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Jaren Wilkey/BYU
This aerial shot shows the BYU campus and Provo, Utah.
We are so close to the mountains, to ski resorts (and) good mountain biking trails. There’s so much fun outdoor recreation that you can do here. … It would just be cool if we were able to win the competition. —Anders Taylor

PROVO — The Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals aren't the only national competitions underway.

The Best Towns contest, which started with 64 cities, is down to two: Provo and Duluth, Minnesota.

Outside magazine asked Americans in May to vote in the tournament-style competition to determine the best town in the United States. A month later, Provo and Duluth have each advanced five rounds to the finals.

Most recently, Provo beat Ithaca, New York, to knock out the East Coast's nomination, and Duluth beat the Southern nominee Ashville, North Carolina.

Both Provo and Duluth have elicited the help of their residents to participate, but Duluth led by more than 10,000 votes Tuesday. The final round of voting ends at 9:59 p.m. Mountain time Sunday.

Still, Provo Mayor John Curtis is not sweating the gap.

"We've been the underdog from the beginning," Curtis said. "We were seeded (No.) 16, and we've been behind in all of these. Duluth has been coming out of the gate strong in all of them as well, so we are not at all surprised that it is starting like this."

Jonah Ogles, Outside magazine's travel editor and creator of the competition, declined to say which city he believes will emerge as the winner.

"Duluth has such a good lead right now," Ogles said, "but it always seems like Provo comes from behind."

Ogles said he's been impressed with the participation and loyalty of voters from Provo and Duluth — cities that he said both have a lot to offer.

"We've been positioning ourselves as a premier outdoor recreational city for the last decade," Duluth Mayor Don Ness said, "so this nationwide contest is a great way to tell our story and to get folks here in Minnesota a sense of pride on what Duluth has to offer."

Ness is a lifelong resident of Duluth and has been the mayor for the past seven years. He said the competition is a great way to showcase cities, and he's happy to be in the finals with Provo.

"Now that we’ve had this experience with Provo, it is defiantly on my list of cities to see," Ness said. "My family, we love to hike. We love to go on those outdoor adventures, and from the pictures I’ve seen, it looks like there are some really beautiful places in the area."

Neither mayor has visited the other's city, but both say they're now interested in doing so.

"It’s interesting as we have gone against these different cities, every single one of them I’ve felt like, ‘Wow! I need to go there,’ because they all offer fabulous living for their residents," Curtis said.

But Provo, too, is unique, he said. Curtis said he believes Provo deserves to win because of its residents, recreational activities and innovative spirit.

"I think that having a mountain to our east and a lake to the west with the river that runs down through the middle, that just gives us all sorts of opportunities," the mayor said.

"We are so close to the mountains, to ski resorts (and) good mountain biking trails," said Anders Taylor, a Provo resident who moved to the area in 2003 to attend BYU. "There’s so much fun outdoor recreation that you can do here. … It would just be cool if we were able to win the competition."

Email: mcollette@deseretnews.com

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