks ready for frequent bar goers like Rick Langenberg and Trevor Phipps as soon as they walk in the door. James and Julie Reynolds are often seen working together at the Blue Moose. Their prompt service and stellar ability to handle drunk people were probably two main factors that put them on the list. Biancha Gallo has worked at Crystola since they reopened   and she is skilled at being able to keep patrons in the bar drinking. Her posts on social media are also popular in town as people tend to flock to the bar every time she makes a post.


Best Public Servant

Gold – Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell

Silver – Cripple Creek Police Department

Bronze – Interim Administrator Ray White/Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker

For yet another year, Teller’s head law enforcement official was declared the top public servant. As the sheriff and a veteran of the department for decades, Mikesell has faced many challenges during his reign. But the sheriff has taken major steps to boost department morale, and has put a halt to the revolving door syndrome that plagued past administrations. Mikesell also was complimented on how he  handled the coronavirus epidemic and urged officials to open up the county more. He also is very approachable and a familiar figure at local meetings or even at his wife Pam’s great establishment, the 110 Reserve. The Cripple Creek Police Department, under the leadership of Bud Bright, has also shined and combated the personnel shortage inflicting most law enforcement agencies. And both departing  administrators Ray White and Sheryl Decker received an amazing amount of support.


Best Local Sports Star

Gold – Brady Hankin, Senior High School Wrestler

Silver – Grace McClintock, Senior High School Volleyball and Basketball

Bronze – Adam and Eli Garner, Seniors High School Wrestling and football

Even though Brady Hankin just missed the chance to take home a state championship all four years of his high school career, he still is a top-notch athlete with his second place finish statewide. Next year, he will move on to the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley where he will hit the mats and start trying to take trophies home at the college level. Grace McClintock has also been a familiar name during her high school career as she was a star on both the volleyball and girls’ basketball teams. She will be traveling to Kansas next year to play volleyball for Friends University. The two senior twins Adam and Eli Garner, also played more than one sport throughout their high school careers. They both were vital players on the Panther football team and they made the podium during the state wrestling championship.

Best Rumor Monger

Gold – Lou Goldman

Silver – Area Social Media Outlets

Bronze – TMJ Staff

Lou Goldman, with the sale of his top nongaming shops in Cripple Creek, may not have the influence he once wielded. But Lou is still a mighty man with the tongue and can spread his share of rumors. Of course, our growing social media pages have created quite a trail of gossip and mini-political and business battles. The fight over the fate of the Salute to American Veterans Rally is a prime example. And the TMJ staff is not immune from an occasional story or two, and are trying not to get booted out of another meeting spot. Will see if they succeed.


Best Area Troublemaker

Gold – Stephanie Alfieri

Silver – Tanner Coy

Bronze – Woodland Park School Board Directors

Stephanie Alfieri was elected to the Woodland Park City Council in 2020, and she has made several moves that gave her the reputation as a troublemaker. During her tenure on council, she was very vocal at all of the meetings and she was never afraid to speak about her opinions against government shutdowns, masks, and vaccine mandates.

Tanner Coy has been a very vocal community member for several years and it didn’t slow down when he was booted from the Downtown Development Authority(DDA) last year. His latest troublemaking scheme was when he upset local parents by proposing to give Columbine Elementary to the new Merit Academy. Once the 2021 election ended, it was clear that a new conservative school board was going to take the reins and quickly start making some major changes. They have been adamant on following through with all of their campaign promises to the dismay of some residents who have shown their opposition to the new board via protests and several damning social media posts.


Best Non-Sport Activity

Gold – Woodland Park High School Cheerleading Team

Silver – Woodland Park High School Forensics Team

Bronze – Summit Elementary School Destination Imagination

This year the Woodland Park High School Cheerleading team proved that they were more than just girls with pom-poms in charge of getting crowds fired up. When it came to competitions, the girls took the league trophy, finished second in state, and they were invited to the national competition in Orlando, Florida. The forensics (or speech and debate) team at the high school also had some students that placed well at the state levels and a few were invited to the national tournament. The Destination Imagination (DI) team at Summit Elementary placed first at regional competition and they will be competing at the state tournament next month.

Best Controversy

Too tight of a competition to list a winner.  Here are the main contenders:

The Paid-Parking Fiasco in Green Mountain Falls

The city of Cripple Creek’s decision to axe funding for special events

The takeover of the Woodland Park RE-2 School Board

The revamping of the Woodland Park Police Department

The hotel boom in Cripple Creek, and the new Billy’s expansion

The infighting among Woodland Park elected leaders

The reaction to the coronavirus restrictions

The Woodland Park city elections of 2022