Sneak-a-peak at Calgary Stampede

The first weekend in July is Calgary’s world-famous stampede and exhibition.  The parade and opening day is the Friday and the next ten days are filled with as much western themed fun as one can handle, for some that is a lot.  The night before the Stampede  Grounds actually open up to the public is an event called Sneak-A-Peek.  The night starts at 5 pm and the entry price is half of what it is the rest of the week.  So sneak a peak runs $8 an adult, regularly $16 and kids 6 and under are free.  In years past the admission cost started at 5pm but you could walk on to the grounds before that time for free.  With the flooding of the Stampede Grounds by the river a mere 14 days prior to the opening morning,  the clean up continued right up to 5pm so the grounds were not open to the public until the admission price was in effect.  It will be interesting to see if restricting access before the admission price kicks in continues in 2014 as many families would go down early to beat the gate and take advantage of the smaller crowds.  There are other days and specific times that admission is free for those who cannot afford it.  The first Sunday and the Wednesday 6-9 am families and kids with accompanying adults are granted free access.  The Tuesday of Stampede graces those in the silver hair set with free entry for heritage day and any rodeo or chuck wagon ticket get you on to the grounds for free on the day of the event you have a ticket for.  I avoid free entry mornings as the crowds are massive and make me slightly claustrophobic.

Once inside the gates, where I had met up with friends, we ventured off to the not so politically named “Indian Village”.  The Stampede is a celebration of western heritage and Native Canadians are a huge part of that history.  Native Bands are invited to live in traditional teepees for the ten days.  You cannot go in to the abodes, as that would be tantamount to someone touring your hotel room, but you can walk around the exteriors of  the tents and marvel at what nomadic life must have been like two centuries ago.  The section also features native handicrafts and arts for sale by artists as well as the sale of bannock, a traditional native bread.

After the Village we opted to cruise down the midway with its flashing lights, games and the barkers who accompany them, rides.  it really is a full sensory experience.  The nose is blasted with aromas of everything you could ever imagine deep-frying and more, the ears bombarded by bells, whistles, noises of fun and amusement.  Flashing lights and those dressed to impress in their best version of sexy western wear called the eyes here and there.  The game operators attempted to entice us to try their games of chance.  To a child it can be overwhelming and tantalising to an adult it can be draining on the pocketbook.  I have never seen the allure of spending gobs of money on trying to win an item I would never look twice at in a store.  There were however many young men lined up with wallets open, ready to impress the girls they were with and win them the giant teddy bear.  the Stampede does have a few kiosks set up where you can store winning, purchases or baggage for a fee if you do not want to haul the giant bear around with.

The rides are your typical carnival style thrill rides and fun houses.  There are those that spin you, drop you, flip you upside down, and even those that do all the aforementioned at once.  It is fun to watch the brave, and those who think they are more courageous than they actually are, tackle the offers of amusement.  The noises of the rides, screams of fun and fear, mesh with the nervous chattering of those waiting to embark on their turn to show their friends how unfazed they are by the rides.  The rides are run by North American Midway, they are a travelling company that sets up the rides and moves them from city to city, and fair to fair.  The park entrance fee does not include the ride fees.  The rides are run on a ticket system, the bigger, the cooler the ride it will cost more tickets to embark on the 30 second journey to amusement.  There are deals to be had.  If you buy tickets or packages at the Stampede they can be fairly expensive, roughly a dollar a ticket.  If you purchase the all day ride cards from the grocery chain, Safeway, before the first official day of the stampede closes then you can ride as many as you dare for around $38 a day.  There are time restrictions on the all you can ride I believe as well as date restrictions, for some reason I am remembering that not all packages are valid on weekends.  Safeway also sells ticket packages 56 tickets for $38 a great deal if you are in town before the official opening and love all the wild rides, like my friends and I do.

