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Back then this shopping district was a cen-ter of commerce for ranchers who traveled from hundreds of miles away.

In the decades since, Billings’s population has grown from about 67,000 to more than 110,000.

As an energy and agricultural center known for both its stunning rimrock formations and its oil refineries, Billings was a dark horse in this year’s competition.

The Tetons rise 7,000 feet straight up from the valley floor, begging to be climbed, and the mountaineering history here is as long and rich as anywhere in North Amer­ica.

But Jackson is equally ­famous for skiing—two decades ago, Patridge’s first job in town was working on Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s red tram. People come here from everywhere to fish for trout on the Snake River, hunt elk from the famous National Elk Refuge herd, or just gaze at wildlife through binoculars.

But Lou Clayton, 82, who’s been clocking in at Taubert’s since 1989, says Billings is a small town dressed up like a big city.

“We used to say, ‘You can tell when you get to Montana, because people wave at you on the two-lane roads,’ and that’s still true today.” Billings is only a stone’s throw from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness area, one of the largest in the country and home to Granite Peak, Montana’s tallest at 12,807 feet.

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