After watching people scare and thrill themselves on the rides we headed to a new attraction, the Bell Aqua Ranch.  A large above ground pool-like structure in the exhibition middle grounds.  They showcase an extreme water show with jet skis, water skiers, etc at set times each day.  We were not there at the right time for the extreme show but did catch the fountain show that goes every half an hour at the top and half hour.  The fountain show was okay not close to that of the Bellagio in Las Vegas but neat none the less.  The kids in the audience seemed to like it.  It was a little hard to see as it was daylight and set against a white backdrop. It may be better at night to see the dancing water synchronised to music if it is lit, I am not sure it is though.  The water functions are fairly limited compared to other shows I have seen.  I wouldn’t stand in line or wait long periods to see it but if you happen to be passing by and it is starting shortly you may as well give it a go.

After the Aqua Ranch we headed towards the iconic Saddledome, the hockey arena and concert venue for the city.  It sustained massive damage in the recent floods and thusly could not be opened in time for the Stampede and all concerts and events that were to be house therein were cancelled. Just off to the side of the Saddledome there is an Armed Forces, Navy, and Air Force display, complete with tanks, boats and sections of a CF-18 that can all be perused and embarked.  It was a huge hit with the kids and Dads we saw, not to say that the mums weren’t awed by the tanks, or the men in uniform, they just tended to be the ones off to the side taking all the pictures.  The agriculture buildings are also in this area with many, many, many horses that can be viewed as well as free barn tours that run regularly.  The Agrium tent was transformed in to a child friendly agricultural area similar to Aggie days.

The northern most entrance, as there are a few to the Stampede grounds, is near the children’s midway.  This area houses rides with lower height requirements and slower rides aimed at the under ten crowd.  There are also games in this area but
I noticed they are more expensive than the other ones even though the other games in the regular midway will also let children win with every attempt.  A thunderstorm drove us and most others indoors to the BMO Centre.  Here you have a mash of local eateries, merchants, and the Southland Kids Zone. It was more cramped than usual as the kids area and some of the food stalls are usually found in the basement of the Big 4 building.  The change to move them to the BMO centre  was due to the Big 4 being badly damaged by the floods and was unable to be brought to food serving standards in the under a fortnight since the rivers broke their banks to first corn dog served.  The bus company sponsored indoor kids zone was fairly empty despite the sudden deluge, as were the eateries, one reason I like sneak-a-peak is that the crowds are generally smaller.  Even with the extra stalls, and people seeking cover from the rainstorm, there was plenty of room and few queues.  We had packed a dinner as I am not a big fan of fair foods.

We took the opportunity of rain to sit in the Corral, another arena and former home of the Calgary Flames, and watch a live local version of Family Feud hosted by Caroline Rhea whilst we ate our brown bag dinner.  There are good for you and good deals to be had at the Stampede.  Hidden Valley Ranch Salad Dressing had a booth near the Saddledome, they were selling salads for $1 and the money raised went to the local food bank and flood relief.  There was a milk and cookies stand sponsored by a milk producer near the agriculture buildings that again sold their products, a 250 mL carton of either white or chocolate milk and a wagon wheel cookie for $1.  Proceeds also went to flood relief and the food bank.  Weadickville, an old town like section we wandered after the deluge ended, offers a bakery selling Spolumbos sausage, Trophy nuts, Macs convenience store and Second to none meats.  You can get Frosters (slushies), hot dogs, sausages or nuts for $2-5 each depending on which of the many varieties you choose.

Super dogs was a stop for us this year.  as we left Weadickville, the ticket office for the dog show had people out handing free tickets out to passersby.  We took a few, went and tried our hand at a couple of games and came back to get in line to enter the building.  The line for ticket holders was longs and winding as the seating is all general seating on a first come first serve basis.  I would not wait too long in line though.  there are plenty of seats and the higher up seats are a better view of the entire stage than those on the ground level.  The seating is staggered and an unobstructed view was possible for all without fear of a large man in a ten gallon hat sitting in front blocking those in rows behind.  The show was well done.  Crowds loved the tricks the dogs were made to do and the feats they could accomplish.

One last stop for me before I called it a night, the parade comes early the next morning, my favourite stampede treat Mini Doughnuts.  I like the ones from the “Those Little Donuts” kiosks.  They have gone up in price over the year I have been attending the Stampede, three bags of 12 mini rounds of cinnamon sugary goodness , are now $10 but hey are worth it.  Armed with my treats for the walk to the car and ride home I was happy to see that indeed the show does go on in Calgary. After 2 weeks of cleaning YYC was definitely open for business as usual.